Seven Impossible Interviews
Before Breakfast #81: Dave McKean

h1 March 9th, 2009 by Eisha and Jules

Jules: Artist Dave McKean, whom 7-Imp welcomes this morning with a big, strong cup of coffee and all kinds of adoration and severely geeky fan-dom, is capable of way more than seven impossible things before breakfast, it’s safe to say. He’s an award-winning graphic novelist; author; photographer; designer; illustrator of hundreds of comic-book and book covers, as well as CDs; editorial illustrator; film designer; director; and jazz pianist, even co-founding the record label Feral Records with saxophonist and composer Iain Ballamy. I’m probably missing a whole slew of other things. Dave McKean is unceasingly inventive.

Dave’s portfolio is so wide-reaching, in fact, that I asked illustrator and author Jim Di Bartolo if he wanted to join 7-Imp on this interview, going on a hunch that he was a huge fan (which, indeed, he is). Jim contributed many of these questions. Farida Dowler of Saints and Spinners also contributed one question (her curiosity about one of her favorite scenes in MirrorMask has been quelled!), as well as Eisha’s husband, so this—as you can see—was a group effort. Many thanks to everyone who contributed.

Dave McKean’s work is…well, I’d call it beautiful. And I think Eisha and Jim would agree wholeheartedly. That might seem like an odd descriptor for someone whose work can be unsettling and sometimes the stuff of horror. But I stick to that descriptor with obstinacy. No matter the tone he sets with his art work, no matter the medium, and no matter the subject matter, there is an underlying beauty that transcends our everyday world. And a sense of design that is striking, a pulse throbbing that is vibrant. I think it’s an obscenely huge understatement to say that he changes the way we see our world. He pushes the boundaries of the art world, and then he transforms. He revolutionizes. Author Neil Gaiman wrote here, “It seems somehow wrong for so much talent to be concentrated in one place, and I am fairly sure the only reason that no-one has yet risen up and done something about it is because he’s modest, sensible and nice.”


Eisha and Jim, I’m already a big fan of Dave’s work, and then—to top it all off—he very generously gave such thoughtful answers to the interview questions, as well as sent us a ton of wonderful images to showcase in the interview. Wasn’t this particularly fabulous of him to have done? I’m especially grateful for this. When I do illustrator interviews, I always stress that one could not possibly send too much art. The art speaks volumes, I think.

Before we get to the interview and all the art work Dave passed along, let me ask you this: I know “favorite” questions are tough to answer for someone whose work you adore, and they’re perhaps (and arguably) silly to ask in the first place. Nevertheless, Eisha, could you pick a favorite medium of Dave’s? Is there one title/project of his that has always stood out for you? Do you find it hard, as I do, to describe what his work does to you?

From Squink: Dessins de Dave McKean

eisha: Oh, you and your multi-part questions.

Jules: Mwahahaha.

eisha: Well, first, I do think it was generous of Mr. McKean to take time away from all of his projects to talk to us, and doubly generous of him to send so many examples of his art for us to share with our readers. It’s always so rewarding to find out that someone we admire for his whopping big talent is also nice.

As for a favorite medium… nope. I really dig his aesthetic, and I love what he brings to all the media in which he works. There’s something about the way he combines elements of realism and fantasy that’s deliciously unsettling. For example, I think Signal to Noise is one of the finest examples of the graphic novel genre ever created. Seriously. It’s awesome.

An excerpt from and the cover of Signal to Noise; the last image here is Dave’s cover for the BBC radio adaptation of Signal to Noise, published in 2000 by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts

Scriptbook for 'MirrorMask'And of course, his picture book work in The Wolves in the Walls is brilliantly creepy. And did you see MirrorMask? Oh, you HAVE to. It’s worth watching for the art direction alone.

Is it a coincidence that all my favorite examples of his work are collaborations with Neil Gaiman? Probably not. Those two both have such original minds and a shared love for the dark, twisted and macabre. They’re made for each other.

How about you, Jules? Got a favorite genre of Mr. McKean’s work?

Jules: Oof! My own difficult question thrown right back at me! Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of work he’s contributed to that I didn’t like in some way, but I will say that his photography always completely and entirely and WHOLLY blows me away, and—as I formatted this interview and all the many images he sent—I was reminded of that. I mean, look at this self-portrait:

So, yeah, I’m particularly spellbound by his photography. But that’s hardly a slight of the other media in which he works.

