Dave McKean (art) and Neil Gaiman (commentary),
The Alchemy of Mirrormask (Collins Design, 2005)

I have not seen Mirrormask yet, as it has not played here yet, nor do I expect to see Mirrormask until we screen the DVD in the Green Man theater when it's released in that format. April Gutierrez did see it and in her review had very nice things to say about it as she said that it is 'an intriguing experiment by two artists who enjoy a new challenge, one that mostly succeeds, though it will likely have limited appeal among general audiences more used to traditional animation or fantasy on a more epic scale, viewers who might not see the beauty of Helena's very personal quest, or who might miss the story for the scenery.' Our Editor, Cat Eldridge, did read the script from the Jim Henson Company, which had the rather lengthy title of Mirrormask -- The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture. Even without having see the film, he noted that 'Is it worth getting? Quite so. It will share a space in my library alongside other Gaiman material, as it's definitely worth keeping!' So there's a film, a script, a novella (which April reviews here), and now an extensive look at the making of the film.

Did I mention that there are action figures as well? Really. Truly. Do a search for 'mirrormask' at Dark Horse Comics, who produced them, and you'll see all of them. They look very, very cool!

Now you must first know that I, like most staffers here, love this sort of book. According to Iain MacKenzie, the Librarian here, we have hundreds of similar books in the Green Man library, covering films, television series, and even graphic novels. Keeping track of them is, he grumbles, a bit of a nuisance! My favourites include two previously done on Henson works -- one on the Creature Workshop itself, and one on the creatures of the Farscape series, arguably the finest work ever done by the folks at the Jim Henson Company. So I expected, sight unseen, that this would be an impressive work well-worth savouring, and it is.

Quoting from April's review again, Mirrormask is 'an offbeat, charming film. . . . The film revolves around Helena, a girl on the cusp of adolescence who's living what would be a dream come true for many kids: she works for a circus. However, Helena longs to live a 'normal' life, inevitably leading to conflict with her parents, who are the proprietors of this quirky, homespun circus.'Ohhh, a circus! As conceived by McKean and Gaiman. Cool. Very cool. Now if you're just interested in the story which is Mirrormask, go see the film or read the novella. But if you want to know how the Henson folks made it, you must read The Alchemy of Mirrormask. Each chapter of this lavish book starts off with a commentary by McKean and Gaiman before showing you how the visuals were created. Sketches, 3-D models, storyboards (as were used also in Mirrormask -- The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture), photographs, looks at single frames, and much, much more are here as a way of making sure that you and I better appreciate the creating of Mirrormask. And what a story it is!

Given what a strangely weird and cool universe Mirrormask is, it's a wonder it happened at all. Only the sheer creative genius of the Henson folks could have taken the idea which McKean (art) and Gaiman (text) came up with. Ever see the flawed version of Neverwhere which the BBC did? The Alchemy of Mirrormask gives me hope that if the Henson folks exercise the option on they have Neverwhere, it will finally be done the way it should be!

Equally cool are the notes on McKean's travels to such locales as Venice, Prague, and Warsaw that provided the his inspiration for the visuals he created. McKean obviously loves cityscapes, as you can see, for example, on page 62, where there's a page from Pages, a graphic novel he did about ten years ago. The European city, complete with cathedrals, looks like it came from sketching an actual city somewhere in Central Europe -- it's truly that real looking. McKean's notes on Warsaw, starting on page 52, are particularly fascinating. And do read Neil's comments, though brief, on the role Lenny Henry had in Mirrormask, as he gives Lenny much of the credit for the feel of his latest novel, Anansi Boys! There are many, many hours of pleasure, wonderment, and just good storytelling herein so do yourself a favour and get a copy now.

Now if you're wondering if you should read The Alchemy of Mirrormask before seeing Mirrormask, that would depend on how much you want to know before seeing it about the plot. Want to be surprised by all that happens? Don't buy The Alchemy of Mirrormask, or the novella, or even the script. Read it afterwards to appreciate the film even more!

[Jack Merry]