June 2002

Karin L. Kross


Dave McKean’s Cages

I’ve had a number of people ask me what comic books they ought to be reading. Most of my recommendations to comic neophytes are the same ones that everyone recommends -- Maus, Sandman, Watchmen, and so on. But there are some that may not be immediately obvious or as easy to find, and it’s these that I’d like to write about here. This column is the first in an occasional series in which I’ll write about non-new releases that I really think you ought to read.


You may only know McKean as the artist who painted Sandman’s lovely and evocative covers, but Cages will acquaint you with McKean the comics writer/artist in his own right, and a brilliant one at that. I’ve often said of Cages that it changed my life, and I’m only very slightly joking when I say that. This is a staggering, ambitious book, and if you are paying attention, you will find that it has a lot to say to you.

Cages covers so much material in its 500 pages that it’s hard to describe it all in a single review. On the most superficial level, it’s about an artist named Leo Sabarsky, and his relationships with Jonathan Rush, a controversial author now living in hiding; and Karen, a botanist who has grown a small forest in her apartment.

There’s a musician named Angel who may be an angel, a man who was a cat, a God who looks like a middle-aged businessman and likes to chat with cats, and a scientist who dissects objects to find out what it is in them that inspires love. And I haven’t even mentioned the jazz yet, or the most beautiful depiction of conversation I’ve ever seen, drawn without a single word.

McKean begins the book with four creation myths; these are myths you’ve never read in any folklore class, but which seem instantly familiar. It’s immediately apparent that something bigger is going on than the story of a creatively blocked painter. In telling the intertwined stories of art, creativity, and the price one pays for it, McKean hints that it’s in the act of artistic creation that the human touches the divine.

But it’s not all gravity and profundity; McKean’s dry sense of humor infuses the book throughout, keeping the writing and the art light on its feet despite its ambition. And of course, since this is McKean, the book is gorgeously drawn, encompassing a range of styles nearly as encyclopedic as its range of subjects.

A new hardcover edition is forthcoming (and according to the information at Amazon, ought to have been published by now). When you do find it, grab it posthaste. And if you’re very lucky and persistent in your searching online and in the back corners of bookshops, you might find a copy of the limited edition that was issued a few years ago, which includes a CD of McKean reading the creation tales that he wrote for the book.

Cages by Dave McKean
Published by NBM Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 1561633194
496 Pages