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Conversational Euro-Comics: Bart Beaty On Dave McKean's "The Rut"
posted October 7, 2010
By Bart Beaty
I hate to be telling you this now, but if you weren't in London recently there is a very good chance that you missed the best comic of the year. "The Rut," a short comic by Dave McKean
, has just wrapped up it's run at the Pumphouse Gallery
in Battersea Park
. This was the type of phenomenal breakthrough work that will be talked about by those who saw it for years to come.
McKean's comic was one of four works installed on the four floors of the Pumphouse as part of the Hypercomics
show. Curated by London's King of Comics, Paul Gravett
, the show gave four artists -- Warren Pleece
, Adam Dant
and Daniel Merlin Goodbrey
in addition to McKean -- the opportunity to take their comics work off the page, as it were. While the other works -- which incorporated video and wall sized graphics -- tried interesting things to varying degrees of success, McKean's work achieved at a tremendous level.
I had the pleasure to see an exhibition of McKean's work at Angouleme
several years ago. At the time I was impressed by the monumentality, and the sheer slickness of the presentation. It was truly a feast for the eyes. This new work was much more impressive however, providing not only an astonishing visual spectacle but a clever narrative as well.
"The Rut" tells the story of a man talking to a prison psychologist, mining his soul for explanations about past misdeeds. In a series of flashbacks and false flashbacks we are told a story of teenaged brutality. Actually, "told" may be too strong a word. The story is only really hinted at through the position of objects.
"The Rut" includes about 40 traditional comics panels, each on a single page, each under glass. As these are by McKean, one of the great stylists of contemporary comics production, their exceptional quality almost goes without saying. These panels are arrayed on the wall and on the floor, leading the reader around the four walls of the room.
Interrupting the flow of these panels are several other objects. A framed portrait of a stag, three extremely large photographs of a man whose head is splitting open, images of a forest and stags fighting that cover the windows, masks, a body -- made of red cloth -- suspended from branches, and a steamer trunk with text painted all over it. Each of these objects is crucial to the development of the story. Simply collecting the drawn panels presented here as a book absent the sculptural elements would give you no sense of the story being told, and, more importantly, no indication of how the work felt.
What McKean has created is a truly immersive comics experience, and one that brings the comics world that much more closely in line with the more interesting developments in other fields of art.
Sadly, I caught Hypercomics on its final day. I don't know if there are future plans for this work, but I hope that there will be other opportunities to see it at festivals or conventions. It was, without a doubt, the best comic that I have read this year.
* The Hypercomics Exhibit
* photos taken by Bart Beaty
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