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Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean:

Violent Cases

Dark Horse Comics are releasing a new deluxe edition of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s first graphic novel collaboration, Violent Cases, published by Escape Books in 1987. The photo above shows them both when they won an Eagle Award for the book. It’s good timing to run my introduction for the Tenth Anniversary version, published in 1987 by Kitchen Sink Press.

Dave McKean will be talking with me at a Comica Conversation on Tuesday October 29th at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London. And Neil Gaiman is talking at a sold-out Foyles/Time Out evening on Tuesday October 15th. It shows how far things have changed over some twenty five years. In 2013, Neil is filling the entire Central Hall Westminster, about the biggest live audience he’s ever addressed here, and the same venue where Violent Cases all began very modestly all those years ago at the regular Saturday Comic Marts.

In addition, this week Knockabout Comics and the digital graphic novel app Sequential are offering a free digital download of Neil Gaiman’s Lost Tales, a bunch of “lost” Neil Gaiman comics, including collaborations with Bryan Talbot, Dave McKean, and others. Simply download the free Sequential app and then download Lost Tales from within iTunes. For every download, a donation of $0.50 will be made to the charity Malaria No More, with a target of raising $15,000 to fight malaria. The book, called Neil Gaiman’s Lost Tales, will also include a very rare 1980s interview, Gaiman’s original typed notes for The Sandman, sample scripts, project proposals, and more, including an original cover by Hunt Emerson. As a modest Extra, I’ve been interviewed for a short audio clip on how Violent Cases came to be.

Ten years ago, Peter Stanbury and I, as coeditors of Escape Magazine since 1983, had always kept a close eye on all that was happening in the British small press comics scene. And a lot was happening. Escape had sprouted and blossomed directly out of the Fast Fiction mail-order and comic mart network I had started for the small press in 1981. Eddie Campbell, Phil Elliott, Glenn Dakin, Myra Hancock, and Ed Pinsent were just some of the individualistic young creators I had first spotted developing in their own self-published comics. Their comics just could not fit into 2000 AD, or Marvel/DC, or pssst!, or Warrior, or even the conventions of underground comix. If you really believe in what you are doing, you’ll create it, self-publish it if necessary, rather than ape the tired clichés and genres that blinkered editors tell you the readers want. In the small press, there was a different, distinct, uncompromising, and rather British attitude, and Escape brought them together.

Dave McKean had stood out to me straight away in his self-published comics Meanwhile… starting in 1984, although to me these stories didn’t quite live up to his graphic skills. Still, definitely someone to watch. I first met Neil Gaiman in the chic offices of some dilettante business suits, who ended up failing to finance a new comics magazine called Borderline. Out of this, Dave and Neil met each other and came to me with a proposal for Escape, a five-page story that just kept growing.

We’d meet at the Central Hall Westminster Comic Marts or in a pub next door, and I’d read or hear about the next page and share in their interchange of ideas. Neil and Dave would not deny that they started by being influenced respectively by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz (notably, in Dave’s case, Sienkiewicz’s 1982 breakthrough story “Hit It” in Moon Knight #26). But in tandem, they quickly evolved their own voice. Something special was being nurtured here, a writer-artist alchemy that has continued to deepen and diversify. They were finding ways of conveying what I felt comics should start to do, showing those intimate, subtle emotions of everyday life, those minute incidents and personal yet universal memories that Eddie Campbell was recording so tellingly in his Alec biographic novels, also from Escape. It’s no coincidence that this observation and humanity would later form Cages, Dave’s solo debut as a writer-artist.

There was something in Violent Cases. It had to see print. Back in 1987, in the midst of Maus, Dark Knight, Watchmen, and all the slightly mad optimism about “comics growing up,” Escape made the difficult adjustments from the freedom and financial precipices of creative independence to being published and backed by Titan Books, a comic publisher whose whole line until then was built on safe, sure-fire reprints and repackaging. For all of us, and for them too, Violent Cases, a creator-driven and originated, experimental, non-genre “graphic novel/fiction” by two unknowns, was a radical departure, a leap of faith. It finally appeared in October 1987, and rave reviews, DC contracts, success, and acclaim swiftly followed.

Ten years on, this book still has a lot to show people. Neil later said that Violent Cases “was done for us. It was done because we wanted it to be done.” I hope it will encourage more writers, artists, editors, and publishers, whether newcomers or old hands, to create comics out of passion and commitment, to tell stories that need to be told, and above all to take that leap of faith.

Posted: October 14, 2013

This Article originally appeared as the Introduction to the 1997 edition of Violent Cases.

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