And, Eisha, did you ever get around to reading The Graveyard Book by Gaiman (published by HarperCollins), which—as you know—was just awarded the Newbery? I love McKean’s use of line in the drawings in the book and the style in which these are done — more of an old-fashioned style of illustration, very fitting in this macabre adventure tale.

“Bod was a quiet child with sober grey eyes and a mop of tousled, mouse-colored hair. He was, for the most part, obedient. He learned how to talk, and, once he had learned, he would pester the graveyard folk with questions. ‘Why amn’t I allowed out of the graveyard?’ he would ask…”

“He put the paperweight down on the ground that had once been a nettle-patch, placed it in the place that he estimated her head would have been, and pausing only to look at his handiwork for a moment, he went through the railings and made his way, rather less gingerly, back up the hill.”

“Rain in the graveyard, and the world puddled into blurred reflections. Bod sat, concealed from anyone, living or dead, who might come looking for him, under the arch that separated the Egyptian Walk and the northwestern wilderness beyond it from the rest of the graveyard, and he read his book.”

Jim, what has Dave’s work meant to you, especially as an artist yourself?

Jim: Dave McKean’s artwork never fails to inspire me. He has the most astonishing–and varied–visual imagination of any artist I can think of, and while I doubt his influence can be seen directly in my own illustration, his creativity, multimedia abilities, and impressive variety of styles have long nudged me to try new things in my art.

I can’t recall what my first exposure to his work was. I know I was slightly late to the game, becoming aware of him and his Sandman covers in the mid-’90s, but not truly appreciating his skills until the late ’90s when I was in art school (CCA in San Francisco & Oakland). However, I distinctly recall the glee of finding his books Violent Cases and several issues of Cages, while slowly perusing the shelves at the comic book store in Oakland when I was studying Illustration. I couldn’t wait to get home to pore over the books and, later, attempt (with varying low-levels of success) to replicate what he’d done with the art for Violent Cases in my sketchbooks.

Fast-forward several years: I was out of art school and visiting one of my teachers, Kent Williams, at the Allen Spiegel Fine Arts booth at the San Diego Comic Con, and Dave McKean was there! My wife, Laini, and I (she’s also a huge fan) hung back in awe as we tried to think of something to say besides, “You’re Dave McKean! That must be awesome, huh?!” Coming up with nothing, we kept our mouths shut, doing one better than a friend of ours who reported she actually burst into tears while trying to talk to him!

Anyway, even if Mr. McKean decided to never do another piece of art (heaven forbid!), the abundance and amazing quality of what he’s created would no doubt continue to inspire and influence countless artists for generations to come. Maybe next time I see him I’ll have the nerve to introduce myself and tell him so.

Jules: Even though I think you just told him, I also hope you get to meet him in person (again) one day, Jim . . . Let’s get to the interview with many thanks to Dave for stopping by.

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Your work spans just about every media (drawing, painting, photography, collage, found objects, digital art, and sculpture) and format (comics, picture books, novels, film), yet your art always has a unique and distinctly bold approach behind it. Are there specific experiences that formed the essential basis, the fundamental building blocks, of your artistic vision? Books, movies, artists, events, images, nightmares?

Dave: That’s a big question, as there have been so many. Almost anything lodges inside the brain or under the skin. I’ll try and narrow it down to a few.

I suppose childhood planted a few seeds: drawing cartoons with my father (who was not a professional artist at all, but could draw well); going to the Tate and seeing large paintings by Max Ernst; discovering comics through black and white reprints of American Marvel comics; discovering old silent and early film stills through a great couple of books about horror movies. Later on, I was interested mostly in music, although I still loved all sorts of comics and films, mostly genre stuff.

Then art school was a huge shock to the system, inspirational pressure cooker, and source of my broadening taste, not to mention political/social views. I had some great teachers, who recognized in me a stubborn, narrow-minded, shallow youth and took it upon themselves to shake me up, open my eyes, and widen my horizons. They were also very encouraging when I actually started to enjoy myself. Another key moment was a lecture by Marshall Arisman at the ICA in London.

