CAGES by Dave McKean


Dave McKean’s 500 page (inclusive of cat-like creature-adorned cover) scrumptious masterpiece trade paperback Cages lies on my desk, looking every bit as “mesmerizing” as Terry Gilliam and my own reading experience of it confirms.
This is a quiet, mostly monochromatic story. Those of us who expect an acrylic paint-splattered Arkham Asylumesque graphic novel might be taken by surprise by the austere black, white and pale blue that so simply and eloquently weave the tale of Cages. Most of this book is an effort of pure, unadulterated McKeaned drawing. McKeaned? You know the feeling of looking at people through a bit of thick, slightly blue glass? Be prepared for a few hundred pages of that – and be absolutely enchanted, and almost certainly lost and fuzzy.
And yet the mixed-media experience is there, leaping out at you from dramatically painted panels and spreads; surreal, almost cinematic stills; scribbledy-scrabbledy drawings on torn bits of sheet music; and riots of colour that lend their own meaning to the story. In the index pages, McKean’s nice enough to reveal the ingredients of his more intricate art – and deconstructionists like me can drool over details like “dried fish” and “doll’s house windows”.

What I enjoy the most about Cages is that it reads like a film. Panel after panel lovingly captures the gentle movement of a cat down a fire-escape; a worn woman looking into a mirror, turning her face slowly from side to side. McKean has captured so many nuances of expression it nearly makes a brave person weep.As a multi-talented artist, film-maker, jazz musician and writer, McKean draws common threads between painting, writing and music and mixes them all up into a unique, synesthetic narrative that makes sense of the strange (and not so strange) experiences of his key characters. A few characters and situations in the book can only have evolved in McKean’s particular imagination, and these lend a quiet touch of magical realism to the book.In all its 500 pages, Cages never ceases to amaze. Expressive artwork combined with an introspective, mysterious story that together packs a very visual, poetic punch somewhere in the small of your head.

In a word, this book is a treasure.

(Here’s a link with some McKean work that i’ve never seen before.)