Dave McKean. Filmmaker. Jazz musician. Illustrator of the most successful graphic novel of all time Batman: Arkham Asylum, and cover artist for Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking The Sandman. A man who may no longer actually be appearing at his 9 Lives performance since I told him Australians like to throw snakes at people to make them feel welcome. But we reckon he’ll get over it in time, so here’s a little more about what McKean will be brining to the GRAPHIC lineup with his performance of original songs and stories accompanied by still images, film clips and animations.

Adam Norris: Hi Dave. You’re widely considered to be the most prolific graphic artist of the past fifty years. That’s a pretty unique position from which to see the cross-over of graphic novels into mainstream audiences. Do you feel that acceptance is now complete?

Dave McKean: Well, it’s certainly what we had hoped for. Back in the ’80s, that was the great enthusiasm led by writers like Alan Moore to take the medium somewhere important. I’d always loved comics as a kid and the older I got I found I just wanted to see more challenging stories. There were certainly some people doing that, but that was what we were hoping for. And I thought it was all going to happen then, that by 1989 everybody would be reading comics. And somehow that never quite occurred…

AN: And now in 2013 you’ve been invited to perform at the Sydney Opera House as part of GRAPHIC…

DM: Yeah, it’s taken longer than we expected, but it does seem to have finally happened. There’s enough new work coming out now that isn’t focused on superheroes or things like that, which are just really beautiful, interesting books often published by actual book publishers as opposed to the traditional comic publishers. I mean, the superhero stuff plays its part, of course. But what’s much more interesting is this new generation of people coming along now who don’t have any of the baggage of thinking that comics have to be done a certain way. They’re trying new things and telling new stories.

AN: I often see your output being described as coming from “the signature world of Dave McKean”. I imagine that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you’ve developed a unique style that people respond to. On the other, you might find yourself caged in by your fans’ expectations.

DM: I’ve never been too bothered about what the audience is expecting. I’ve been happy to try different things, to try different stories in different ways. For me, success is getting the most out of a story. I want to do the story justice, and I want to be entertained. I’m really no different to anybody else. If I think it’s entertaining or moving, funny or frightening, whatever, I’m sure there must be someone else out there who’ll think the same.

AN: Is there a certain standard that you worry about maintaining because the expectations of your fans are so high? What happens if you reach the Opera House and find that the audience starts booing, throwing chairs, lighting fires?

DM: Oh, thanks. That’s great. You know, I’d been doing quite well. I thought it was going to be this nice trip to Sydney … everyone would be really friendly.

AN: Oh, no, we’re really quite terrifying here. If we don’t like you, we throw snakes. If we do like you, we still throw snakes, only bigger ones.

DM: Good God. I … I was expecting good times, that the whole trip would be a lot of fun. It’s really quite a gentle performance, and I really like the stories I’ll be sharing. People expecting some sort of strange version of Arkham Asylum will be disappointed. No superheroes, no big adventurers. It’s a series of short stories about life in general. But now you’ve got me thinking I probably shouldn’t get on the plane. I’ll just send a video message to everyone: “Sorry I couldn’t come, but I was scared away by your love affair with snakes.”

Dave McKean: 9 Lives presents as part of the GRAPHIC Festival on Saturday October 5 at the Sydney Opera House.

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