Then it would be publishing my first book with Neil Gaiman (Violent Cases) and realizing I had two seemingly opposing views: I didn’t feel my work was good enough to be published professionally, but looking around at the stuff that was getting published, I thought I could do better than that! Doing Cages was important, as it was the first project that really felt like it was mine.

Excerpts from and cover of Cages

And then there have been many other firsts, and exciting challenges, most recently working with the extraordinary three-Michelin starred chef Heston Blumenthal. Technically, a few pieces of work (often sketchbook things done just for myself) have had a major impact on my work: painting on photographs in three short comic pages, later published in Pictures That Tick; working with a brushpen for a little sketchbook of Barcelona.

And then there have been so many influences over the years, from great draughtsmen like Egon Schiele and Lorenzo Mattotti, to great storytellers like Ingmar Bergman and Paul Auster, to great writers like Woody Allen and Franz Kafka, to great artists, Picasso and Miles Davis and the few who constantly, restlessly, redefine themselves. I’ve loved the Quay Brothers’ animated world, the powerful iconic work of the Polish poster artists, and Monty Python. It all adds to the soup.

A sample of some of Dave’s own poster work

7-Imp: Your style on various projects is so diverse from one to the next. Where did you learn those varying techniques, or are you just extremely experimental? Do you brainstorm for new techniques and styles, or do they come naturally?

Dave: I do a lot of work and discover things as I’m going. To someone who sees a couple of projects three or four years apart, it must seem like a big jump, but in between is a gradual evolution through many different projects and personal work. Also, I love to learn new things, so if there is an opportunity to try theatre design or website storytelling or fashion photography, then I’ll give it a go.

Cover photograph for The Particle Tarot: Major Arcana

Cover photograph for The Particle Tarot (the Minor Arcana)




King (from A Small Book of Black & White Lies,
Allen Spiegel Fine Arts, 1995)

King Staffs


Option Click

7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a title? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Excerpt from and cover of The Tragical Comedy or
Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch

Dave: There are usually two starting points, the text and what I’m interested in at the time. Sometimes they are irreconcilable, in which case I will exclusively concentrate on what the story demands, but usually it meets me half-way.

I’ll make lots of notes all over the manuscript and make doodles in my sketchbooks, any ideas that come to mind. I will research appropriate references, if necessary, and start to draw main characters over and over again, until they start to feel right. I’ll usually plan out the whole book (if it’s a graphic novel) or the illustrated sections of the book thoroughly before starting finished work. And then the actual battle begins. Usually, I spend a few days feeling that I’ve forgotten how to draw — and eating and going out for coffee and reading and playing the drums or the piano or watching a film until I just can’t put it off any more. Then I get into a routine, as soon as the first few images are done that are genuinely good and seem to have the right tone of voice; then I can see the whole book done, and it’s a gallop, or at least a determined canter, to the finishing line. I don’t like to stray too far from my initial plans — so that the book has a consistency of tone. Plus it’s easy to get lost in paint and details and digital what-nots, and lose touch with the text.

My working day is usually: 10-ish, wake up. 10-11-ish, check email, read the post, check the news (BBC website), read The Week (if it’s Friday) or Time (if it’s Saturday). 11-12-ish, potter in studio, have a crumpet and a banana. 12-1 p.m.-ish, get dressed, start work. 1-3 p.m., lunch. 4 p.m.-2 a.m., work (occasional breaks to eat, drink, talk, answer phone, reply to email, play musical instruments – the worse a job is going, the more breaks I take, and therefore the longer the bad job lasts; it’s a depressing equation). 2 a.m.-4 a.m., watch a film or read current book.

Excerpt from and cover of The Homecoming by Ray Bradbury

Excerpt from and cover of Skeletons by Ray Bradbury

7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Dave: Depends on the season, to a degree. I live in the middle of nowhere, so there is no sense of time apart from night and day — that is, there is no rush hour, no weekend, no holidays. My studio is a separate barn twenty paces from my front door. I live in an old (1830) twin-roundel oast house; that’s the farm building that was used to store and dry hops to make beer, back when it was a farm. There is a pond outside the window, and a rickety, frankly dangerous, little bridge heading over to the front door. Downstairs has a painting easel and light-box, piano, electronic drum-kit and lots of books; upstairs has several Macs and a space for my wife, Clare, to work when she’s doing the paperwork. I’ve worked on all the available surfaces (including Clare’s desk, which annoys her no end), but I’ve only recently found my perfect workplace. I used the studio as a set for a feature film called Luna (still in the works), and we needed a table for the two actors in the film to draw at, sitting opposite each other. When everything was finished and the crew went home, I was left with this table, which turned out to be a wonderful place to work, downstairs, looking out over the pond, towards the house, and out over the field beyond. In the summer, I work outside at the back of the house, overlooking the Isle of Oxney, which is not an island any more, as the seas receded several hundred years ago.

