No secret how much I love the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, and it is also one of those series where judging a book (or comic book) by its cover is actually not such a bad thing. Safe to say Dave McKean’s cover artwork across the entire run of the Sandman was a vital part of its visual style – a variety of top artists would illustrate the stories across the years, but Dave’s cover art was there on each issue – and also, with the frequent, complex, mixed media art they created a real ambience and visually fascinating hook for the Sandman. I used to look forward to simply sitting there and admiring Dave’s cover art almost as much as I looked forward to reading that month’s issue, and I doubt I’m alone in that (I’ve also still got a soft spot for the short burst of very simple, almost minimal covers he did for some one-off Sandman stories like August, with than little hint of Aubrey Beardsley). Dave Barnett on Ideas Tap talks to Dave about creating those now iconic covers (thanks to John Hunter for the link):
“Barnett: How have advances in technology affected the way you work?
McKean: The Sandman series ran from 1989 to 1995. The interior artwork changed with each story arc so, doing the covers, I was the visual anchor for the book, but I also felt I needed to express that constant change on the covers as well. The first Sandman covers were all made by hand, often involving collage. Bits of doors or bottles were lodged into large physical artworks, butterflies or decorative eggs into small-scale boxes. This was before I had a computer, and before the Mac became ubiquitous. I played with double exposures and multiple printings; anything to add a layered translucency to the image.
I used various machines to achieve interesting textures and effects. The Game of You covers [see above] were created on the first colour photocopier I found. The great thing about these analogue machines is that they try and give you something; they don’t just send you an error message. By moving things on the surface of the copier, shining lights into it, or generally abusing it, you find interesting imagery you’d never normally create. Halfway through the series I bought a Mac Quadra and started experimenting with Photoshop 2.5. Suddenly I could make images that were closer to what I had in mind. The precise image editing that Photoshop allows became important. ”