The critically lauded Violent Cases, first printed in 1987, saw the coming together of the highly talented young writer Neil Gaiman and an equally talented young artist Dave Mckean. At this point both men were in the early stages of their careers and both have since gone on to achieve substantial success in their respective fields. The result of this early collaboration is a hazy, highly imaginative story that delves into a young man’s childhood recollections, revealing a strange world of looming paternal figures, mobsters and Al Capone’s osteopath.
The story is a somewhat blurry and fragmented recital of a series of childhood incidents, packed full of intruige that will keep you on your toes throughout. It’s loaded with the suspicion that no character in the story can ever be trusted, whether it’s the boy’s father, the osteopath or even a heavily built magician. As the book unfolds, the cause of the sinister atmosphere that hangs over the entire story gradually becomes more apparent. At the centre is a young child, a portrait of innocence, starkly contrasted with the brutality of mob justice. It’s a solid tale but it lacks the magic of Gaiman at his best.
The artwork, on the other hand, is nothing short of brilliant. Rarely in a graphic novel, or any format, will you find better illustration from a technical standpoint than Dave McKean’s work in this book. The artwork is unfailingly imaginative, often abstract, and its delicate, ambiguous style perfectly suits the cloudy, half remembered recollections of the narrator. It should be noted that the ambition of the artwork occasionally overstretches itself, becoming cluttered to the point of messiness. While this is no doubt deliberate, I do feel on occasion it detracts from its story-telling function. However, for the overwhelming majority of the story the imagery is both original and excellent, stealing the show from Gaiman’s words.