Biography from:Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2004. Entry updated 10/21/2004.
[Ed. note: Note the date of the entry – as of the posting date (12/30/05), 1602 has been completed, as have the Mirrormask script and associated books, and A Short Film About John Bolton which was also a directorial credit and is now available as a DVD. Missing is information pertaining to Anansi Boys (novel, audiobook), Telling Tales (audio collection), and Speaking in Tongues (audio collection), amongst other projects. Also, adaptions for the stage of Stardust, Coraline, and Wolves in the Walls should be included with media adaptions. More information about all these projects should be at neilgaiman.com as well as the Misc and Lore pages of this website. -la]
Neil (Richard) Gaiman
Family: Born November 10, 1960, in Portchester, England; son of David Bernard (a company director) and Sheila (a pharmacist; maiden name, Goldman) Gaiman; married Mary Therese McGrath, March 14, 1985; children: Michael Richard, Holly Miranda, Madeleine Rose Elvira.
Hobbies and other interests: “Finding more bookshelf space.”
Education: Attended Ardingly College, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77.
Memberships: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (board of directors), International Museum of Cartoon Art (advisory board), Science Fiction Foundation (committee member), Society of Strip Illustrators (chair, 1988-90), British Fantasy Society.
Freelance journalist, 1983-87; full-time writer, 1987–.
- Mekon Award, Society of Strip Illustrators, and Eagle Award for best graphic novel, both 1988, both for Violent Cases;
- Eagle Award for best writer of American comics, 1990;
- Harvey Award for best writer, 1990 and 1991;
- Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for best writer of the year and best graphic album (reprint), 1991;
- World Fantasy Award for best short story, 1991, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream;
- Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for best writer of the year, 1992;
- Harvey Award for best continuing series, 1992;
- Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for best writer of the year and best graphic album (new), 1993;
- Gem Award, Diamond Distributors, for expanding the marketplace for comic books, 1993;
- Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for best writer of the year, 1994;
- Guild Award, International Horror Critics, and World Fantasy Award nomination, both 1994, both for Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany and short story Troll Bridge;
- GLAAD Award for best comic of the year, 1996, for Death: The Time of Your Life
- Eagle Award for best comic, 1996;
- Lucca Best Writer Prize, 1997;
- Newsweek list of best children’s books, 1997, for The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish;
- Defender of Liberty Award, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, 1997;
- MacMillan Silver Pen Award, 1999, for Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions;
- Hugo Award nomination, 1999, for Sandman: The Dream Hunters;
- Mythopoeic Award for best novel for adults, 1999, for Stardust: Being a Romance within the Realms of Faerie;
- Nebula Award nomination, 1999, for screenplay for the film Princess Mononoke;
- Hugo Award for best science fiction/fantasy novel, Bram Stoker Award for best novel, Horror Writers Association, and British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award nomination, all 2002, all for American Gods;
- BSFA Award for best short fiction, Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award, Bram Stoker Award, Horror Writers Association, Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and Prix Tam Tam Award, all 2003, all for Coraline.
- Script for Signal to Noise received a SONY Radio Award;
- Hugo Award for Best Short Story, 2004, for A Study in Emerald.
Gaiman has received international awards from Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Writings by the Author: Graphic Novels and Comic Books:
- Violent Cases, illustrated by Dave McKean, Titan (London, England), 1987, Tundra (Northampton, MA), 1991, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2003.
- Black Orchid (originally published in magazine form in 1989), illustrated by Dave McKean, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1991.
- Miracleman, Book 4: The Golden Age, illustrated by Mark Buckingham, Eclipse (Forestville, CA), 1992.
- Signal to Noise, illustrated by Dave McKean, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1992.
- The Books of Magic (originally published in magazine form, four volumes), illustrated by John Bolton and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1993.
- The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Mr. Punch, illustrated by Dave McKean, VG Graphics (London, England), 1994, Vertigo/D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1995, also published as Mr. Punch.
- (Author of text, with Alice Cooper) The Compleat Alice Cooper: Incorporating the Three Acts of Alice Cooper’s The Last Temptation, illustrated by Michael Zulli, Marvel Comics (New York, NY), 1995, published as The Last Temptation, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2000.
- Stardust: Being a Romance within the Realms of Faerie, illustrated by Charles Vess, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1997-98, text published as Stardust, Spike (New York, NY), 1999.
- (Author of text, with Matt Wagner) Neil Gaiman’s Midnight Days, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1999.
- Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 2000.
- Harlequin Valentine, illustrated by John Bolton, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2001.
- Murder Mysteries (based on play of the same title, also see below), illustrated by P. Craig Russel, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2002.
- Sandman: The Doll’s House (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 9-16), illustrated by Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1990.
- Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 1-8), illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1991.
- Sandman: Dream Country (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 17-20; includes A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream), illustrated by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and Malcolm Jones III, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1991.
- Sandman: Season of Mists (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 21-28), illustrated by Kelley Jones, Malcolm Jones III, Mike Dringenberg, and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1992.
- Sandman: A Game of You (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 32-37), illustrated by Shawn McManus and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1993.
- Sandman: Fables and Reflections (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 29-31, 38-40, 50), illustrated by Bryan Talbot, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
- Death: The High Cost of Living (originally published in magazine form, three volumes), illustrated by Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
- Sandman: Brief Lives (originally published
as Sandman, Volumes 41-49), illustrated by Jill Thompson, Dick Giordano, and Vince Locke, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
- Sandman: World’s End (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 51-56), illustrated by Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
- (Author of text, with Matt Wagner) Sandman: Midnight Theatre, illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1995.
- (Editor, with Edward E. Kramer) The Sandman: Book of Dreams, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1996.
- Sandman: The Kindly Ones (originally published as Sandman, Volumes 57-69), illustrated by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1996.
- Death: The Time of Your Life, illustrated by Mark Buckingham and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
- (Author of commentary and contributor) Dustcovers: The Collected Sandman Covers, 1989-1997, illustrated by Dave McKean, Vertigo/D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1997, published as The Collected Sandman Covers, 1989-1997, Watson-Guptill (New York, NY), 1997.
