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Dave McKean

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Title: The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Gold Fish
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Dave McKean
Year: 1997

Although published the other way around, I read this book after reading The Wolves in the Walls, also written by Neil Gaiman, and with artwork by Dave McKean. Since the two works are fairly similar (intended audience, appearance, style, language, etcetera), I will focus this short review on what makes them different and why I have decided to give only three and a half snails to The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Gold Fish.

Although containing most of what was made the next book good, this book lacks the feeling of wonder I normally associate with Gaiman. The story is still charming and I like many of the elements in it (otherwise I would not have given it three and a half snails), but it fails to engage my imagination. My recommendation is to read the The Wolves in the Walls first, and then, should you enjoy the medium and the story, do not hesitate to read this one as well. After all, neither of these publications requires much time, so enjoyment per time is still pretty high.

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Title: The Wolves in the Walls
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Dave McKean
Year: 2003

If I were to choose one favourite author as of this moment, it would probably be Neil Gaiman, not because The Wolves in the Walls is extraordinarily good, but because he has yet to make me disappointed. His average level is way above that of most authors I know, and, at his best, his absolutely brilliant. The Wolves in the Walls is an illustrated children’s book. Compared to Stardust and Coraline, which can also be said to suit a younger audience as well an adult one, The Wolves in the Walls has the genuine feeling of a book for children.

This, however, does not make it unsuitable for adults. Instead, I can find several merits of this short and highly graphical experience. The story itself is entertaining, witty and excellently executed. It is, of course, fairly simple and to the point, but this does not blunt the point I am trying to make. I have mixed feelings about the illustrations, which are at times perfect in every way, but are at other times fail to catch my admiration.

What is so beautiful about The Wolves in the Walls is that it is so short. It takes ten minutes to read, at the outside, so if you have the opportunity to borrow this book, let no doubt cloud your mind. I am not sure that I think it is worth the money it would cost to buy it, though, but it is more than definitely worth the time. Four snails to mister Gaiman.

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Title: MirrorMask
Directed by:
Dave McKean
Written by:
Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
Year: 2005

Few people in the world come close earning the admiration I feel for Neil Gaiman. He has written numerous novels and comic books which number among the best pieces of fiction that I know of. Therefore, it is not surprising that he manages to create something extraordinary in MirrorMask, together with Dave McKean, who seems to be able to vitalise their common creativity and make a truly unique experience.

MirrorMask is about a young girl, Helena, in a family of circus entertainers, who dreams herself away from everyday life through her marvellous paintings. After a quarrel between her parents, her mother falls ill and Helena is convinced that it is her fault. After falling asleep, she finds herself in a world eerily similar to her own drawings, a world torn apart by a war between the white and the black queen. Helena and her sidekick Valentine need to find the mirrormask, which will save the white queen and her kingdom.

It is indeed very rare that a film can survive on only being visually magnificent, but this is true for MirrorMask. I dare to say that it is the most fantastic visual tour de force I have ever experienced on the screen. Weird surrealism is mixed with fantastic concepts, all expertly executed in a way that makes me shiver with pleasure. In many ways, it feels like the more delirious parts of The Sandman.

Added to this, the basic concept of the film is also brilliant, although I think it lacks in execution. The storyline is a bit too straightforward and lacks the ingenuity of the aspects covered in the previous paragraph. I would not go as far as saying that it is bad, because I think that there is some merit in not miring in a complicated plot. If the plot were simple, but with a uniqueness on par with that of the graphics, this film would probably be one of my all-time favourites.

I hesitate before recommending this film. I think it is absolutely brilliant and worth watching only for the visual experience. Even if there were no story at all, no characters and no sound, I would still find it worthwhile. However, the film is surreal in a way I think many people find too strange. Usually, when other people think films are strange, I tend to like them, but I do not think it works the other way around. That being said, I still have to recommend MirrorMask, because it truly is a masterpiece.

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