Violent Cases marked the first collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean — and the first published graphic novel for both. The title comes from a child’s misunderstanding, or mishearing, of the idea of violin cases used by the mafia to carry guns.
Violent Cases‘ primary narrator, who strongly resembles a younger Gaiman, recounts a sequence of events from his childhood to an unseen audience. By his own admission, heÕs an unreliable narrator, his memory uncertain, though he also asserts that he remembers some things perfectly, despite only being four and a half at the time. He focuses on an incident from that time when his father injured his arm and took him to see a mysterious osteopath who used to work for Al Capone. It’s uncertain whether the father purposefully injured the boy, as readers have only the latter’s assertion that it wasn’t so.
The boy and the osteopath meet several times, the last time at a hotel where the former is attending a friend’s birthday party. Having no desire to sit through the party clown’s act — or an increasingly vicious game of musical chairs — the boy joins the osteopath, who regales him with graphic tales of Al Capone’s violent ways. That the older man would relate such brutal details to a child is disturbing enough, but the boy’s mental image of inflicting similar violence upon the other children is even more so. Three baseball-bat wielding men take the osteopath away from the hotel, effectively concluding this act in the narrator’s life.
Dave McKean’s art works very well with Violent Case‘s theme of transient memory. For example, the osteopath’s appearance changes over time, presumably with the narrator’s perception. Some images are not fully rendered, as if half-remembered fragments of memory. His style also changes from scene to scene — the osteopath’s memories are visually distinctly different from the main narrator’s, and from the present day.
Visually stunning, and a host of intriguing things to say about perception and memory, Violent Cases was definitely an impressive debut for the Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean duo.
(Tundra Publishing, 1987)