If we’re talking in terms of space, there’s not a universe where I need another coffee table book but Reinhard Kleist’s Nick Cave: Mercy On Me was one of my favorite graphic novels last year and if you enjoyed that book, or are a Nick Cave fan, you should probably make some carpet space (if not coffee table space) for Kleist’s new art book, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
The end paper alone is a reminder that you’ll never be as cool as the legendary singer-songwriter. Filled with portraits of Cave and visual translations of his songs, Kleist hasn’t just collected his drawings of Cave and called it a day. They’re organized. There’s a section for Cave’s band The Boys Next Door (later The Birthday Party), a section for the Bad Seeds. Captions are included, so you’re never left in the dark. Sometimes (thanks to Kleist’s character designs) the captions grow unnecessary. His drawings are so specific that, after being told once, it’s easy to tell who’s who.
Some of the material is never-before-seen. Other parts were created especially for this book. You also have color being introduced (Mercy On Me was all ink) and not in one uniform style, either. Sometimes the images are weathered. Other times, like an illustration for “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” Kleist uses an Easter mint green.
Three songs are retold as mini comics. With “Deanna,” and “The Good Son” the lyrics are used as narration so there’s this invitation for readers to find their own meaning from the lines and then see how Kleist’s interpretation compares. With both songs I had were very different outcomes in mind, so it was startling to realize someone could see them so differently, especially with Cave’s songs, since they have plots and characters, but the endings are ambiguous. Maybe Cave has spoken more explicitly about their meaning, but these new, feasible explanations were eye-opening gifts. It’s telling that, of all the places Kleist sets Cave, an ordinary classroom in “Deanna” is the most strange, and his choice to prolong the appearance of Cave’s “malign star” in “The Good Son” makes an already crushing scene worse.
Both the introduction, by Nick Cave biographer, Max Dax, and the afterward, by Kleist, are not to be skipped. Dax looks at how Kleist landed on his technique for telling Cave’s story, and talks about the first time he met Cave, while Kleist talks about approaching Cave with the idea and his concept of portraying Cave as his characters (and who he includes among those characters). It may not replace reading Mercy On Me but Kleist’s art book does supplement it, and will earn it’s keep with multiple re-reads in the future.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: An Art Book is available now from SelfMadeHero.