Giving us the freedom of the graveyard

image via wikipedia

With Dave McKean, illustrator of The Graveyard Book, we have a rather different body of artwork compared with those we have encountered thus far in our children’s novels.

In the Wikipedia article about him, he is listed as:  “an English illustrator, photographer, comic book artist, graphic designer, filmmaker and musician” whose work incorporates drawing, painting, photography, collage, found objects  digital art and sculpture.  Sounds like a pretty busy guy.

McKean was born in 1963, and several years later attended Berkshire College of Art and Design.   His wife Clare is also his studio manager; they have two children and live in Kent, England.

He met up with Neil Gaiman in 1986 and they collaborated

image via

on a short graphic novel (Violent Cases) and the miniseries Black Orchid.  In 1988, he did the covers for the Hellblazer covers for DC Comics.  He also did the cover art for Gaiman’s Sandman series – and for a whole lot of Gaiman’s other works.

image via


McKean has won a bunch of awards for his illustrations in comics and graphic novels, including some that he wrote himself – the comic novel Cages and short stories in comic form, Pictures that Tick.

He has also done award-winning artwork for album covers – you can see his work on CDs by Tori Amos, Alice Cooper, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Counting Crows, and illustrating lyrics from The Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge.


image via

McKean does promotional work and concept designs for major films, he writes and directs his own films, short and feature-length.  He has published books of photographs.  He has done illustrations for other well-known authors, including Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.  I also found a site,, that shows postcards and trading cards.

In short (or as short as I can make it), Dave McKean has a lot of work out there, and you can easily find more examples of it if you are interested.

The Graveyard Book does not have a lot of illustrations, but just enough, I think, to remind us of where we are and whom we are observing.  I checked with Katie, and she concurs:  she said that she liked the pictures because they gave an idea of where we were, but were few enough that we knew we were not reading a picture book.

This is the kind of story where imagery is well left to the imagination, but McKean’s pictures help keep us grounded in the graveyard, so to speak.  We remember that along with the main character, Bod, we have “the freedom of the graveyard”, and we can see the folks who reside there.  No wispy spirits for us – we see a community, with members who can care for a baby and push a broom around to clean up the crypt.

In pictures of what lies outside the graveyard, lines are a bit slanty, giving us a somewhat skewed perspective.  For Bod, those are the places that are uncomfortable and unsafe.

The illustrations sometimes slip around the edges of the pages, just giving a glimpse of what is coming up on the next page.  And they are often almost part of the text, either as background or the margins.  I guess this should not be surprising, given the many Gaiman/McKean collaborations in graphic novels and comics.






One thing I’m almost embarrassed to mention, regarding the cover of the book – I like to think of myself as being pretty clever about making out the tricky bits in optical illusion-type pictures, but I didn’t see the double image in the cover till about a week ago (after having seen the cover art many times over more than a year).  Do you see it?

Biographical info from


6 responses to “Giving us the freedom of the graveyard

  1. purplecowsandrootbeerfloats

    I’m just a little into the book, but am enjoying the ‘slight’ humor. It’s a very unlikely title for me…one of the reasons I’m happy to be joining y’all. I love the Ch 2 pic … and so did not motice Nobody leaning on the gravestone until just now. (I’m NOT so clever:)

    BTW, All-of-a-Kind is a favorite of ours…you MUST listen to it on audio!

    • I hope you enjoy the story – I found it very satisfying.

      Intriguing – I’ll check out the audio version of All of a Kind Family. I do love what a good narrator does for the story. Who is the preferred reader?

  2. Pingback: Book #5: The Graveyard Book | A mother, a daughter and 100 books

  3. I read this book when it first came out, and I never noticed the double image on the cover until you pointed it out! I feel kind of foolish now.

    • I hear you! I only noticed it when I was looking really hard to figure out why the stone was shaped like it was. Now it’s going to jump out at me every time I look at it.

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