I didn’t know about Dave McKean’s Cages when it first came out in ten issues in the early 1990s, and when the hardcover collection was finally published in 1998 it had a cover price of something like $50, so I couldn’t have it. Then one it went out of print you had to shell out even more to buy a copy and I threw up my hands.
It’s finally back now in a softcover edition for the more livable price of $30, and at that price it’s a steal. Cages is a masterwork by an immensely creative young artist/author, written at a time when graphic novels were only just starting to realize their creative potential.
It centers on three artists—a painter, a jazz musician/poetry slammer, and a writer—who share an apartment building. The painter is at a point of transition, trying to rediscover his abilities. The writer’s last book, called “Cages,” so incensed the public that he’s now on the run like Salman Rushdie, under the protection of goons who confiscate everything he loves. The musician is touched by God, as they used to say, and tunes stones when he’s not awing audiences in the nearby cafe.
It would do the book a serious injustice to try to describe its plot any more than that. It’s basically a series of linked meditations on creation, some fables, some monologues, some poems. Even the poems are good, and none of it holds the reader’s hand. I called graphic novels a middlebrow art form in a recent post, but what McKean is attempting—and succeeding at—is decidedly highbrow, with real intellectual heft to it.
The art is as varied and powerful as the text, as you’d expect from the guy who did all those beloved Sandman covers. Most of the basic story is told with black-and-white ink drawings, but there are glossy color interludes in many different styles, including some photomontages that I have to think predate Photoshop or other software tools that would today make them easy to assemble and yet probably suck the life out of them.
I think I’ve only unequivocally recommended buying two comics this year. Cages makes a third. Order it now, before it goes back out of print. It’s that good.
The preview at the Amazon page was the only one I could find.