From The Big Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal, November 2008 (Bloomsbury USA)

7-Imp: What style and/or medium do you find the most challenging in which to work?

Dave: I have found film the most challenging. Obviously, working with a crew, actors, and budgets is chaotic, but just the language of film I’ve personally found very difficult to deal with. I’m not comfortable with it yet, as I am with comics or illustrated books. Maybe you never get to be comfortable with such a collaborative medium. And which, if any, is your favorite? I don’t have a favorite. I enjoy the differences and not doing the same thing every day. I love the direct simplicity of sitting down and drawing a picture, but I love the emotional highs (though not the plummeting lows) of film.

As discussed in this 2005 interview with Tasha Robinson at A.V. Club, McKean worked with Alfonso Cuarón on the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban to design the dementors, as well as other elements of that film (and another Harry Potter film). “{T}he dementors came out very, very close to my illustration,” McKean told Robinson.

7-Imp: Do you plan on writing and illustrating again more of your own stories, à la Cages?

Dave: Yes. I have started a new novel called Caligaro, and I have another couple in mind to do after that. I’m also half-way through another book of short stories. The first book, Pictures That Tick, will be released in paperback by Dark Horse later this year. I have an exhibition in my local town of Rye coming up in September 2009, and I’m planning a story to tell through the work in the show. I’ve also been writing outlines for another couple of stories, and although they are written as scripts, they are much more likely at the moment to come out as books. Finally, I’ve written ten drafts of a screenplay of Signal to Noise. I’ve no idea whether I’ll ever get the chance to make it as a film, so I would actually like to do it as a graphic novel…For the first time, the credit would run “a graphic novel adapted from the graphic novel by…”

Excerpts from and cover of Caligaro

7-Imp: Are you working on any new movies? Stage plays?

Dave: Nothing on the stage at the moment. I shot a new feature film called Luna {poster and images below}, which I am hoping to finish this year. I have another short animated film in the planning stages. I also have a couple of scripts in various stages of development, but to be honest, I’m trying not to waste any more time on the film industry. If something happens, great, I’ll go to work. But I’ve done too many lunches and meetings; I need to focus on completing the books I’ve been writing for the last few years.

7-Imp: What was the inspiration behind the Clock People of MirrorMask?

Dave: This scene originated in a recording of the song “Close to You” on a tribute CD to Burt Bacharach by the various recording artists on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. It’s by Wayne Horvitz, and it’s really creepy. I played it to Neil as we drove out to Lisa Henson’s house to start writing the script. I imagined a scene where a music box doll would sing, very deliberately and emphatically, this weird song, wanting to be “close to” our heroine. The scene became a whole room full of dolls, slowly putting her under a trance and changing her into Dark Helena. It was only after the whole scene was shot, edited, recorded, animated, and composited, that I realized how similar it is to a scene in the Brothers’ Quay film Street of Crocodiles. Very strange.

7-Imp: Your work in children’s/YA lit is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly recent. What drew you (excuse the bad pun) to want to illustrate those titles?

Dave: I have two children—they are currently 12 and 15—and, since my work often borrows from the rest of my life (and vice versa), it was inevitable that I would start to do some work for children. It’s been a great pleasure to read Varjak Paw or Wolves in the Walls or Coraline to my children in manuscript form, a couple of years before they appeared in the shops. Also, their reactions helped shape the visual side of the books to a degree — what a child feels is scary or funny is not always predictable.

