By Hannah Means-Shannon
The 25th Anniversary of Sandman has brought out the likes of Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean and J.H. Williams III to San Diego this year, much to the delight of the deeply ingrained groupy in a vast majority of comics fans. But rather than just appearing on panels together, though they will, seeing them in individual panels is providing some rare insights into their wider work, and what they have on the boil for the coming year. Dave McKean is a juggernaut of creative ventures in a number of mediums, from illustration, to helping repackage retrospectives of his work, to gallery exhibition collections and a substantial bevy of film projects.
This resulted in a gazillion slides of remarkable beauty and rather overwhelming proportions. It was a bit like having a Carl Jung scripted dream enhanced by a cocktail of psychedelics the like of which should be administered only under medical supervision.
McKean and his friend and agent Alan Spiegel walked fans through recent projects, starting, appropriately with the luminous, already iconic cover for the San Diego Comic Con 2013 con guide, in which Morpheus himself poses with the presence of a renaissance nobleman cradling a golden flower composed of branching fingers. It's a remarkably painterly cover for a massive pop culture event, composed mainly by hand with some digital hybrid work on the golden flower and sculptural drape, McKean explained.
First up, McKean announced that not only will there be a new collection issued early next year of the Sandman dustcovers, a "souped up large edition", oversized and more visually stunning than ever, but the project has launched something McKean has hoped to do for a long time, a companion volume of other Sandman-related dustjackets drawn from The Dreaming and other spin-offs. The two will form a set for fans, when all is said and done.
McKean opened the panel to a strangely sparse crowd, but took it in stride, only to find that the long line that had gathered for the panel had been locked out for the first 15 minutes of the panel. When the mystery was uncovered, a storm of McKean-crazed starry eyed fans crowded in, bringing the room to capacity. It was a parade-like moment, unrolling the tide of fan support for McKean's long history of contribution to comic art and his own visionary projects. He started over, reassured, and the whole event became more of a party once the rest of the guests had arrived.
Fans were treated to an image of an anniversary edition of Violent Cases (written by Neil Gaiman) with impressive, striking design picked out on a black cover, but the art emphasis will extend to the interior of the book as for the first time, McKean has been able to duly "remaster" the art for the seminal book the way he intended. Volumes since its publication have appeared far more "bleached out" than he desired and this volume has been digitally reconstructed for clarity and color on a whole new level.
McKean's book Pictures that Tick will receive a second companion volume, collecting the work from many of his gallery exhibitions and short narrative pieces that have appeared on many platforms. This book, McKean said, is the "favorite comics work I've done" and will be released through Dark Horse.
Gallery projects that have had an "interactive" aspect like "Coast Road" and "The Rut" will also be represented in Pictures that Tick 2, the process and function of which McKean explained to fans wherein attendees of the exhibitions were expected to construct the story and reach their own conclusions. This was a keen reminder that McKean's experimentation in medium is pretty strongly founded upon a narrative framework. Deep down, McKean is a multi-tooled storyteller of a rare and compelling variety. McKean's most recent exhibit, a vast project called "Blue Tree", will also be included in the book, inspired by his home town of Rye in the UK, drawing on its medieval cityscape to explore the networks of memory and sentience in an evolving tree encountering humankind. This is "really me", he said, a very personal work that led he and friend Spiegel to "almost get arrested again" planting blue trees around town leading up to the exhibit with enigmatic phrases dangling from their limbs in clear spheres.
With longtime collaborator Neil Gaiman, McKean will be releasing, finally, a fully collected and illustrated edition of Gaiman's short stories Smoke and Mirrors, a project that has lasted several years. The images McKean revealed were moody and evocative, windows on a dream and nightmare world of reality poised with McKean's characteristic grasp of atmosphere. The book will be released by Subterranean Press. McKean also discussed his special boxed edition of Neil Gaiman's most recent and most personal novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, based mainly in nuanced photography that "bleeds through" into parts of the text. The limited edition will be released in the USA this month.
McKean presented a wide variety of illustration projects with recurring collaborators, from David Almond's Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf, to a Brazilian illustrated anniversary edition of Clockwork Orange. McKean's ongoing work in film has recently produced Gospel of Us, based on an unusual theatre project filmed on location and set in contemporary Wales as a version of a Passion play, and with the same company he hopes to produce the film Callisto, a reimagining of Greek myth filmed featuring humans as deer and wolves filmed in Cornwall. The film project Luna, however, which many fans may have heard of, is still in the works and always struggling on the edge of financial viability, but stars Stephanie Leonidas of Mirrormask fame and is gradually pushing forward toward release.
McKean left the most fan-anticipated images for last, teasers for his upcoming Sandman work with Neil Gaiman, a deeply psychedelic twist on the Sandman we have seen before, but infused with a surprisingly 21st century sensibility for a work created with such a 90's ethos. Through McKean's artwork, the Sandman definitely lives again, this time with McKean's updated move into digital technology hybrid with handmade art and sculpture. It was a tremendous overflow of powerful images in the McKean panel, and there's no doubt that fans got just what they came for, even if they were temporarily banished from reaching their modern master artist. All's well that ends well, and given McKean's output, he's rocking into the new year and beyond with the mysterious skills he's mastered through visual art. It's all McKean, but there are some surprising twists on what you may have come to expect from him.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.