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Subject: Isaac's Reads: Dave McKean's "Cages" rss

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Cages by Dave McKean

Dave McKean is probably best known as the artist with whom Neil Gaiman likes to work. He created the covers to every Sandman comic books, he illustrated the Gaiman series Black Orchid, along with the graphic novels Violent Cases, Signal to Noise, and Mr. Punch, and he's also done the illustrative work for Gaiman's two books for children. McKean has always been a person of note, for me, but not enough for me to want to read his stories; I know him as an artist, and that's about it. But when I found Cages at the library, I figured it was a good enough time as any to see what he could do.

I'm at a loss, really, because I think I missed the point of the story. A painter rents a room in a London tenement to collect himself and try to regain his creativity, and he runs into a reclusive writer and an avant-garde musician there, as well. Their lives intersect (of course), and the story develops into a sort of treatise on creativity and motivations. What it's trying to say is a bit muddled, partly because there's a high fantastical element to the whole thing. There's a cat who seems to be a running "narrator" character to bring the main characters together, and the story is prefaced with a handful of creation myths, some of which center on a cat as a central character. So, there's a certain amount of sense to that, and I like the way it works in relation to the story.

I guess where I'm lost is in trying to determine what's actually happening to these people, and what's part of their imagination. I'm sure that's a deliberate dichotomy that McKean created, but I don't know how it relates to the events. And maybe THAT'S really where I'm disconnecting; I read more for plot than anything else, and when I encounter a story that's more about character, or subtext, or meaning, then I tend to not know how to relate to the events. I think that Cages is more about the motivation of creativity than anything else, and the story can take a backseat to what he's trying to say on that subject.

All that being said, I enjoyed the work. McKean's artwork has always been a little off, in the sense that he can portray an emotion just through the style of his artwork, and not necessarily the subjects, and that's apparent throughout the book. He sticks mostly to two-tone, pen-and-ink drawings, but jumps to photos and collages -- some in full-color, others in black-and-white -- when he's taking a shift in narrative. It's effective, and carries the story forward, at times when the narrative can't.

I'd be interested in hearing from other people who've read this work, to see if they can shed some light on it. I feel like I'm missing a big chunk of it, though through no fault of the story itself.
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