- Sandman: The Wake, illustrated by Michael Zulli, Charles Vess, and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
- Sandman: The Dream Hunters, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1999.
- The Quotable Sandman: Memorable Lines from the Acclaimed Series, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 2000.
- The Sandman: Endless Nights, illustrated by P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, and others, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 2003.
Writings by the Author: Fiction:
- (With Terry Pratchett) Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1990, revised edition, Workman (New York, NY), 1990.
- (With Mary Gentle) Villains! (short stories), edited by Mary Gentle and Roz Kaveney, ROC (London, England), 1992.
- (With Mary Gentle and Roz Kaveney) The Weerde: Book One (short stories), ROC (London, England), 1992.
- (With Mary Gentle and Roz Kaveney) The Weerde: Book Two: The Book of the Ancients (short stories), ROC (London, England), 1992.
- Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany (short stories), illustrated by Steve Bissette and others, DreamHaven Books and Art (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.
- Neverwhere (novel), BBC Books (London, England), 1996, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
- Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions (short stories), Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
- American Gods (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
- Snow Glass Apples, illustrated by George Walker, Biting Dog Press (Duluth, GA), 2003.
Writings by the Author: Screenplays:
- (With Lenny Henry) Neverwhere, BBC2 (London, England), 1996.
- Signal to Noise, BBC Radio 3 (London, England), 1996.
- Day of the Dead: An Annotated Babylon 5 Script (originally aired as the episode Day of the Dead for the series Babylon 5, Turner Broadcasting System, 1998), DreamHaven (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.
- Princess Mononoke (motion picture; English translation of the Japanese screenplay Mononoke Hime by Hayao Miyazaki), Miramax (New York, NY), 1999.
Writings by the Author: For Children:
- The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (picture book), illustrated by Dave McKean, Borealis/White Wolf (Clarkson, GA), 1997, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
- Coraline (fantasy), illustrated by Dave McKean, Bloomsbury (London, England), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
- The Wolves in the Walls (picture book), illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Writings by the Author: Other:
- Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five(biography), Proteus (New York, NY), 1984.
- Don’t Panic: The Official Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion, Titan (London, England), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1988, revised edition with additional material by David K. Dickson published as Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Titan (London, England), 1993.
- Warning: Contains Language (readings; compact disc), music by Dave McKean and the Flash Girls, DreamHaven (Minneapolis, MN), 1995.
- (Consultant) The Dreaming: Beyond the Shores of Night, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
- (Consultant) The Dreaming: Through the Gates of Horn and Ivory, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1998.
- Neil Gaiman: Live at the Aladdin (videotape), Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Northampton, MA), 2001.
- (With Gene Wolfe) A Walking Tour of the Shambles, American Fantasy Press (Woodstock, IL), 2001.
- Murder Mysteries (play), illustrated by George Walker, Biting Dog Press (Duluth, GA), 2001.
- Adventures in the Dream Trade (nonfiction and fiction), edited by Tony Lewis and Priscilla Olson, NESFA Press (Framingham, MA), 2002.
- (With Kim Newman) Ghastly beyond Belief, Arrow (London, England), 1985.
- (With Stephen Jones) Now We Are Sick: A Sampler, privately published, 1986, published as Now We Are Sick: An Anthology of Nasty Verse, DreamHaven (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.
- (With Alex Stewart) Temps, ROC (London, England), 1991.
- (With Alex Stewart) Euro Temps, ROC (London, England), 1992.
Creator of characters for comic books, including Lady Justice; Wheel of Worlds; Mr. Hero, Newmatic Man; Teknophage; and Lucifer. Co-editor of The Utterly Comic Relief Comic, a comic book that raised money for the UK Comic Relief Charity in 1991. Contributor to The Sandman Companion, D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1999, and has contributed prefaces and introductions to several books. Gaiman’s works, including the short story Troll Bridge, have been represented in numerous anthologies. Contributor to newspapers and magazines, including Knave, Punch, Observer, Sunday Times (London, England) and Time Out.
Gaiman’s books have been translated into other languages, including Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish. He [is listed as having] written scripts for the films Beowulf, The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, The Fermata, and others.
Works in Progress:
1602, a serialized story for Marvel Comics; The Graveyard Book, for HarperCollins (New York, NY); MirrorMask, a film directed by Dave McKean for Jim Henson Productions and Columbia Tristar; a script for A Short Film about John Bolton; a television show based on The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, for Sunbow.
The Books of Magic was adapted into novel form by Carla Jablonski and others into several individual volumes, including The Invitation, The Blindings, and The Children’s Crusade, issued by HarperCollins (New York, NY).
Neverwhere was released on audio cassette by HighBridge (Minneapolis, MN), 1997; American Gods was released on cassette by Harper (New York, NY), 2001; Coraline was released as an audio book read by the author, Harper (New York, NY), 2002; Two Plays for Voices (Snow Glass Apples and Murder Mysteries) was released as an audio book and on audio CD, Harper (New York, NY), 2003.
Several of Gaiman’s works have been optioned for film, including Sandman, by Warner Bros.; The Books of Magic, by Warner Bros.; Death: The High Cost of Living, by Warner Bros.; Good Omens, by Renaissance Fi
lms; Neverwhere, by Jim Henson Productions; Chivalry, by Miramax; Stardust, by Miramax and Dimension Films; and Coraline, by Pandemonium Films.
Signal to Noise was made into a stage play by NOWtheater (Chicago, IL).
