Dave McKean might be getting a taste for it. Like his short story from omnibus First Time, Celluloid has no dialogue or narration whatsoever. A silent comic book, his first erotic graphic novel follows a female protagonist through a series of fantasy sexual scenarios triggered by the discovery of a film camera that opens a magic portal on her wall.
Celluloid sees McKean at its most experimental, creating superimposed collages of photos, drawings, watercolours, pastel and other techniques. Homages abound, with many sections consisting of Duchamp, Dalí and Picasso pastiches. Its many references greatly encumber the reading experience: radically changing styles every thirty pages or so, the story soon becomes an excuse to assemble a modernist portfolio, rather than the vehicle of its hazy plot. In an irreverent statement, McKean is not afraid of including himself in that canon – fans will recognize the kaleidoscopic textures from classic Sandman covers in one of the later passages.
A relief in such a hectic visual jumble, Celluloid’s frame narrative uses nothing but mild sepia colouring and line art to depict the protagonist in languid domestic moments prior to her busy journey. With faint echoes of Egon Schiele, McKean’s organic, fractured trace gives the anatomy of his nudes a robust carnal presence, utterly absorbing in their wrinkly, sketch-like spontaneity.
Some of the protagonist’s surreal escapades are quite imaginative – like a lesbian encounter with a multi-breasted Greek figure, or a sixty-nine with Satan – but still littered with obvious visual metaphors (moons for eyes, mouths for vaginas, a ripe fruit for the clitoris, etc). On the whole, Celluloid is too predictable and self-indulgent to be compelling or arousing on any level.
Celluloid by Dave McKean; Fantagraphics; ISBN 978-1-60699440-5; £17.93 from forbiddenplanet.com