by Dave McKean
(NBM, 2002)

Insightful. Original. Engrossing. Beautiful. Groundbreaking. These are words that accurately describe Cages, a massive graphic novel from NBM Publishing and creator Dave McKean.

But there are more words. Theologically silly. Slow. Uneven. Unresolved. Disappointing.

Cages is an imaginative exploration of creativity told in words, ink, paint, photographic stills and collages. Using an apartment building as his microcosm, McKean examines the hearts and minds of a painter, musician, and writer. As they try to resolve the stress of careers with the demands of putting bread on their tables, each endures the endless complications of living with other tenants.

"McKean takes his time," reads a news release, "to fully explore the characters' foibles, musings and aspirations, as well as the random effects of fate and time and the inter-section of lives in one apartment complex."

Do you want the good or bad news first?

The majority of the good descriptive words that began this review apply to McKean's art. It is stunning as it metamorphoses from ink to paint to photograph to collage and back. There is nothing better in the field of comic books, and little that can match the power of his visuals. He often uses repeated images, however, as pauses to emphasize what has just happened on his page, and it can become tiring.

The majority of the bad descriptive words that began this review apply to McKean's writing. It is rare to find an excellent artist who is also an excellent writer. It is still rare.

Although his dialogue rings true, McKean rambles among themes, introduces elements incongruent with the whole, and ends Cages with a whimper.

Its package more innovative than content, and its prose weaker than its art, Cages nevertheless raises comics to a new level of excellence and is highly recommended for adults who are nonplussed by unnecessary profanity, nudity and sex.

- Rambles
written by Michael Vance
published 11 January 2003

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