An English author of comic books, graphic novels (text and pictures in a comic-book format published in book form), prose novels, children’s books, short fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays, Neil Gaiman is a best-selling writer who is considered perhaps the most accomplished and influential figure in modern comics as well as one of the most gifted of contemporary fantasists. Characteristically drawing from mythology, history, literature, and popular culture to create his works, Gaiman blends the everyday, the fantastic, the frightening, and the humorous to present his stories, which reveal the mysteries that lie just outside of reality as well as the insights that come from experiencing these mysteries. He refers to the plots and characters of classical literature and myth–most notably fairy tales, horror stories, science fiction, and traditional romances–while adding fresh, modern dimensions. In fact, Gaiman is credited with developing a new mythology with his works, which address themes such as what it means to be human; the importance of the relationship between humanity and art; humanity’s desire for dreams and for attaining what they show; and the passage from childish ways of thinking to more mature understanding. Although most of the author’s works are not addressed to children, Gaiman often features child and young adult characters in his books, and young people are among Gaiman’s greatest and most loyal fans. The author has become extremely popular, developing a huge cult-like following as well as a celebrity status. The author perhaps is best known as the creator of the comic-book and graphic-novel series about the Sandman. This character, which is based loosely on a crime-fighting superhero that first appeared in D.C. Comics in the 1930s and 40s, is the protagonist of an epic series of dark fantasies that spanned eight years and ran for seventy-five monthly issues. Gaiman introduces the Sandman as an immortal being who rules the Dreaming, a surreal world to which humans go when they fall asleep. As the series progresses, the Sandman discovers that he is involved with the fate of human beings on an intimate basis and that his life is tied intrinsically to this relationship. The Sandman series has sold millions of copies in both comic book and graphic novel formats and has inspired companion literature and a variety of related merchandise.
As a writer for children, Gaiman has been the subject of controversy for creating Coraline, a fantasy for middle-graders about a young girl who enters a bizarre alternate world that eerily mimics her own. Compared to Lewis Carroll’s nineteenth-century fantasy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for its imaginative depiction of a surreal adventure, Coraline has been questioned as an appropriate story for children because it may be too frightening for its intended audience. Gaiman also is the creator of two picture books for children, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, a comic-book-style fantasy about a boy who trades his dad for two attractive goldfish, and The Wolves in the Walls, which features a brave girl who faces the wolves that have taken over her house. The author’s adult novel American Gods, the tale of a young drifter who becomes involved with what appears to be a magical war, was a critical and popular success that helped to bring Gaiman to a mainstream audience. Among his many works, Gaiman has written a biography of the English pop/rock group Duran Duran; a comic book with shock-rocker Alice Cooper that the latter turned into an album; a satiric fantasy about the end of the world with English novelist Terry Pratchett; comic books about Todd MacFarlane’s popular character Spawn; and scripts for film, television, and radio, both original scripts and adaptations of his own works. Gaiman wrote the English-language script for the well-received Japanese anime film Princess Mononoke; the script of the episode Day of the Dead for the television series Babylon 5; and both a television script and a novel called Neverwhere that describes how an office worker rescues a young woman who is bleeding from a switchblade wound and is transported with her to London Below, a mysterious and dangerous world underneath the streets of England’s largest city. Throughout his career, Gaiman has worked with a number of talented artists in the fields of comic books and fantasy, including John Bolton, Michael Zulli, Yoshitaka Amaro, Charles Vess, and longtime collaborator Dave McKean.
As a prose stylist, Gaiman is known for writing clearly and strongly, using memorable characters and striking images to build his dreamlike worlds. Although his books and screenplays can range from somber to creepy to horrifying, Gaiman is commended for underscoring them with optimism and sensitivity and for balancing their darkness with humor and wit. Reviewers have praised Gaiman for setting new standards for comic books as literature and for helping to bring increased popularity to both them and graphic novels. In addition, observers have claimed that several of the author’s works transcend the genres in which they are written and explore deeper issues than those usually addressed in these works. Although Gaiman occasionally has been accused of being ponderous and self-indulgent, he generally is considered a phenomenon, a brilliant writer and storyteller whose works reflect his inventiveness, originality, and wisdom. Writing in St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, Peter Crowther noted that when Gaiman “…is on form (which is most of the time), he is without peer. . . . His blending of poetic prose, marvelous inventions, and artistic vision has assured him of his place in the vanguard of modern-day dark fantasists.” Keith R. A. DeCandido of Library Journal called Gaiman “arguably the most literate writer working in mainstream comics.” Referring to Gaiman’s graphic novels, Frank McConnell of Commonweal stated that the author “may just be the most gifted and important storyteller in English” and called him “our best and most bound-to-be-remembered writer of fantasy.”
Born in Portchester, England, Gaiman was brought up in an upper-middle-class home. His father, David, was the director of a company, while his mother, Sheila, worked as a pharmacist. As a boy, Gaiman was “a completely omnivorous and cheerfully undiscerning reader,” as he told Pamela Shelton in an interview for Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA). In an interview with Ray Olson of Booklist, Gaiman recalled that he first read Alice in Wonderland “when I was five, maybe, and always kept it around as default reading between the ages of five and twelve, and occasionally picked up and reread since. There are things Lewis Carroll did in Alice that are etched onto my circuitry.” Gaiman was a voracious reader of comic books until the age of sixteen, when he felt that he outgrew the genre as it existed at the time. At his grammar school, Ardingly College, Gaiman would get “very grumpy . . . when they’d tell us that we couldn’t read comics, because ‘if you read comics you will not read OTHER THINGS.'” He asked himself, “Why are comics going to stop me reading?” Gaiman proved that his teachers were misguided in their theory: he read the entire children’s library in Portchester in two or three years and then started on the adult library. He told Shelton, “I don’t think I ever got to ‘Z’ but I got up to about ‘L’.”
When he was about fourteen, Gaiman began his secondary education at Whitgift School. When he was fifteen, Gaiman and his fellow students took a series of vocational tests that were followed by interviews with career advisors. Gaiman told Shelton that these advisors “would look at our tests and say, ‘Well, maybe you’d be
interested in accountancy,’ or whatever. When I went for my interview, the guy said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’d really like to write American comics.’ And it was obvious that this was the first time he’d ever heard that. He just sort of stared at me for a bit and then said, ‘Well, how do you go about doing that, then?’ I said, ‘I have no idea–you’re the career advisor. Advise.’ And he looked like I’d slapped him in the face with a wet herring; he sort of stared at me and there was this pause and I went on for a while and then he said, ‘Have you ever thought about accountancy?'”
