Biography

Dave McKean was born in Taplow, Berkshire in 1963. He attended Berkshire College of Art and Design from 1982-86 and, before leaving, started working as an illustrator.

In 1986 he met author Neil Gaiman with whom he has collaborated on many projects since. Their first book, Violent Cases (1987), has been printed in many editions worldwide, and adapted for the stage. Since then they have produced Black Orchid (1988), Signal To Noise (1990) for The Face magazine and Mr. Punch (1975). Dave has contributed all the cover illustrations and design for the popular Sandman series of graphic novels, and a collection of this work, Dust Covers, was published in 1998.

Arkham Asylum (1989) written by Scottish author/playwrite Grant Morrison, still the single most successful graphic novel ever published, was also illustrated by Dave. 1995 saw collaborations with the Rolling Stones (The Voodoo Lounge), and Rachel Pollack (The Vertigo Tarot).

Between 1990 and 1996, Dave also wrote and illustrated the 500pg. comic novel Cages, which won the Harvey Award for Best new comic and best graphic novel, the Ignatz Award, the International Alph Art award and Italy’s La Pantera Award.

His collection of short stories in comics form, Pictures That Tick released in 2000, won the Victoria and Albert Museum Illustrated Book of the Year Award, and several of McKean’s books are in the V&A collection.

In 1995 he produced the image to launch The Sony Playstation, and in 1996 was one of four photographers chosen by Kodak and Saatchi’s to launch their new colour film with a book, video and global ad package. He has also produced campaigns for Smirnoff, British Telecom, 3dfx Voodoo, BMW/Mini, Nike, the British Government’s Social Work Department, and Eurostar.

He has contributed many illustrations to The New Yorker, Playboy and other magazines, and promotional work for the films Blade, Alien Resurrection, The King is Alive, Dust and Sleepy Hollow. He has also created concept illustrations for the 2nd. And 3rd. Harry Potter films, and designs for Lars von Trier’s interactive project in Copenhagen, House of Zoon.

He has won various awards including the international Amid Award for the best album cover of the year (one of over a 150 covers designed, illustrated and photographed since 1990, including recent releases by Michael Nyman, Tori Amos, Real World, Altan, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bill Laswell, Alice Cooper, Dream Theater, Counting Crows, Front Line Assembly, and Bill Bruford), and the World Fantasy Award for the Sandman covers.

In 1996 he composed and performed the music for the BBCRadio adaptation of Signal to Noise with saxophonist Iain Ballamy, with whom he has recently initiated the Feral Records label. Dave’s Hourglass studio and Allen Speigel Fine Arts in California have also co-published three collections of photographs; A Small Book of B/W Lies, Option:Click and The Particle Tarot which includes an introduction by legendary director and Tarot master Alejandro Jodorowsky.

He has exhibited in America and Europe including solo shows at The Four Color Gallery, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Madrid, and The Maritime Museum, Carlisle, and has put together two touring exhibitions with Graphicus Touring; the retrospective show Narcolepsy which continues to show throughout the UK and Europe, and a collection of photography.

In the last few years Dave completed his first children’s books. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls (NY Times Illustrated Book of the Year) both written by Neil Gaiman, and Varjak Paw (Smarties Gold Award) written by SF Said. Also a book with Stephen King (Wizard & Glass), books and TV films with Iain Sinclair (Slow Chocolate Autopsy, Asylum and The Falconer), and designs for the autobiography of John Cale: What’s Welsh for Zen.

In 1998, Dave decided to make some films. The Week Before and N[eon] are short films that played the festival circuits worldwide and N[eon] won First Prize at the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival. These films brought Dave to the attention of Lisa Henson from the Jim Henson Company, and together with Neil Gaiman and Dave’s small crew from the shorts, they embarked on MirrorMask, a feature fantasy film for Columbia/Tristar. Premiered at the Sundance Festival in Utah, and officially selected for the Locarno, Sitges, London, Edinburgh, Sarasota, Hawaii and Dublin film festivals, it won 9 awards (including the Inaugural Black Tulip at the Amsterdam Festival) and was finally released in cinemas in 2005. Three books were released to tie in with the film including The Alchemy of MirrorMask, a lavish art book which includes all the paintings, designs and photographs made for the film. Both the MirrorMask picture book and Wolves in the Walls were short-listed for the Kate Greenaway/Carnegie Medal. In 2006 he also finished two more children’s books; Crazy Hair (Neil Gaiman) and The Homecoming (Ray Bradbury).

Also in 2006 he has created extensive designs, films and photographs for the Elton John Broadway musical Lestat for Warner Brothers. The National Theatre of Scotland/Improbable musical theatrical production of Wolves in the Walls opened in Glasgow and London, before transferring to New York.

Several books were released in 2008/9: The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) which has won the Newberry Medal, the Carnegie, and many other awards; Skeletons (Ray Bradbury); The Big Fat Duck Book (Heston Blumenthal), Squink, Postcard from Paris and Postcard from Brussels (all drawing books). Also, a set of Mythological Creatures stamps from the Royal Mail.

In 2009, The Savage (by David Almond) was chosen to be the Liverpool Reads book of the year, a wonderful scheme to try to encourage a whole city to read one book. In 2010 Slog’s Dad was released, also published by the wondrous Walker Books.

Also in 2010/11 an erotic wordless novel called Celluloid was released by Delcourt, Fantagraphics and other publishers across Europe.

In 2011 Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality was released. A book that encourages imaginative, critical, sceptical thinking, and introduces young readers (and anyone really) to the awe-inspiring real world of science.

At Easter 2011, Dave travelled to Port Talbot, Wales to direct the film version of Michael Sheen’s epic three day live theatrical event the Passion of Port Talbot. A contemporary, secular re-imagining of the Passion play. Staged by Wildworks and National Theatre Wales, 20,000 visitors took part in the outdoor scenes, and a core company of nearly a 1000 locals contributed to one of the most important artistic events of the decade. The film was called The Gospel of Us, and was released by Soda Pictures in 2012. It won 2 Bafta Cymru Awards fro Michael Sheen and sound wizard Ian Sands.

In 2013/14 Dave finished a new collection of short comics called Pictures that Tick 2: Exhibition, featuring several large gallery and interavtive narrative works including the Coast Road and Blue Tree (Rye Art Gallery) and The Rut (Pumphouse Gallery, London). Also, a new book, Historic Heston, and restaurant mural and print projects, and a new book with David Almond – Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. He’s also completed two more travel sketchbooks (Perugia and Bilbao) and after seven turbulent years of production, his third feature film, Luna. Luna premiered at the Toronto Fiulm Festival, and won Best British Feature at the Raindance Festival, and the Raindance Award at the British Independence Film Awards. 

Dave is currently finishing a book of paintings (Nitrate), more travel sketchbooks (Perugia, Bilbao and Venice) and a new graphic novel (Caligaro). Also, new books with Neil Gaiman and David Almond, and a collection of all Dave’s short film projects is in the works for release in 2015/16.

He lives on the Isle of Oxney in Kent, England with his wife and studio manager Clare, and their two children.

Twitter – @davemckean