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.
He was chosen by Apple as one of their thirty key creatives representing thirty years since the launch of the Apple Mac (Dave’s year was 1994, the year he created
the first Photoshop comics covers for the hugely influential Sandman series, and the first original online interactive narrative, Club Salsa).
In 1986 he met author Neil Gaiman. Their first book, Violent Cases (1987), has been printed in many editions worldwide, and adapted for the stage. They also created 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, and a second volume of Sandman related covers for The Dreaming, Sandman Presents, Overture and others, called Dream States, was published in 2015.
Arkham Asylum (1989) written by Scottish author Grant Morrison, still the single most successful graphic novel ever published, was also illustrated by Dave. It has remained in print, and for its 30th anniversary edition, was finally digitally remastered, and included the script, notes and commentary. This book has inspired computer games and live theatrical installations.
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.
1995 saw collaborations with the Rolling Stones (The Voodoo Lounge), and Rachel Pollack (The Vertigo Tarot).
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.
Also in 2010/11 an erotic wordless novel called Celluloid was released by Delcourt, Fantagraphics and other publishers across Europe.
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. Also, a set of Mythological Creatures stamps from the Royal Mail. He has created concept illustrations for the 2nd. And 3rd. Harry Potter films, designs for Lars von Trier’s interactive project in Copenhagen, House of Zoon, and films and production design for 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.
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 releases by Michael Nyman, Tori Amos, Roy Harper, Delerium, Project Mooncircle, Real World, Altan, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bill Laswell, Alice Cooper, The Misfits, Skinny Puppy, Dream Theater, Counting Crows, Front Line Assembly, Stian Carstensen, Noise Unit, and Bill Bruford.
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. Feral has released two Food CD’s (Ballamy and Thomas Stønen) and three Little Radio CD’s (Ballamy and Stian Carstensen).
Dave’s Hourglass studio and Allen Spiegel 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), Galerie Martel (Paris), Galerie BD (Paris), Galerie Petit Papier (Brussels), and Galerie Artizar (Palma), has put together two touring exhibitions with Graphicus Touring, the retrospective show Narcolepsy and a collection of photography.
Dave has illustrated several 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), MirrorMask and Crazy Hair, all written by Neil Gaiman. Varjak Paw (Smarties Gold Award), The Outlaw Varjak Paw and Phoenix written by SF Said, and The Savage (Liverpool Reads book of the year), Slog’s Dad, Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf, and Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond.
He has illustrated and designed several books for adults. Wizard & Glass, Night Shift, and The Colorado Kid (Stephen King); The Homecoming and Skeletons (Ray Bradbury); What’s Welsh For Zen and Sedition & Alchemy (John Cale); Full Throttle (Joe Hill); Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, American Gods, and The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman).
He has also collaborated on various books and TV films with Iain Sinclair (Slow Chocolate Autopsy, My Favourite London Devils, Landor’s Tower, Fifty Saints, Asylum and The Falconer).
Dave began an ongoing working relationship with Heston Blumenthal on The Big Fat Duck Book and Historic Heston, and has contributed murals, package design, wallpaper, maps, and various other graphic works to The Fat Duck and the Hinds Head in Bray, Dinner in London and in Melbourne, and is Director of Story at the Duck.
In 2011 Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality was released, profusely illustrated by Dave. A book that encourages imaginative, critical, sceptical thinking, and introduces young readers (and anyone really) to the awe-inspiring real world of science.
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.
He has also directed numerous other short films including Whack!, Dawn, Visitors and Displacements, and music films for Emilia Martensson, Stian Carstenssen, Izzy, Lowcraft and Buckethead. A collection of all Dave’s short films, music films and trailers for features, was released on blu-ray, with an accompanying book of commentary and related imagery simply called Short Films, from Dark Horse Books.
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 for Michael Sheen and sound wizard Ian Sands.
Dave’s third feature Luna premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and was invited to many international festivals around the world including London’s Raindance, where it won Best British Feature and a BIFAward.
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). He completed two travel sketchbooks (Perugia and Bilbao) to add to an ongoing series (Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna).
In 2015, Dave worked with Bill Mitchell and the Wildworks Theatre Company again to create Wolf’s Child, a site specific outdoor play, for the Norfolk Theatre Festival. Dave wrote the script and lyrics, and is currently compiling the footage into a new feature film. He also wrote the story, lyrics and created films for the Manchester Jazz/Literature Festival commission An Ape’s Progress, with Iain Ballamy and poet Matthew Sweeney.
In 2016, Dave wrote and illustrated Black Dog: the Dreams of Paul Nash. This book and accompanying performance work, was a commission by the 14-18Now Foundation, The Imperial War Museum, The Lakes International Comic Art Festival and On a Marché Sur la Bulle. It was published as an artists edition in the UK, and worldwide by Dark Horse Publishing and Glénat. Dave transferred the book to a series of projections, and wrote an hour’s worth of orchestral music and songs. This performance occurred at the Somme Memorial in Amiens, festivals in Toronto, Mumbai, Europe, and at the Tate Britain opening of Nash’s retrospective.
His graphic novel Raptor was published in 2021, and may be the first in an ongoing series featuring the traveler and hunter Sokol.
Recent illustrative book projects include Caustic, a collection drawings inspired by silent erotic cinema, I Am Legend (Richard Matheson), Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky). The Gormenghast Trilogy (Mervyn Peake), Neuromancer (William Gibson), Tyger (SF Said), Is This a Cookbook? (Heston Blumenthal/Pascal Clariss), Roadside Picnic (The Strugatsky Brothers), Postcard from Venice and Postcard from Prague (sketchbooks), and Apophenia (art book).
In response to the development of artificial intelligence image creation programs like Midjourney, Dave created Prompt: Conversations with AI in twelve days. Through three short graphic story experiments, it explores the creative and ethical implications of this new technology, and asks how our working definitions of creativity, art and consciousness have shifted.
Dave is currently finishing a book of paintings and drawings inspired by silent cinema (Nitrate), more travel sketchbooks (Tenerife, Copenhagen and Naples) and a couple of new graphic novel projects. He is slowly editing his fourth feature based on the play Wolf’s Child, together with an accompanying short film series Unearthed. He is also working on a visual conversational book with Spanish artist Jorge Gonzalez and a huge retrospective volume called Thalamus for Dark Horse Books.
Locally, he plays with guitarist and songwriter Steve Stone, and violinist Paul Brasington in the band Entertaining Mr Stone.
He lives on the Isle of Oxney in Kent, England with his wife, studio manager and musician, Clare.
Twitter – @davemckean