“‘Come here, little girl. I know what you want, little girl’…She walked through several rooms with low, slanting ceilings until she came to the final room. It was a bedroom, and the other crazy old man upstairs sat at the far end of the room, in the near darkness, bundled up in his coat and hat.”
Coraline, Chapter X

“The biggest, fattest wolf of all was playing an old wolf melody on Lucy’s father’s second-best tuba.”
The Wolves in the Walls

From The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

“He had no family and he had no pals and he didn’t know where he come from
and he culdn’t talk…”

“The savage crowched in the rooined chapel and watched. He had been hunting last nite but he had cort nothin but a littel mouse and a frog and he was hungry.
Very hungry.”

Excerpts from and one of the covers of The Savage by David Almond
(First U.S. Edition: Candlewick Press, 2008)

7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Dave: I regret to say I was not a big reader as a child; in fact, it’s only been in the last ten or so years that I’ve really become an avid reader. The illustrators I loved were doing comics, record covers, or book covers. Iain Sinclair still tells his story of meeting me and my enthusing about Richard Parent, who had done his cover for Whitechapel Scarlet Tracings. He asked me about the book, and I had to admit that I bought it for the cover but hadn’t read it yet. (I have read it now, Iain).

Excerpt from “His Story,” written by McKean, first printed in Bento: Story Art Box, published by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts, 2001

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Dave: I have been very fortunate and have met many of my favourite illustrators around the world. But I have never met Matt Mahurin (a huge influence and touchstone for me, as he left art school in New York a couple of years ahead of me and showed aspiring art students what they could achieve), Stasys Eidrigevičius (unique Estonian illustrator, who creates a completely compelling world of visual metaphors), or Franciszek Starowieyski (the godfather of Polish poster art).

{Edited to Add — March 10, 2009: McKean points out that, sadly, Franciszek Starowieyski died last week.}

Blood of a Poet

Der Gang im Der Nacht


Father and Son

Big Brother

7-Imp: What contemporary artists, if any, inspire you?

Dave: Most of the great contemporary figurative artists have died. Lucian Freud is hanging in there, and I think Tubke is still alive. I still love Anselm Kiefer’s work, and I like a lot of Rachel Whiteread’s work. But, I have to say, I rarely get as excited by gallery work as I do by great books, films, theatrical experiences, or even good popular science writing. I think Punchdrunk Theatre Company’s Masque of the Red Death and Improbable’s Shockheaded Peter are two of the most inspiring “artworks” (although they were shows) I have seen recently.

Joan of Arc

Eye Wing (a page from the short story “Eye,” published in Pictures that Tick)


7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Dave: As detailed above, a film (Luna); a graphic novel (Caligaro); a book of short comics (Pictures That Tick 2); plus another picture book with Neil (Crazy Hair); two more books with David Almond, author of The Savage (the first being Slog’s Dad); four exhibitions this year and more personal work; paintings (Nitrate); drawings (Postcard from Brussels); and whatever else comes my way.

7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Dave: I listen to music all the time, while drawing, eating, driving, and dreaming. At the moment, I’m listening to Anouar Brahem, Dhafer Youssef, Mercan Dede, Guillemots, Bach, old tango recordings and new Tango Crash, Joni Mitchell, Ian Shaw, Rachel Unthank, and so many others…

{Ed. Note: Below here are a handful of the many CD covers Dave has designed.}

(Cover for Iain Ballamy’s “Pepper Street Interludes”; 2000)

Art work for “Random Acts of Happiness” from Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Featuring Tim Garland (design and illustrations by McKean); 2004

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Dave: I met the emperor Haile Selassie when I was eight and gave him a map I had drawn of Ethiopia.



The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Dave: The only thing that comes to mind is that I’m really interested in why things fail, or why I’m not happy with my work. It seems to make interviewers uncomfortable, or maybe feel that they will come across as arrogant, or that I will be offended. Of course, I’d be a little defensive if someone asked, “why is all your stuff so bad?”, but somewhere in the middle there are very interesting conversations to be had about what goes wrong. I tried to talk to journalists about this several times while publicizing MirrorMask, but I got the feeling I was breaking the rules somehow.

Poster for Squink: Dessins de Dave McKean

7-Imp: Jim says, “You’re awesome. Will you come to our house and do a month-long series of top-secret private instructional art demos for the price of cereal every morning and all the coffee you can drink?” Eisha asks, very simply, “how did you get to be so awesome?” (Notice a theme here? Think we’re maybe fans just a little bit?)

