Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dave McKean & Steve

Another of the artists that I admire for sheer talent and vision is Dave McKean. He's one of those people who sees things a little differently than the average human, and is then able to translate what he sees into several different mediums, so the rest of us can get some glimpse of his perspective. I find his work fascinating, and have for about 20 years now.

The only time I ever met him was a brief encounter at a comic book convention in New York City back in 1990. He had a room to himself filled with many of his works on display, and his beautiful graphic novel, Batman: Arkhan Asylum, done with writer Grant Morrison had been published not long prior to the show. I was all of 18, and was just starting to branch out with my artistic tastes, and hadn't really gotten to know his work yet. I'd bought the Batman book because I was already a fan of Morrison's writing from Animal Man and Doom Patrol, but I hadn't had a chance to read it yet.

Being in that cramped room with far too many other people, I was only able to get McKean to sign my copy, without any chance for discussion, other than a quick "Cheers" from Dave and exchanged smiles. I was, however, able to look at many of the pieces on display, and I do remember realizing right away there was something very different about this work, and that I was pretty sure that while I didn't completely understand it, I really liked it. (As a quick aside, I was finally able to get Morrison to sign my copy of that book 18 years later...but that's a story for another day...)

One of the main reasons why I signed up on Twitter was because I'd seen that McKean was on it. I knew people like Neil Gaiman (a frequent McKean collaborator) and Stephen Fry were on there, but when I saw that McKean was there as well, I think that's what pushed me over the edge of deciding and made me join. I enjoy seeing what artistic types have to randomly say here and there. Dave recently described himself on Twitter to someone as "I illustrate books, cd covers, advertising, design and direct films, write and draw comics, paint and draw for exhibition."

Well, as it turns out, because McKean doesn't have the 1.5 million followers that Gaiman has (not sure how or why, but...), I've been able to have a few "conversations" with him on Twitter. 20 years after "meeting" him (I really don't count it...), I'm finally able to actually have a few words here and there with him. He tends to post about what movie he watched the nite before, and seeing as how his perspective is thankfully askew from what most of society perceives as quality entertainment, he's not watching the latest drivel from Hollywood.

Now, my friend Steve, I've known for almost 20 years at this point. We met working at a Barnes & Noble in Long Island, and still talk regularly. I see him whenever I go back to NY, as he lives a mile from my parents. Granted, by the time I get back this year, it'll have been two and a half years, but still...

Steve has interesting taste in film. He'll watch ANYTHING. Doesn't matter who made it, when, what budget, cast, whatever. If it's been filmed, chances are, he's seen it. He does this so that he can stumble across the occasional nugget of gold, which is usually buried deep within a very large pile of manure. He owns some of the worst films ever made, simply because they were cheap, and because sometimes you can find a goodie in the bargain bin. He also, however, owns many of the original films that Mystery Science Theater 3000 made an entire career out of making fun of. Just so you know.

Anyway, Steve and Dave seem to have similar tastes in what's good in film, and Steve is also a fan of McKean's art, so I started e-mailing Steve Dave's Twitter film reviews. Steve is too busy watching crappy movies to have time for something like Twitter, so I seem to serve as a go-between here. Well, Steve, in New York, would comment back to me, in Las Vegas, what he thought of the film Dave, in England, had just watched, and I would then tweet it on to Dave. Much to my surprise, seeing as how Dave has over 11,500 followers as of this writing, I started getting responses. I've even gotten Dave to read Steve's journal entries concerning film, particularly his "Best Of 2009" entry (

Recently Steve watched a film called Hitler - ein Film aus Deutschland (, which he realized reminded him of McKean's films in some ways. I passed this on to Dave, who then read some of the reviews on IMDB, and got back to me with this; ""A test of physical and mental endurance". Hmmm, not sure what to make of that comparison..." Seeing as how that could be taken as less than complimentary, I told Dave I'd get further clarification from Steve. Steve, now firmly convinced I'm trying to get him in trouble, sent me an e-mail that I'd promised both I'd blog so Dave could read it. It's taken me about a week to find the time to actually sit at the computer and write a blog entry (I tend to work a lot of hours, and then watching the New York Rangers lose while eating dinner kills most of what's left of the evening). So here's what Steve had to say as far as explaining why a film like that made him think of McKean's films;

"I meant it more as the melding of theatrical and film techniques to create a work that breaks the bounds of what a film should be. Not that his films were a mental or physical endurence like to get me into trouble don't you. I mean you have the various characters in McKean's films using masks and other theatrical conventions that are kind of anti-film. If you look at McKean's films pre-affordable-visual-effects-programs, it seems he used some similar techniques to get the effects that you can now do with a push of a button. McKean transcends the so-called limits of one "medium" to create something that is more. When you watch a McKean film, as when you watch "Hitler", one has a sense that one is watching someone who refuses to play by the rules and creates the art that the filmmaker wants, instead of the art that is expected...."

I figured it was something along those lines, as I know that both Steve and I have nothing but the highest respect for Dave's artistic talents. Steve's follow up to that far-too-long-for-Twitter response was "I dare you to try and compress the previous email to 140 characters"! Hence the impetus for the blog entry...

Update; it's now 5:15PM still on the 25th, and I got a tweet back from Dave a couple hours ago which read: "Thanks, I read it. Amazing how many people I met in NY 1990 I'm still running into. Turns out Chip Kidd was one of them as well." See, only with something like Twitter can there be this kind of interaction with people who understandably don't have e-mail addresses publicly available. I just appreciate the fact that Dave takes the time to read my blog and Steve's journal, and comments back. And in re-reading this entry, I realize that I was a little harsh on Steve and his film tastes. He does watch a ton of crap, but he's searching for the good stuff, which he then can really appreciate when he does find it. While I do goof on him for what he has, I really do greatly respect his artistic tastes. He's been the one to get me into many wonderful artists in all mediums, due to taking the time to wade thru the ocean of shit that is out there. I wouldn't be a fan of Eddie Izzard if not for Steve telling me about him before Dress To Kill had even come out. He tried to drag me to see him in NY at the time, but for whatever stupid reason, I didn't go. Then, when Eddie was touring with Circle, and I was now a full fledged fan, I was going to go to a show in NYC in April 2000...until I moved out to Las Vegas in February 2000. I still have the unused ticket. There's more to this story, but I'll save that for another day too...

And Steve says; "I said compress it to 140 characters not expand it to 140 paragraphs...."

Blog Post Soundtrack; Black Sabbath, Bad Radio, Public Enemy, The Simpsons, Yawning Man, Faith No More, Metallica (several songs from that show in upstate New York in 1994 that I was at that I'd blogged about previously), Brant Bjork, Booker T. & The MG's, The White Stripes (several songs from their shows in Blackpool in January 2004), the first few songs of Tool's stunning Aenima album, Fu Manchu, Pink Floyd, Pearl Jam (covering Driven To Tears by The Police), Queens Of The Stone Age

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