Undeterred, Gaiman kept on writing. He also was interested in music. At sixteen, Gaiman played in a punk band that was about to be signed by a record company. Gaiman brought in an attorney who, after reading the contract being offered to the band, discovered that the deal would exploit them; consequently, Gaiman refused to sign the contract. By 1977, he felt that he was ready to become a professional writer. That same year, Gaiman left Whitgift School.
After receiving some rejections for short stories that he had written, Gaiman decided to become a freelance journalist so that he could learn about the world of publishing from the inside. He wrote informational articles for British men’s magazines with titles like Knave. Gaiman told Shelton that being a journalist “was terrific in giving me an idea of how the world worked. I was the kind of journalist who would go out and do interviews with people and then write them up for magazines. I learned economy and I learned about dialogue.” In 1983, he discovered the work of English comic-strip writer Alan Moore, whose Swamp Thing became a special favorite. Gaiman told Shelton, “Moore’s work convinced me that you really could do work in comics that had the same amount of intelligence, the same amount of passion, the same amount of quality that you could put in any other medium.” In 1984, Gaiman produced his first book, Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five. Once he had established his credibility as a writer, Gaiman was able to sell the short stories that he had done earlier in his career. In 1985, Gaiman married Mary Therese McGrath, with whom he has three children: Michael, Holly, and Madeleine (Maddy). At around this time, Gaiman decided that he was ready to concentrate on fiction. In addition, the comics industry was experiencing a new influx of talent, which inspired Gaiman to consider becoming a contributor to that medium.
In 1986, Gaiman met art student Dave McKean, and the two decided to collaborate. Their first work together was the comic book Violent Cases. Serialized initially in Escape, a British comic that showcased new strips, Violent Cases was published in book form in 1987. The story recounts the memories of an adult narrator–pictured by McKean as a dark-haired young man who bears a striking resemblance to Gaiman–who recalls his memories of hearing about notorious Chicago gangland leader Al Capone from an elderly osteopath who was the mobster’s chiropractor. As a boy of four, the narrator had his arm broken accidentally by his father. In the office of the osteopath, the boy was transfixed by lurid stories about Chicago of the 1920s but, in the evenings, he had nightmares in which his own world and that of Capone’s would intersect. As the story begins, the adult narrator is trying to make sense of the experience. According to Joe Sanders of the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the narrator “discover[s] that grownups are as prone to uncertainty, emotional outbursts, and naïve rationalization as children. The boy is delighted, the grownup narrator perplexed, to see how ‘facts’ change to fit an interpreter’s needs.” Writing in London’s Sunday Times, Nicolette Jones called Violent Cases “inspired and ingenious,” while Cindy Lynn Speer, writing in an essay on the author’s Web site, dubbed it “a brilliant tale of childhood and memory.”
At around the same time that Violent Cases was published in book form, Gaiman produced the comic book Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament, which is credited with giving him almost instant notoriety in the comic-book community. Gaiman teamed with McKean again to do a limited-run comic series, Black Orchid, the first of the author’s works to be released by D.C. Comics, the publisher of the original Superman and Batman series. A three-part comic book, Black Orchid features an essentially nonviolent female heroine who fights villains that she hardly can remember. Gaiman then was offered his choice of inactive D.C. characters to rework from the Golden Age of Comics (the 1930s and 1940s). He chose the Sandman.
Originally, the character was millionaire Wesley Dodds who hunted criminals by night wearing a fedora, cape, and gas mask. Dodds would zap the crooks with his gas gun and leave them sleeping until the police got to them. When Gaiman began the series in 1988, he changed the whole scope of the character. The Sandman, who is also called Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, Lord Shaper, Master of Story, and God of Sleep, became a thin, enigmatic figure with a pale face, dark eyes, and a shock of black hair. The Sandman is one of the Endless, immortals in charge of individual realms of the human psyche. The Sandman’s brothers and sisters in the Endless are (in birth order) Destiny, Death, Destruction, the twins Desire and Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight); Dream (the Sandman) falls between Death and Destruction.
In the Sandman book Preludes and Nocturnes, Gaiman introduces the title character, the ageless lord of dreams, who has just returned home after being captured by a coven of wizards and held in an asylum for the criminally insane for seventy-two years. Dream finds that his home is in ruins, that his powers are diminished, and that his three tools–a helmet, a pouch of sand, and a ruby stone–have been stolen. He finds his missing helpers and the young girl who has become addicted to the sand from his pouch; he also visits Hell to find the demon who stole his helmet and battles an evil doctor who has unleashed the power of dreams on the unsuspecting people of Earth. Dream comes to realize that his captivity has affected him: he has become humanized, and he understands that he eventually will have to die.
In The Doll’s House, Dream travels across the United States searching for the Arcana, the stray dreams and nightmares of the twentieth century that have taken on human form; the story is interwoven with a subplot about a young woman, Rose Walker, who has lost her little brother.
In Dream Country, Gaiman features Calliope, a muse and the mother of Dream’s son, Orpheus; the story also brings in a real character, actor/playwright William Shakespeare.
In Season of Mists, Dream meets Lucifer, who has left his position as ruler of Hell and has left the choice of his successor to Dream.
A Game of You features Barbara (nicknamed Barbie), a character who had appeared in The Doll’s House. Barbie is drawn back into the dream realm that she ruled as a child in order to save it from the evil Cuckoo, who plans to destroy it.
Fables and Reflections is a collection of stories featuring the characters from the series and includes Gaiman’s retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus.
In Brief Lives, Dream and Delirium embark on a quest to find their little brother Destruction, who exiled himself to Earth three hundred years before.
World’s End includes a collection of tales told by a group of travelers who are waiting out a storm in an inn.
The Kindly Ones brings the series to its conclusion as Hippolyta (Lyta) Hall takes revenge upon Dream for the disappearance of her son. Lyta, who has been driven mad by anger and grief, asks the help of the title characters, mythological beings also known as the Furies. The Kindly Ones take out Lyta’s revenge on Dream, who succumbs to their attack. The tale comes full cycle
, and Dream’s destiny is joined with that of humans in death.
In the final chapter of the series, The Wake, a funeral is held for Dream; however, as Gaiman notes thematically, dreams really never die, and Dream’s role in the Endless is taken on in a new incarnation.
