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Computer Arts 200: Dave McKean

As well as our Neville Brody interview, issue 1 of Computer Arts featured a Profiles section looking at some of the big names in design of the time. In this profile we spoke to the multi-talented Dave McKean, who you'll recall we interviewed again in the not-too-distant past, and he told us about his two upcoming CD-ROM projects. Of which, find out more after the interview...

Dave McKean

From comic books to tarot cards, Dave McKean is one of the most exciting computer-art designers working today. Profiles finds out more

Dave McKean is a man with wider interests than most. History, the visual arts and the esoteric all come together in his images to create effects that are painterly, rich and often disturbing. In the past he has designed tarot cards for DC comics, and collaborated with Neil Gaiman (of Good Omens fame) on the cult graphic novel Arkham Asylum. He's continuing that partnership on one of his current projects, an interactive CD-ROM retelling of the Punch and Judy story. The title is based on an existing graphic novel that was published late last year. But it's clear that the process of translating fixed images to an interactive medium has raised some interesting questions about the CD-ROM format.

You can’t have escaped noticing Sony’s PlayStation ads on the telly, in the papers or at the cinema during the past few weeks. And this fiery chap is another of McKean’s bizarre creations.

You can’t have escaped noticing Sony’s PlayStation ads on the telly, in the papers or at the cinema during the past few weeks. And this fiery chap is another of McKean’s bizarre creations.

“CD-ROM is incredibly frustrating. The technical limitations are very apparent. With paper you don't worry about anything – you just do it. But no one knows what a CD-ROM really is, or what makes it so unique. No one knows what interactivity is. We've taken it to mean walking down a street and looking at things, picking them up. Each one is loaded with meaning. There's a story there, but you have to find it.”

But isn't CD-ROM a story-telling medium? “People love stories, we love to have things organised in a linear fashion. But CD-ROM isn't like that. It's more about building up a feeling, an understanding. With most CD-ROMs it's like you're a trolley car on runners. There's only one direction you can go in. It looks interactive but it isn't. Both Mr Punch and Mirror, my next title, have been written to explore what a CD-ROM is in a deeper way.”

Where most CD-ROMs tread water and seem to sacrifice content to presentation, Mr Punch attempts something more interesting. The content is a fictional examination of childhood memories. In the background is a historical re-telling of the origins of Punch and Judy. “It's looking at Mr Punch as the first serial killer,” explains Dave. “He kills his wife, his child, the policeman... I've added sound, music, photomontage, computer graphics and collage techniques to tell the story in a completely new way.”

Mirror attempts something even more profound. Billed as ‘the first interactive media experience that allows viewers to explore the dynamics of their own consciousness’ it includes elements of Western and Native American esoterica and mysticism. When released early next year, Mirror looks set to make an impression on anyone who's jaded and cynical about the current crop of CD-ROM releases. “I don't see any reason to build up a realistic space inside a computer,” adds Dave. “Not when you can do anything. For all the frustrations, working with CD-ROM can be incredibly exhilarating. You're tromping down virgin forest. There are no rules – you're making them up as you go along. I'm really trying to push this new medium to its limits.”

What happened to Mr Punch and Mirror? We can't remember them coming out, so we did a little research and eventually came across this little snippet in a 2003 interview with Neil Gaiman: "Dave [McKean’s] Mr. Punch game CD-ROM project ... was all filmed and scripted and all done, and I believe it’s still sitting up in somebody’s attic, because again the company that was going to fund it, and a project of Dave’s called Mirror, um, just died. So we had an entire Mr. Punch thing. Dave showed me a lot of footage from it, and it was quite gorgeous. It probably would have revolutionized the world of online... stuff." So there you go. Shame.

Computer Arts issue 200

This month we're looking back at our first issue, in preparation for our milestone 200th issue of Computer Arts, featuring 200 of the best design moments since our 1995 launch, as well as exclusive video tutorials from Build and Nexus, 15 pages of industry skills and advice in the Design Manual, and cutting edge design tutorials.

Whatever you do, don't miss it - you can click here to pre-order. And keep checking the site for more treats from 1995; there's lots more to come!

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