Pictures That Tick by Dave McKean

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

Background: I had never heard of this book until I got it as a gift for my birthday last month, but I have been a huge fan of Dave McKean’s work since I discovered it around four or five years ago, so it was a really nice surprise. I first became aware of his work through the graphic novel Black Orchid, which he made with Neil Gaiman. I remember marveling at the beautiful panels in that book and wondering who this amazingly talented artist was. After that, it was only a matter of time until I got acquainted with the rest of his illustrative works. This, however, is the first book I got that wasn’t made together with other authors, which got me curious.

Review: Let me be a bit unorthodox and start this review with a conclusion: go buy it. Seriously. You won’t regret it, if you’re a fan of his work or of the comic / graphic novel genre in general, specially if, like me, you like to see the boundaries of a medium being explored to the limits. That being said…

Pictures That Tick is a collection of short stories, some made of words and images, others of only images, some drawn, some painted, some photographed, some all of the above. The author includes a short introduction to each of the stories, which in itself I found very interesting. In some of them he would allude to what had inspired him to make it, including some references to other artists such as Duane Michals (who happens to be one of my favourite photographers), while in others it seemed like I was staring at written versions of his scattered thoughts. In fact, many of the short stories felt like that – a materialized string of ideas, or stream of consciousness, rather than a story per se – and this is particularly notable in the stories in which he uses no words.

The artwork itself is nothing short of amazing. Dave McKean seems to have mastered many different mediums in a way that many other people can only aspire to. If you’re familiar with his work you probably already know this, but it still came as a surprise, to see so many mediums intertwined in such a lovely manner in one single book. The highlights, for me, were “Ash”, a story about a girl with a tree growing through her, and “His Story”, which follows the life of a boy who had listened to his father’s story. It sounds rather simplistic when I put it down in words, but believe me, it’s everything but. The book is full of metaphors and word play and little pearls of wisdom which sometimes come in the form of an image. This quote, from “Ash”, particularly struck home with me:

She looked out at the other trees, and she realised that her life was one of thousands, any one of which could have been her, she had grown wherever her life had taken her, she had drifted wherever the wind had blown her.

This is a gorgeous, thought-provoking book and I am infinitely glad I came across it. It showcases Dave McKean’s talent not only as a visual artist, but also as a skilled storyteller.

What’s Next: Some of these stories touched me deeply and still linger in my mind. I now have all his books (including the ones he worked on with other authors) on my wishlist. I sincerely hope he makes another one with short stories such as these.

I still need to finish Irrationality (almost done) and I’m not sure what to do with Dune, since it’s been a long time since I picked it up. I do want to read it, and it’s been a good book so far, but the tiny print gives me a headache every time. I have many items on my to-read pile, so I’m not quite sure what to read next. I feel like reading some fiction though, one that’s easy to read and digest… So stay tuned.

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