The Sandman also appears in a more peripheral role in The Dream Hunters, a retelling of the Japanese folktale “The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night’s Dreaming.” [Ed. note: Despite notes the the contrary in the text, this is not a retelling; it is an original story – la]
Next to the Sandman, Death, Dream’s older sister, is the most frequently featured and popular character in the series. Death is charged with shepherding humans who are about to die through their transitions. Once a century, she must come to Earth as a sixteen-year-old girl in order to remind herself what mortality feels like. In contrast to Dream, who characteristically is isolated, brooding, and serious, Death, who is depicted as a spike-haired young woman who dresses like a punk rocker or Goth girl, has a more open and kindly nature.
Death is featured in two books of her own, Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life. In the first story, she helps Sexton, a teen who is contemplating suicide, rediscover the joys in being alive as they journey through New York City and, in the second, she helps Foxglove, a newly successful musician, to reveal her true sexual orientation as her companion Hazel prepares to die. Death and the rest of the Endless are also featured in The Sandman: Endless Nights, in which Gaiman devotes an individual story to each of the seven siblings.
Writing in Commonweal about the Sandman series, Frank McConnell stated, “Sandman is not just one of the best pieces of fiction being done these days; . . . it emerges as the best piece of fiction being done these days.” McConnell stated that what Gaiman has done with the series “is to establish the fact that a comic book can be a work of high and very serious art–a story that other storytellers, in whatever medium they work, will have to take into account as an exploration of what stories can do and what stories are for.” The critic concluded, “I know of nothing quite like it, and I don’t expect there will be anything like it for some time. . . . Read the damn thing; it’s important.”
Peter Crowder of the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers noted that, with the Sandman series of comic books, Gaiman “has truly revolutionized the power of the medium.” Crowder called the various volumes of collected stories “almost uniformly excellent, and any one of them would make a good starting point for those readers who, while well-versed in the field of Gothic prose literature, have yet to discover the rare but powerful joy inherent in a great comic book.”
In 1996, D.C. Comics surprised the fans of Sandman by announcing the cancellation of the series while it was still the company’s best-seller; however, D.C. had made this arrangement with Gaiman at the beginning of the series. Sandman has sold more than seven million copies; individual copies of the stories also have sold in the millions or in the hundreds of thousands. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, a story from Dream Country, won the World Fantasy Award for the best short story of 1991. This was the first time that a comic book had won an award that was not related to its own medium, and the event caused an uproar among some fantasy devotees. The Sandman stories have inspired related volumes, such as a book of quotations from the series, and merchandise such as action figures, stuffed toys, trading cards, jewelry, and watches.
In 1994, Gaiman told Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly, “Superhero comics are the most perfectly evolved art form for preadolescent male power fantasies, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I want to reach other sorts of people, too.” In 1995, he told Pamela Shelton, “If you’re too young for Sandman, you will be bored silly by it. It’s filled with long bits with people having conversations.” Speaking to Nick Hasted of the Guardian in 1999, Gaiman said, “Right now, as things stand, Sandman is my serious work…It is one giant, overarching story, and I’m proud of it. Compared to Sandman, all the prose work so far is trivia.”
In 2003, Gaiman wrote an introduction to The Sandman: King of Dreams, a collection of text and art from the series with commentary by Alisa Kwitney. He commented, “If I have a concern over The Sandman, the 2,000-page story I was able to tell between 1988 and 1996, it is that the things that have come after it, the toys (whether plastic and articulated or soft and cuddly), the posters, the clothes, the calendars and candles, the companion volume, and even the slim book of quotations, along with the various spin-offs and such–will try people’s patience and goodwill, and that a book like this will be perceived, not unreasonably, as something that’s being used to flog the greasy patch in the driveway where once, long ago, a dead horse used to lie. The ten volumes of The Sandman are what they are, and that’s the end of it.”
Throughout his career, Gaiman has included young people as main characters in his works. For example, The Books of Magic, a collection of four comics published in 1993, predates J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series by featuring a thirteen-year-old boy, Tim Hunter, who is told that he has the capabilities to be the greatest wizard in the world. Tim, a boy from urban London who wears oversized glasses, is taken by the Trenchcoat Brigade–sorcerers with names like The Mysterious Phantom Stranger, the Incorrigible Hellblazer, and the Enigmatic Dr. Occult–on a tour of the universe to learn its magical history. Tim travels to Hell, to the land of Faerie, and to America, among other places, each of them showing him a different aspect of the world of magic. He also searches for his girlfriend, Molly, who has been abducted into the fantasy realms; after he finds her, the two of them face a series of dangers as they struggle to return to their own world. At the end of the story, Tim must make a decision to embrace or reject his talents as a wizard. The Books of Magic also includes cameos by the Sandman and his sister Death. Writing in Locus, Carolyn Cushman said, “It’s a fascinating look at magic, its benefits and burdens, all dramatically illustrated [by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson], and with a healthy helping of humor.” Speaking of the format of The Books of Magic, Michael Swanwick of Book World noted, “The graphic novel has come of age. This series is worth any number of movies.”
In 1994, Gaiman produced The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Mr. Punch (also published as Mr. Punch), a work that he considers one of his best. In this graphic novel, which is illustrated by Dave McKean, a young boy is sent to stay with his grandparent by the seaside while his mother gives birth to his baby sister. While on his visit, the boy encounters a mysterious puppeteer and watches a Punch and Judy show, a sometimes violent form of puppet-theater entertainment. Through a series of strange experiences, he ends up rejecting Mr. Punch’s promise that everyone in the world is free to do whatever they want. Sanders of the Dictionary of Literary Biography called Mr. Punch “perhaps Gaiman and McKean’s most impressive collaboration,” while Crowder called it “an impressive work, rich not only in freshness and originality but also in compassion, Gaiman’s hallmark. . . . The collective impact is literally breathtaking.” Writing in Commonweal, Frank McConnell noted, “This stunning comic book-graphic novel–whatever–is easily the most haunting, inescapable story I have read in years.”