Dave: Well, it’s lovely to be on the happy end of so much awesomeness. Private art lessons are a bit of a push; I’ve only just managed a few for my own kids. Usually, even doing sketches for people at signings makes my head fill with white noise and the overwhelming feeling that I’ve forgotten how to draw. And I don’t usually have breakfast (see above daily schedule), so even the method of reimbursement wouldn’t quite work for me. Sorry about that, but keep on the ‘awesome’ tablets.

From a year-end Spectrum publication (“the best in contemporary fantastic art”)
from a year or two ago

The Pivot Questionnaire:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Dave: “Pursuivant.” It just makes me laugh.

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Dave: “Marketing.” No explanation needed.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Dave: Not fretting about the past or the future, just enjoying the moment. Learning new things. Good food and engaging conversation. Music. History.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Dave: Closed minds, middle-of-the-road banality. Crowds. Religion. Graffiti.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Dave: “Bollocks,” a slightly more aggressive, but equally tired and disillusioned, version of “oh, bugger,” my other favorite.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Dave: Rain.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Dave: Mobile phones in restaurants.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Dave: Probably something in the sciences, trying to understand and uncover the mechanics of existence, how the brain works, especially. But, to paraphrase E. L. Wisty, I never had the Maths for the Sciencing. (They’re very rigorous, those science exams; they’re noted for their rigor).

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Dave: Politician. Actually, I would love to be a politician, but only in my own (benign) dictatorship. Trying to please everyone, to be “politic,” is the death of creativity.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Dave: Unfortunately, a place called Heaven is only ever going to exist as an overpriced nightclub, so I guess I would hope to hear God say, “this margarita’s on me.”

* * * * * * *

Illustrations from THE SAVAGE: Text copyright © 2008 David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2008 Dave McKean. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Illustrations from THE GRAVEYARD BOOK: Text copyright © 2008 Neil Gaiman. Illustrations copyright © 2008 Dave McKean. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.

All other art work/images (photography, drawings, paintings, CD covers, book covers, posters, photos of Dave, etc.) used with permission of Dave McKean. All rights reserved.

* * * * * * *

For more online information on Dave McKean (this list is, by no means, comprehensive) —

57 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews
Before Breakfast #81: Dave McKean”

  1. Holy wicked art. I’m in awe. And talk about a tour de force interview…in awe of that too.

  2. Whoa.
    I am still sort of punch-drunk from the awesome that is The Graveyard Book, and now I’m just stumbling through this… he met the emperor Haile Selassie! He did an album cover for Toad the Wet Sprocket! He just…creates… worlds.

    I’m a little scared of him, and in awe of the universe in his head.

  3. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast talks to the brilliant illustrator and movie-maker Dave McKean in an interview which is also filled with plenty of gorgeous artwork to give your eyes a treat. On first breaking into books and comics: “publishing my first book with Neil Gaiman (Violent Cases) and realizing I had two seemingly opposing views: I didn’t feel my work was good enough to be published professionally, but looking around at the stuff that was getting published, I thought I could do better than that! Doing Cages was important, as it was the first project that really felt like it was mine.” […]

  4. I met Dave at a science fiction convention in Minneapolis where he showed a movie or two. I was too tongue-tied to say more than “Hullo.. .”

    Jane Yolen

  5. Oh my god, you two. What an amazing collection of art here!!! I think I’ll be scrolling up and down for a while 🙂 Dave McKean is AMAZING. When I first met *the comic book nerd I married* he showed me the Sandman covers and my head exploded. And those pictures from Crazy Hair look AWESOME. Can’t wait to see the book!! (I saw a little rant on Neil Gaiman’s blog the other day against some tool who who accusing him of hurrying two books to market quick to *cash in* on his Newbery. Snort! As if it works like that! Thank you for this AWESOME post!!!!!!

  6. It’s not that I didn’t LOVE this whole interview . . . it’s just that now I can’t stop dreaming that you’ll do another one with him completely devoted to his question: why do things fail?

  7. Thanks, you all.

    Sara, YES! I LOVED THAT, too. Maybe we can do that one day. It’s a lovely question.

    I also thought of you, Sara, because you are reading Rilke, and you and I love Rilke and etc. etc.: In one of the interviews I linked to there at the bottom of the post (it was that film festival video, I think, but don’t quote me on that), he talks about putting his questions into his art. This brought to mind Rilke’s “I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (from Letters to a Young Poet)…

    Okay, that was long, but just….Ah. I love it.

