Wednesday, 1 July 2009


"...we are all prawns in God's great chess game of existence..."

We interupt this Blog for a quick commercial break. I will now try to sell you something. Do not be alarmed. Please.

Recently the question cropped up about what people's favourite books were. Lots of good suggestions came up, from those I'd heard of to those I hadn't, to the completely unexpected but appreciated ('Tintin In Tibet' was a childhood favourite!) Still, I was able to answer quickly, with possibly no hesitation, that I'd pick Cages, by Dave McKean.

Cages is a big book. It's not the sort of thing you could put into a jacket pocket, or a handbag. It's near enough impossible to carry with one hand. This means that not only is it a perfect book for putting on your coffee table, should you have such a table, but you could also use it as a coffee table. Or as an improvised weapon. This will, I'd imagine, decrease the value of a really beautiful book so barring a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion you might want to keep it somewhere nice and safe. Away from young children, I might add, as they seem to be able to strip pages from the spines of any valuable book they get their hands on in minutes.

Okay, so I've established that it's a big book. A beautiful book. One that might be used to smash the brains of any zombies wandering into your neighbourhood. Is that enough to entice you to buy this book? Probably not. If these are your requirements you might like to look at some other big coffee table book. Perhaps that old sex book by Madonna, or an illuminated copy of the Bible lifted from a church. Either of these things will serve your purposes. But, well, if it's a good book with a good story and good pictures, then Cages might be just the thing for you.

In particular, if you're interested in contemporary mythologies - stories told by characters throughout the book to illustrate certain points - or the creative process, then this book will tap into those. And, of course, there's the beautiful artwork too, mainly black and white inks, but occasionally dipping into pencils or brightly coloured paints.

That's the look and feel of the book. But the story and the characters? The book is concerened, for the most part, with an artist who has moved into a new apartment and is struggling to find his muse. This artist, Leo Sabarsky, encounters two other 'artists': Angel, a nightclub musician who seems oblivious to the adulation of his fans; and Jonathan Rush, a writer turned reclusive book critic. But for the most part these people, and the other members of the apartment block and local neighbourhood, live lives that are separate from each other. Sabarsky finds his muse in the form of a woman who lives across the road, Rush lives with his wife as they struggle to understand what has happened to their lives, and Angel is... Angel is visionary, seemingly able to tap into the resonance that runs through everything. If he has any every day concerns we are not witness to them.

What really makes this book work though is the amount of time spent on character dialogue, people just talking as people do, often mundane and trivial and feeling strangely voyeuristic to overhear, and sometimes taking a turn for the odd. The grouchy landlady. The bitter old bar man. Two men in the bar bickering about music. An old woman talking to herself as she waits for her husband to return. Leo Sabarsky meeting his neighbour Jonathan Rush, who seems oddly agitated. His later conversations with the lady across the street. The gallery owner who seems only to be able to communicate via a series of cards with individuals words on. The man on the street wearing a contraption on his head representing the various planets. The surgeon who takes things apart to discern what it is within them that gives them value. Even God speaking with his cat. Above all this is a graphic novel that pays a great deal of attention to the individual worlds of the characters, and what happens when some of those worlds meet. There's very little conflict and, as such, the scenes where there are acts of aggression really stand out as stark and disturbing amongst the rest of the book, largely engaging, entertaining and enlightening.

It's also worth pointing out that there's a happy ending to the story. Or, well, there's a lot of ambiguity about what exactly has been going on, like sitting through to the end of Twin Peaks (although not quite so taxing), but ultimately you feel that people have ended up less lost than they started off, and a great deal happier.

Cages. A book about the cages we find ourselves in, the cages we build for ourselves, and how to escape from them. Or a book about creativity, and uncaging that. Or... well... it could be about a lot of things. There's a lot going on between the covers.

There will be some that consider the book pretentious. But, you know, I think it's got enough safeguards in it to not take itself too seriously, despite the philosophical tangents it wanders off at. And also, quite frankly, I don't care. It's a damn impressive book from a guy known mainly for his artwork, and I continue to find it a brilliant read. You don't have to read it - particularly if you've read thus far and feel you know the book well enough now. But, trust me, if you ever have a large amount of cash sitting around that you're willing to invest in a massive tome of a graphic novel, GET IT!

That is all. You may now continue your normally scheduled life.

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