In 1996, Gaiman and McKean produced their first work for children, the picture book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. In this tale, a little boy trades his father for two of his neighbor’s goldfish while his little sister stares, horrified. When their mother finds out what has happened, she is furious. She makes the children go and get back their father who, unfortunately, has already been traded for an electric guitar. While on their quest to find him, the siblings decide that their father is a very good daddy after all. The children finally retrieve their father, who has been reading a newspaper all during his adventure. At home, their mother makes the children promise not to swap their dad any more. Writing in Bloomsbury Review, Anji Keating called The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish “a fabulously funny tale” and dubbed the protagonists’ journey to fetch their father “delightful.” Malcolm Jones of Newsweek predicted that Gaiman and McKean “may shock a few grandparents . . . but in fact the most shocking thing they’ve done in this droll story is to take the illegible look of cutting-edge magazines like Raygun and somehow make it readable.”
In 2003, Gaiman and McKean produced a second picture book, The Wolves in the Walls. In this work, young Lucy hears wolves living in the walls of the old house where she and her family live; of course, no one believes her. When the wolves emerge to take over the house, Lucy and her family flee. However, Lucy wants her house back, and she also wants the beloved pig-puppet that she left behind. She talks her family into going back into the house, where they move into the walls that had been vacated by the wolves. Lucy and her family frighten the usurpers, who are wearing their clothes and eating their food. The wolves scatter, and everything seems to go back to normal until Lucy hears another noise in the walls; this time, it sounds like elephants. In her Booklist review of The Wolves in the Walls, Francisca Goldsmith found the book “visually and emotionally sophisticated, accessible, and inspired by both literary and popular themes and imagery.” Writing in School Library Journal, Marian Creamer commented that “Gaiman and McKean deftly pair text and illustration to convey a strange, vivid story,” and predicted, “Children will delight in the ‘scary, creepy tone.'”
Gaiman’s first story for middle-graders, Coraline, outlines how the title character, a young girl who feels that she is being ignored by her preoccupied parents, enters a terrifying, malevolent alternate reality to save them after they are kidnapped. The story begins when Coraline and her parents move into their new house, which is divided into apartments. Left to her own devices, bored Coraline explores the house and finds a door in the empty flat next door that leads to a world that is a twisted version of her own. There, she meets two odd-looking individuals who call themselves her “other mother” and “other father.” The Other Mother, a woman who looks like Coraline’s except for her black-button eyes and stiletto fingernails, wants Coraline to stay with her and her husband. Tempted by good food and interesting toys, Coraline considers the offer. However, when the girl returns home, she finds that her parents have disappeared. Coraline discovers that they are trapped in the other world, and she sets out to save them. The Other Mother, who turns out to be a soul-sucking harpy, enters into a deadly game of hide-and-seek with Coraline, who discovers new qualities of bravery and resolve within herself. Before returning home, Coraline saves herself, her parents, and some ghost children who are trapped in the grotesque world.
After its publication, Coraline became a subject of dispute. Some adult observers saw it as a book that would give nightmares to children. However, other observers have noted that the children of their acquaintance who read the book consider it an exciting rather than overly frightening work. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted that Gaiman and illustrator McKean “spin an electrifyingly creepy tale likely to haunt young readers for many moons. . . . Gaiman twines his tale with a menacing tone and crisp prose fraught with memorable imagery . . . , yet keeps the narrative just this side of terrifying.” Writing in School Library Journal, Bruce Anne Shook commented, “The story is odd, strange, even slightly bizarre, but kids will hang on every word. . . . This is just right for all those requests for a scary book.” Stephanie Zvirin of Booklist added that Gaiman offers “a chilling and empowering view of children, to be sure, but young readers are likely to miss such subtleties as the clever allusions to classic horror movies and the references to the original dark tales of the Brothers Grimm.” A critic in Kirkus Reviews found Coraline “not for the faint-hearted–who are mostly adults anyway–but for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister, Coraline is spot on.” Coraline has won several major fantasy awards and has become an international best-seller.
In his interview with Pamela Shelton, Gaiman said, “What I enjoy most is when people say to me, ‘When I was sixteen I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life and then I read Sandman and now I’m at university studying mythology’ or whatever. I think it’s wonderful when you’ve opened a door to people and showed them things that would never have known they would have been interested in.” Gaiman finds it satisfying to introduce his readers to mythology. He told Shelton, “You gain a cultural understanding to the last 2,500 to 3,000 years, which, if you lack it, there’s an awful lot of stuff that you will simply never quite understand.” He noted that, in Sandman, even readers unfamiliar with the Norse god Loki or the three-headed spirit of Irish mythology “sort of half-know; there’s a gentle and sort of delightful familiarity with these tales. It feels right. And I think that’s probably the most important thing. Giving people this stuff, pointing out that it can be interesting, but also pointing out what mythologies do know. And how they affect us.” In an interview with Nick Hasted in the Guardian, Gaiman stated, “What I’m fighting now is the tendency to put novelists in a box, to make them write the same book over and over again. I want to shed skins. I want to keep awake. I definitely have a feeling that if I’m not going forward, if I’m not learning something, then I’m dead.”
Further Readings About the Author:
- Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 19 (author interview with Pamela Shelton), 1996, Volume 42, 2002.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 261: British Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
- Kwitney, Alisa, The Sandman: King of Dreams, introduction by Neil Gaiman, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
- St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
- Bloomsbury Review, July-August, 1997, Anji Keating, review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, p. 21.
- Booklist, August, 2002, Ray Olson, “The Booklist Interview: Neil Gaiman, ” p. 19, and Stephanie Zvirin, review of Coraline, p. 1948; August, 2003, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Wolves in the Walls, p. 1989.
- Book World, April 7, 2002, Michael Swanwick, “Reel Worlds, ” p. 3.
- Commonweal, December 2, 1994, Frank McConnell, review of Mister Punch, p. 27; October 20, 1995, Frank McConnell, review of Sandman, p. 21; June 19, 1998, Frank McConnell, review of Neverwhere, p. 21
- Entertainment Weekly, June 24, 1994, Ken Tucker, review of Sandman, pp. 228-229.