  8. Okay, this one blew the top of my head off. You really should provide oxygen masks and warn people ahead of time if you’re going to present an interview with this level of awesomeness.

    Love the group effort with great questions and comments, and am impressed at Dave’s incredibly generous answers and the flotilla of images he shared.

    Oh yes, why things fail — is fascinating and could be its own book.

    I am now obsessed with Crazy Hair, and I’ve always loved Bollocks, which I really should use more often.

  9. What they said… oh, and woohoo that The Two Daves (McKean and Almond) will be working on more projects together. Bliss…

  10. On the heels of the above thudcrush of comments, saying something like “Wow!” seems silly. But… just… Wow!

    It’s bad enough to be jealous of Neil Gaiman for his Gaiman-ness. Now I’ve gotta add the extent to which he’s been able to work with Dave McKean. I had the two names connected in my head but had no idea how thoroughly and beautifully each of their work complements the other. I mean, seriously. Even if Dave McKean cannot be hired for private tutoring, I wonder if he’d mind turning over a handful of unpublished images to me for times when I’m feeling blocked — just about any of them is the tip of a story’s iceberg.

    It’s embarrassing that I have anything more to say except just this one thing: this interview distills to a hard nugget not just why McKean deserves whole library shelves just to his work, but why there is NO place like 7-Imp to find this stuff. Thanks to all three or four of you, depending on how you count, for this stupendous 7 Questions piece!

  11. Thank you so much for doing this interview, Jules, Eisha and Mr. McKean (though I’ll call him “Dave” if he asks me to). I’m always glad when authors and illustrators are pleasant to talk to as well as talented. I was glad to see the variety of work showcased in this interview, though favorite work of McKean’s is still MirrorMask!

  12. Aw, ya’ll are so kind. Jules, of course, gets the lion’s share of credit for this one.

    Speaking of, J, couldn’t you have squeezed in a couple more images? It’s looking kinda bare up there, don’t you think?

  13. Longest. interview. ever.

    But this is a very good thing.

    Thanks to all for comin’ to read and for enjoying it. Just sharin’ the McKean Love.

  14. I have been a fan of his work for…..fifteen years (?) now, at least. He is, by far, one of my all time favorite illustrators and just plain old creative individuals.

    This interview though, it’s really something special. You guys continue to dazzle us all. Amazing.

  15. […] [Profile] Dave McKean Link: Seven Impossible Things […]

  16. I read through this interview once alone and once with my husband who is as much of a fan as I am of Dave McKean’s art. We spent time with every image and played every video clip. To say it was a pleasure spending time with this amazing artist is an understatement. Thank you all for making this interview happen and thank you Dave McKean for agreeing to it! It was like watching your favorite band play at a small venue…a rare treat and a privilege.

  17. […] collaborations with Neil Gaiman. There’s also an extensive gallery of McKean’s art. [Seven Impossible Things, via […]

  18. Dave: I could praise you for many things, including the cat from Coraline and the art for Prince of Stories. (I’m pals with Chris Golden.) Right now, though, to be brief, I’ll just thank you for dropping by 7-Imp. Do Jules & eisha not rock beyond the telling of it?

    Go Dave go. I like how his style is unique yet immediately recognizable, and how he employs multiple mediums and multimedia.

    Oh, how I need to see Mirrormask! If what I’ve seen and heard is true, then so is this equation:
    Dave + Neil + circus + Alice = Mirrormask.

  19. As I was reading this interview, a gaggle of ladies arrived in the library for a “chari-tea”, and the buzzing generated by their chatting and socializing was the perfect background noise to the artwork – I feel like my eyes are about to pop out of my head and my brain might start leaking out of my eyes. I mean that in a good way of course. Some of those pictures made me shiver with terrified delight, especially “Shark” and “Option Click”. And “Luna” looks like it will scare me out of my shoes. Great job!

  20. […] has given a very detailed and well illustrated interview to the very excellent Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog. Website built by Do Tank […]

  21. Amazing interview! The best of read with Mr. McKean.

  22. Fantastic interview, and so wonderful to see so many of Dave’s images.

  23. this interview is a true nugget amongst a cacophony of internet noise. thank you all so much. i have used dave mckean as an example of a truly “creative” person for years in my classes and show mirrormask at least once every school year. illustrators and artist who get caught up in style and a look should take mr. mckean’s words to heart. he is a true example of that mad scientist artist of my own deepest aspirations.

