At War With Himself?
♦Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS reviews Dave McKean’s original graphic novel, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash, published by Dark Horse Books…
Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash
Written & Drawn: Dave McKean
publisher: Dark Horse Books
The centenary of the First World War has been marked over the past two years by museums, galleries and other art spaces in the UK and elsewhere. This year is the 100th centenary of the halfway point of the War To End All Wars and Dave McKean has chosen to shine a light on the conflict through this ambitious project that was previewed at an event up in the Lake District back in May and again at events throughout this autumn. Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash is the centrepiece of an artistic endeveavour from McKean designed to examine the life of painter Paul Nash, a man who served in the British army and saw his fair share of horror and despair. This is an oversized hardcover and paperback, 120 pages long, which takes us from Nash’s life in England through service in the British army and then back to his homeland. Throughout it, the black dog of despair, a familiar literary motif, is looking over his shoulder as he tries to come to terms with the darkness in his soul and in his day to day existence.
McKean has always been one of the most ambitious comic artists and illustrators of the past forty years and Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash sees him continuing to try to push his art by incorporating a variety of different styles and disciplines throughout the book here. Moving from illustrative to painterly, from abstract to caricature, each chapter of the story reflects an emotional landscape. Black Dog is probably the most visceral, unsettling, haunting and atmospheric work that McKean has ever created. Paul Nash here is a very human character, an artist who has found himself at the heart of darkness, struggling to escape and find a kind of peace in his life. The artist’s use of colour is very clever here as it sets the mood for each chapter and the reader is grabbed by the story, which builds to an emotional crescendo.
The oversized format of the book also helps to lend Black Dog extra weight and gravitas as its scale marks it out from other illustrative graphic novels. This is a huge subject that needs the room and the space to breath. Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash is exactly the kind of sophisticated graphic novel that Dave McKean excels at and is also the sort of graphic novel that showcases just how versatile the illustrated form can be. He may be an artist with four decades behind him but he shows no sign of resting on his artistic laurels. Black Dog is a cerebral, literary and intelligent work which sets the bar very high for what McKean decides to do next.
Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash is available now in paperback and hardcover