SD Comic-Con 2012: Dave McKean on His ‘Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ Graphic Novel


Over the last decade, many fans have complained that the San Diego Comic-Con has become far too focused on film and television, at the expense of the medium from which it was born and named. But walking the exhibit floor at Comic-Con, one can still find many artists and writers proving the medium of comics is a vital and distinct art form, deserving of as much praise as its more widely consumed moving-picture cousins. One of the finest comics auteurs working today is Renaissance man Dave McKean, best known for his frequent collaborations with Neil Gaiman. McKean directed the film MirrorMask, and provided the cover for every issue of Sandman. But he’s also crafted plenty of solo work, including Cages, the collection Pictures That Tick (now available from Dark Horse) and the sensual odyssey of Celluloid (available from Fantagraphics). I caught up with McKean at the Allen Spiegel Fine Arts booth at Comic-Con, where he told me about a new comics project he’s developing, one that horror fans will find especially intriguing.

“I’m collecting a new series of short stories, that’s nearly done,” begins McKean. “That’s called Pictures That Tick 2 and will be out from Dark Horse next year. And I’m working on a new graphic novel for Abrams which is called Caligaro. It’s a retelling of the wonderful German expressionist film The Cabinet of the Dr. Caligari. It’s sort of a strange horror, dreamy, nightmary thriller."

“I’ve loved silent cinema,” adds the artist, “and that’s always been a favorite, that film. It’s always kind of surprised me that so many of the others – Nosferatu, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, all these great horror stories – have been told many, many, many times in sound films. Caligari is one of my favorites, but it never has. I think it was remade once, very poorly, in the 1950s. But it’s actually an extraordinary story. It was the first great twist ending in any film. I thought I wanted to try and recreate it, but reinstate its anarchist tone, which is what the writers intended. The director rewrote it and changed that, but the director actually came up with the extraordinary twist ending. So I wanted both the anarchy and the twist ending – not the same one – and I think I’ve got both.”

“I believe each story or idea is best suited to a particular medium. So if it’s going to be a film, I’d rather just make it as a film. If it needs sound or music, well then it’s got to be a film. This story works really well as a comic, it doesn’t need that. It doesn’t need the motion, it doesn’t need to be a film. I think I can express it in the best way as a comic. As the characters in the story are put under this strange state of hypnosis, the world around them warps and distorts and becomes much more like a drawing. So that really lends itself to comic book, and I want to do it that way.

“It seems like at the moment there are a lot of people who are just doing comics as a stepping stone to getting them bought as film projects. But I still love comics as a medium in its own right. I think it has extraordinary strengths that are very different from film, and I want to tell stories that make the most of the fact that it’s a comic.”