Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pictures That Burrow

A quickie review of a quickie book:

Like a lot of people, I primarily know Dave McKean through his association with Neil Gaiman. McKean drew the cover for every single issue of Sandman, and while the artists within the pages rotated frequently, McKean's steady influence at the front helped define the character of these series: dreamlike, surreal, disturbing, apprehensive. More recently, I was surprised to see his art in Violent Cases, where I could see a wider range of his artistry at work.

I finally picked up his book "Pictures that Tick," which collects a wide variety of his... work... from a long period extending both before and after the seminal run of Sandman. It's almost impossible to categorize just what this is. It's too high-brow for a comic book; it's too narrative for an art book; it's too lyrical for short stories. I guess that ""illustrated poems" is the closest I can get to describing it, although that doesn't begin to do justice to the feel of it. The book is thoroughly adult, and displays the same sense of unease that I associate with his Sandman work.

Of course, he has many modes to work in. Some of the tales are very spare and elegant. Often they'll focus on a single image or idea, and he'll circle around it for a while with his beautiful collages, drawing out what he can from it while an essentially unknowable core remains at the center. Some of the pieces are very short and funny. Some will haunt you, particularly one tale about a young girl who grows up pierced by a tree. Others have a dreamlike wonder to them; I'm particularly fond of a piece about a woman who goes exploring with a found map and a bag of marbles.

I think I would have gotten more out of this if I had a better grounding in poetry. As it is, I tend to read things too literally, and I don't think I properly appreciate the rhythm of poems. Still, the imagery McKean works with here is astonishing, and the art alone makes the book well worth grabbing. His haunting words only add to their impact.

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