Science, Belief, and an Origami Crab: Dave McKean at SDCC

Comics fans might have been wondering: what’s Dave McKean been up to? He brought an update to SDCC on Friday with his panel “Dave McKean: My Two Years with Dawkins, Christ, and a Small Crab Called Eric”—and that title really does sum it all up. “I have a very short attention span,” McKean admitted. “I don’t have a grand plan, I don’t have a career line, I make hopelessly uncommercial decisions … but my decisions are always driven by ‘what can I learn out of this?'”

McKean collaborated with Richard Dawkins on a book called The Magic of Reality. This was a project that Dawkins had been wanting develop for a long time, a book teaching young readers to think, analyze, and ask questions about the world around them. “I’m not a scientist,” McKean said, “but I’m a big science fan”; he’s also been working on the Fat Duck Cookbook with chef Heston Blumenthal, who has famously used chemistry techniques to revolutionize fine dining. 

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“Some of my more fanciful ideas for illustrations had to go because they were deemed completely unscientific by Richard,” McKean admitted; he added that Dawkins “has never read a comic in his life,” and had to be persuaded on some of the more comics-like elements of McKean’s work. But fortunately, he also knows any number of diverse experts, including a scientist who worked on the Cassini program and immunologist Alan Townsend. The collaboration was fruitful, and the book has been a success, printed in 26 countries. Click to Enlarge.

McKean has also been working in film over the years, including designs for the Harry Potter films, a short film called “The Week Before” (about the week that God decided he didn’t really feel like creating the world and decided to go fishing instead), and Mirrormask. Though he doesn’t really think he’s entirely got the personality to be a full-time filmmaker—”I like the lunches but not the development hell”—he’s also directed The Gospel of Us, a film of the updated Passion Play that actor Michael Sheen directed in his hometown of Port Talbot, Wales. 

The production was a vast, sprawling work inspired by the centuries-old Passion Play of Oberammergau; it involved the entire town and 25,000 people showed up for the climactic crucifixion scene. Sheen plays the Teacher, a Christ-like figure, over the course of three days after he returns from a disappearance of forty days and forty nights. McKean’s film is his own experience and interpretation of the event, told primarily through the eyes of a child, filmed by McKean himself and nine other cameramen and also featuring animated dream sequences by McKean. He recognized the irony of going from the highly skeptical, scientific Dawkins project to this one—”I’m not a scientist and I’m not a believer, but I’m fascinated by belief.” For him, it’s all grist for the artistic mill.

So that’s Dawkins and Christ. The small crab called Eric is a little origami crab that’s part of McKean’s film Luna, a project he’s been working on for years and interrupted by an unfortunate lapse in funding. At one point McKean showed a slide that depicted Eric “looking at two people carrying a dead bird—I’m not even going to try and explain this but it does happen in the film.” The film is about two couples, one of whom has recently lost a child, and there are dreams that McKean developed with Barron Storrey, and “it gets a bit nightmarish at times,” and hopefully it will be done next year.

Karin Kross is attending her fifth San Diego Comic Con and is posting this from the line for Hall H. 


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