- Guardian (London, England), July 14, 1999, Nick Hasted, “The Illustrated Man, ” p. 12.
- Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Coraline, p. 88.
- Library Journal, September 15, 1990, Keith R. A. DeCandido, review of Th
e Golden Age, p. 104.
- Locus, April, 1993, Carolyn Cushman, review of The Books of Magic, p. 29.
- Newsweek, December 1, 1997, Malcolm Jones, review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, p. 77.
- Publishers Weekly, June 24, 2002, review of Coraline, p. 57.
- School Library Journal, August, 2002, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Coraline, p. 184; September, 2003, Marian Creamer, review of The Wolves in the Walls, p. 178.
- Sunday Times (London, England), July 15, 1990, Nicolette Jones, review of Violent Cases.
- Neil Gaiman Home Page, http://www.neilgaiman.com/ (May, 2002), Cindy Lynn Speer, “An Essay on Neil Gaiman and Comics.”
Biography – Authors and Artists for Young Adults
Biography from:Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 42. Gale Group, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003.
Birth: November 10, 1960 in Portchester, United Kingdom
Neil Gaiman has helped to create a renaissance in graphic novels and comic books. Along with other British writers such as Alan Moore, and a host of American writer/illustrators, including Art Spiegelman and Daniel Clowes, Gaiman has, according to a contributor to St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, “brought a new relevance to the most traditional of American literary forms, the comic book . . . imbuing his work with mythical and Gothic overtones.” Writing in Commonweal, Frank McConnell called Gaiman’s “Sandman” comic series “the best piece of fiction being done these days.” With that illustrated prose epic, Gaiman developed a strong and devoted following in both his native Great Britain and the United States; his graphic “Sandman” novels, fantasy-based novels such as Neverwhere and Stardust, and shorter fiction such as Smoke and Mirrors, are eagerly sought out everywhere from bookstores to independent comic shops, many of which devote a small corner solely to his works. As Claire E. White noted in Writers Write, Gaiman “has not exactly had the normal author’s experience” vis-à-vis his fans. White noted that these fans “treat [Gaiman] more like a rock star than an author, lining up hours before a signing or reading appearance.” Locus writer Edward Bryant distilled the reason for Gaiman’s transcendent popularity: His work “can intrigue and satisfy dyed-in-the-wool prose chauvinists.” White thought such devotion might also be the result of Gaiman’s “dark good looks, mesmerizing voice, trademark wit,” as well as his “brilliant writing.” Whatever the constellation of reasons, the undisputed fact is that Gaiman has become one of the most popular and sought after authors of his generation with credits in novels, comic books, television scripts, screenplays, and children’s books. His book sales soar into the millions of copies and his advances and options fees are approaching such astronomical numbers as well.
The scripts Gaiman composes for his illustrated fantasies transcend the genre of comic book; many reviewers have compared them to the work of postmodernist writers like William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon. Even when viewed within the limits of the graphic novel genre, Gaiman’s haunting mythological fictions break molds, shatter assumptions, surprise, startle, and reflect upon their reader a totally new perspective. The central focus throughout each of his works is the relationship between people and story, especially the universal power of myth. “Anyone deploring the lack of innovation in speculative fiction today would be well advised to seek out Gaiman’s work,” remarked Elizabeth Hand in the Washington Post Book World.
One of Those Kids Who Reads Everything
Born in 1960 in Portchester, England, Gaiman was brought up in a solidly upper-middle class household with a company director father and pharmacist mother. Describing himself once as “a completely omnivorous and cheerfully undiscerning reader,” he admited to getting “very grumpy at school when they’d tell us that we couldn’t read comics, because `if you read comics you will not read OTHER THINGS.'” Gaiman, who had read the entire children’s library over a period of about two or three years before starting on the adult library–“I don’t think I ever got to `Z’ but I got up to about `L'”–couldn’t help but ask the logical question: “Why are comics going to stop me [from] reading?” “I was a `bookie’ kid,” Gaiman noted in an interview with Phil Anderson for Kaos2000. “I was one of those kids who had books on them. Before weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals and anything else where you’re actually meant to not be reading, my family would frisk me and take the book away. If they didn’t find it by this point in the procedure, I would be sitting over in that corner completely unnoticed just reading my book.” Favorite genres for the young Gaiman were science fiction and fantasy, and favorite authors included J. R. Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, and Roger Zelasny, all of whom helped to fill his intellectual needs.
When he was fifteen Gaiman and his schoolmates took a battery of vocational tests, followed the next day by interviews with career advisors who, as the author once told AAYA, “would look at our tests and say, `Well, maybe you’d be interested in accountancy,’ or whatever. When I went for my interview, the guy said `What do you want to do?’ and I said, `Well, I’d really, really like to write American comics.’ And it was obvious that this was the first time he’d ever heard that. He just sort of stared at me for a bit and then said, `Well, how do you go about doing that, then?’ I said, `I have no idea–you’re the careers advisor. Advise.’ And he looked like I’d slapped him on the face with a wet herring; he sort of stared at me and there was this pause and it went on for a while and then he said, `Have you ever thought about accountancy?'”
With that inspiring careers advice under his belt, Gaiman turned his hand to journalism, which was, as the author recalled, “terrific in giving me an idea of how the world worked. I was the kind of journalist who would go out and do interviews with people and then write them up for magazines. I learned economy and I learned about dialogue.” During this period, he lived in London, though he does not really care for living in cities. “I had to have on `01′ in front of my telephone number back then in order to convince people that I was for real,” Gaiman told Anderson. “`01′ was a long time ago. I’ve always been a country person. I like living in the country. I like a lot of trees around.” Working as a freelance journalist, Gaiman placed his work in Time Out, London’s Sunday Times, Punch, and the Observer, among other newspapers and magazines. “I was very lucky,” Gaiman told White, “because I made [the decision to become a journalist] at a time in England when lots and lots of magazines and newspapers were getting stuff done by freelancers. Coincidentally, around the time that I stopped, they stopped.”
