by Matt Jeske for the Beat
Dave McKean, the British artist/polymath who has worked as a cartoonist, comics cover artist, illustrator, graphic designer and filmmaker, opened his panel by saying, “I’m not going to assume that people know who I am, which was greeted by a cheer from the crowd, trying to let Dave know how many people in the packed room DID know who Dave is (at least 25%, if you’re keeping track). Dave Mckean tracked his career -starting from comics work like Arkham Asylum to being a comics cover artist for Sandman and Hellblazer, to work with illustrated books, such as The wolves in the Walls with Neil Gaiman, and The Homecoming with the recently-deceased Ray Bradbury, and how he as supplemented that with illustration/design work for musical groups ranging from the Counting Crows to Frontline Assembly, as well as various film projects.
The first of his recent projects that McKean introduced was the book “The Magic of Reality, written by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, with illustrations and design supplied by McKean. The genesis of the project, to some degree, came from Mckean, who had read several interviews with Dawkins where the scientist answered the question “what would you like to work on next?” with the answer “A children’s book.” Fascinated with the prospect, Mckean got in touch with Dawkins, to see if there had been any progress on the project. The book is an introduction for young people to science, focusing on teaching the skills of imaginative and skeptical thinking and appreciating the ‘poetic magic’ of the real word that can be enjoyed by understanding natural phenomena scientifically. The book contrasts mythic and supernatural explanations with scientific understandings. In this segment of his talk, wand others, McKean got some laughs with humorous comments referencing illustrations that used his son as a model.
The next project that Dave McKean had to talk about was “The Gospel of Us”, a film project involving the actor Michael Sheen (Frost Nixon, The Queen), so Mckean talked briefly about his experiences in film, which range from design work for the Harry Potter films, to films that McKean has directed such as “The Week Before” and the feature length “Mirrormask” which McKean directed with the involvement of the Jim Henson company. The Gospel of Us was initially conceived solely as a live theatrical event (a reworking of the traditional Passion Play/life of Christ story which dates back to the Middle Ages.). Mckean remarked to someone (either the writer or Michael Sheen, I don’t remember) that it was a shame that this theatre-in-real-life event wasn’t being filmed. From that remark, McKean was offered the task of filming the event. From the description McKean gave, the theatre-in-real-life event was something like the movie they make at the end of Be Kind Rewind, but instead of it being about Fats Waller, its about a enigmatic schoolteacher (called the Teacher) who disappears for 40 days and returns as something of a Christ figure. There’s also a John-the Baptist figure called The Stranger, who is reminiscent of The Green Man from English folklore, a grim corporation as the antagonist, and the whole thing takes place in the industrial seaside town of Port Talbot, Wales. Toni Trucks, an actress from the Twilight Saga, was also involved with the production of Gospel of Us, and came on stage to share her tales of the film.
Mckean filmed the movie with a skeleton crew of 10 cameramen with hand held cameras, no crew, and a lot of digital postproduction to remove the bystanders that were unwanted, garbage, and to give the film and its animated dream sequences the McKean touch.
The third project was the film Luna, a family drama that Dave McKean directed. The film tells a long-term story of a family dealing with the disruption cause by the death of a child. The movie, also features two artist characters, whose onscreen art was created by Dave McKean, and the great Baron Storrey, who was also in attendance in the panel. In the closing Q&A session, Mckean revealed that his artistic evolution followed no grand plan, and that despite consistently making what seem to be very uncommercial decisions, he has enjoyed the ride and his success so far.
Matt Jeske is an artist, long term comics fan, and co-host of Bombast Podcast, available on iTunes.