  24. Thank you so much for this valuable and inspiring interview. Loved the words and the images – even saw some work/projects that were new to me!

    [Got here from Neil Gaiman’s blog]

  25. […] HERE is an interview with Dave Mckean. […]

  26. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Seven Impossible InterviewsBefore Breakf… (tags: mckean artists art inspiration interview) […]

  27. […] Sete coisas impossíveis Entrevista com Dave McKean, no mês que chegaram à livraria dois novos livros deste autor. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. […]

  28. […] Interview with Dave McKean. […]

  29. […] I mean, why not do this kind of thing on a regular & official basis? They already do it with stamps. Take the ones that will hit the market next summer, drawn by graphic novel artist Dave McKean… […]

  30. […] Impossible Things recently posted an interview with Dave McKean, which also features a lot of his artwork. addthis_url = […]

  31. […] David McKean, interviewed at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast […]

  32. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast – Dave McKean […]

  33. […] really good things came out of our recent Dave McKean interview: First (the obvious), the fact that WE GOT TO CHAT WITH DAVE MCKEAN, for which we gave seven loud […]

  34. How on earth did I miss this before? You had Dave McKean here! DAVE MCKEAN! This entire post is made of win (and the coding – I shudder to think of the time it took)!

  35. It is the coolest site,keep so!

  36. I want to say – thank you for this!

  37. nice, really nice!

  38. […] Dave McKean […]

  39. I was aware of the man’s work, but not the depth and the breadth of it. What a star!

  40. I don’t get it, what do you mean by the 3rd paragraph?

  41. […] of Dave McKean, Seven Impossible Things has a great interview with him. And it’s chock-full of amazing illustrations and graphics, so even if you’re familiar […]

  42. […] by. Again. He helped me out tremendously in March of this year, contributing questions to the Dave McKean interview. Ever since then—and, really, before then—I’ve wanted him to stop by for a […]

  43. […] at the blog about books Seven Impossible Things, this illustration is by Dave McKean from the illustrated book The Wolves in the Walls written by […]

  44. …its not often that I spend reading on a www page few minutes not to say a half an hour but You have managed this with Your blog and this wonderful interview. Great artist. wish to meet him one day, that would be amazing!! anyway thank You, greetings from Warsaw, Poland.

  45. […] find that artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Dave McKean, Brian and Wendy Froud, and Jim Henson are great inspirations for my work. I am also inspired by […]

  46. A fantastic interview, great job!!

  47. Actually, Stasys Eidrigevicius is Lithuanian, not Estonian. Just thought I’d point that out…

    Awesome interview!

  48. Just having flipped through Cages (new edition), it’s charming to find this post. Can’t wait for Luna. Great post.

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

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

  51. […] tip, again, to Jules Walker Danielson, whose interview with McKean you should check out — it has lots of art, and even more album covers.  Indeed, the album covers […]

  52. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast talks to the brilliant illustrator and movie-maker Dave McKean in an interview which is also filled with plenty of gorgeous artwork to give your eyes a treat. On first breaking into books and comics: “publishing my first book with Neil Gaiman (Violent Cases) and realizing I had two seemingly opposing views: I didn’t feel my work was good enough to be published professionally, but looking around at the stuff that was getting published, I thought I could do better than that! Doing Cages was important, as it was the first project that really felt like it was mine.” […]

  53. […] that is Dave McKean. I have been looking like mad for any work by him all over the net, and found this comprehensive overview. The creativity is […]

  54. […] Dave McKean, Tomi Ungerer, and Shigeru […]

  55. […] Published by HarperCollins, New York. The illustration from this book is re-posted here from this 2009 7-Imp interview with Dave […]

  56. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive … – 55 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #81: Dave McKean” Holy wicked art. I’m in awe. And talk about a tour de force interview…in awe of … […]

  57. […] graphic novel format–and artists who’ve used it–another don’t-miss is the 7-Imps’ fabulous interview with Dave McKean, who is at least partially responsible for me picking up my first Sandman comic at age, oh, […]

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