Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: Dave McKean
Release Date: 5th October, 2016
“If you strip away the accumulated fiction of the war – the grand themes, the mud and the limbs and the jolly old rain, the constructs and stories that constitute an official history – what is left?”
Paul Nash is a British surrealist painter and war artist, whose work is currently the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Britain. Black Dog, a new original graphic novel from Dark Horse, sees acclaimed illustrator Dave McKean interpreting Nash’s memoirs in his own distinctive style, providing a powerful, visceral and moving examination of the ways in which war changes us all.
McKean’s credentials need no introduction, with his award-winning work on “Cages” and his frequent collaborations with Neil Gaiman cementing his place as one of the most visually striking artists in the business today, but this graphic novel may very well feature some of his most accomplished work yet.
McKean fully engrosses himself in Nash’s life, selecting key biographical moments from the painter’s upbringing and his time in the trenches of the First World War, bringing them to life as surreal dreams in a raw, often shocking fashion. This isn’t a quote-unquote comic book in the conventional sense, but McKean does well to insert a coherent narrative throughout the chapters, allowing us to see the stark changes in Nash’s psyche and outlook at his life slowly unfolds.
The artwork is dense, almost claustrophobic at times, particularly during the scenes on the front line, where an almost photorealistic approach to shading and colouring gives the events an even more powerful impact. There are exchanges of dialogue that fall more into the traditional sequential art style, but it never takes too long before the distinctively surreal outlook and poignant reflections of Nash are brought back to the fore by McKean.
At times this almost feels more like an art book than a traditional graphic novel, something which is clearly McKean’s intent as he weaves these visually arresting psycho-scapes, providing deeper insight into Nash’s subconscious, for better or worse. As the old saying goes, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, but in this case that could easily be translated as “I don’t know much about art, but I damn sure know when an image makes me feel something”, something which happens frequently throughout the course of this graphic novel.
Black Dog isn’t an easy read, nor is it a comfortable one, but it’s most definitely an important and rewarding one. McKean has done a truly impressive job of putting together this incredibly moving piece of work, and while I’m fully aware that the dense, surrealist style isn’t necessarily going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I can still heartily recommend this graphic novel.
You can purchase Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash TPB from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.
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