Finds a New Niche in Comic Books
After several years of journalism, Gaiman decided he would satisfy that childhood wish of his and try his hand at comic books. A voracious reader of comics until the age of sixteen, Gaiman grew disillusioned with a genre he felt he had outgrown. The year was 1977 and, he explained to AAYA, “it was coincident . . . with the loss of the writers whose work I liked no longer working in comics. There weren’t really many comics being written for people who’d outgrown superheroes and kid-sized supernatural fantasies, which of course is someth
ing that the
re is today. These days if you outgrow Spiderman, there’s other stuff you can go on to, but there really wasn’t back then.” Although he continued to reread the work of Will Eisner, a comic writer/illustrator whose Spirit comics had been popular during the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1983 that Gaiman discovered the works of an English writer named Alan Moore. “Moore’s work convinced me that you really could do work in comics that had the same amount of intelligence, the same amount of passion, the same amount of quality that you could put in any other medium.”
In his first comic work, a forty-eight-page story called Violent Cases, Gaiman explores a young boy’s imaginative recreation of the world of Depression-era gangster Al Capone. An adult narrator recounts his memories of the early 1960s; as a boy of four, his arm is accidentally fractured by his father. The boy finds himself in the office of an elderly osteopath who tells the impressionable child vivid stories of treating notorious gangland leader Al Capone. For the boy the 1960s and the Chicago of the 1920s begin to intermesh.
Violent Cases was followed by Black Orchid, the first of Gaiman’s comic scripts to be released by DC Comics. “It was in a lot of ways less of a story and more of a reaction against stories,” Gaiman once explained of the three- part graphic novel. “I looked at all the things I didn’t like in stories and didn’t do them.” Gaiman didn’t care for the normal depiction of women in comics: in Black Orchid the heroine is a female character who is completely unique to comics: “vaguely feminist, ecological, essentially nonviolent. I liked the fact that at the end she doesn’t get mad and start hitting people. There is an integrity to the story that I really am very proud of.”
The Birth of Sandman, Lord of Dreams
In December 1988, almost a year after the release of Black Orchid, came “Sandman.” The epic series, which, after eight years would ultimately number seventy-five issues and over a million words of script, details the cosmic duties of a family of seven immortals, anthropomorphic representations of the categories of human experience through which humans attempt to harness the chaos in which they live: Dream, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Delirium (formerly Delight), Destruction, and Death. Among these “Endless,” the pivotal character is the Sandman, alias Dream, Morpheus, god of sleep, Master of Story. As each of the layered “Sandman” stories unfolds, Gaiman seduces his readers into entering a world of myth, magic, the unexpected, and the yet-unexplored. Approached by DC Comics in 1987 to revive a character from the 1940s, Gaiman chose the relatively little-known Sandman, and then invented the mythic family and antecedents to carry the series through eight years of writing. “Like the best of Dickens,” wrote McConnell, “this is serial storytelling, and part of the fun of the thing is seeing how many more balls the author tosses into the air each month, and whether he can keep them all aloft.”
Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes introduces the reader to the ageless Sandman/Dream/Morpheus, who was imprisoned by an English magician in the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane in 1916. Finally freeing himself seventy-two years later, Dream returns home to find his palace in ruins and his powers diminished. While on a quest to recover his three tools–a pouch of sand, a helm, and a ruby dreamstone–from mankind, Dream begins to realize that it is more than a lack of tools that has caused his new weakness. As McConnell explained, he “find[s] that he has become somehow tainted–spoiled– altered–by his captivity. Humanized in fact.” It is through a character burdened with the knowledge of his own ultimate demise that we enter the world of “Sandman.”
In Sandman: A Doll’s House, Dream travels across America searching for the Arcana–stray dreams and nightmares of the twentieth century that have taken on human form. Child abusers and mass murderers people much of this story, and sister Death is never far away. Sandman: Dream Country collects several shorter tales, and characters like William Shakespeare and the mythic Calliope are featured alongside Morpheus and the other Endless. In Sandman: Season of Mists, Lucifer, having decided to step down as the ruler of Hell, leaves the choice of a successor to Morpheus, who is also determined to rescue his lost love, Nada, from the land of the Dark where he previously condemned her.
In the fifth story, Sandman: A Game of You, Gaiman puts a female in the role of protagonist, giving her the unlikely name of Barbie. Drawn back into the dream realm she ruled over as a child, she must now attempt to save it from the evil Cuckoo, who has assumed Barbie’s childhood form and plans the realm’s destruction. “A Game of You was, in many ways a kind of anti-story,” Gaiman once explained to AAYA. “I wanted to look at what reader expectations are; why people go to fantasy, what kinds of fantasies people have.” It is also a vehicle whereby he can examine the role that gender plays: “The difference between little-boy fantasies and little-girl fantasies.” As in many of the “Sandman” stories, much of the action is violent, but a violence premeditated by an ancient justice. Writing about A Game of You in the Village Voice Literary Supplement, Erik Davis noted that “Gaiman does not make this colorful story-book material `mature’ by clipping its wings with adult rationality or clever deconstructions. He just takes dream logic as far as it will go, right into darkness and blood.”
Sandman: Brief Lives finds Dream and Delirium on a quest to find Destruction, who exiled himself on Earth over three hundred years ago. They enlist the aid of the Greek mythological figure Orpheus, now a head without a body, in helping them follow the path left in the wake of their brother. In Sandman: World’s End, some travelers take shelter from a “reality storm”–a tempest of otherworldly proportions–in an inn where they share their mystical stories. And in Sandman: The Kindly Ones, the series draws to its destined conclusion as Hippolyta Hall vows revenge against the Lord of Dreams for the disappearance of her son. Driven mad by loss and rage, she gains the help of beings known as the “Kindly Ones” to seek a redress that even Morpheus acknowledges is justified.
Throughout the series the character of Morpheus remains enigmatic. “He’s definitely not human,” Gaiman once explained. “I mean, he is the personification of dreams. He’s the king of the dreaming place where you close your eyes each night and go. And whether he’s [good or evil] depends an awful lot on where you’re standing. From his own standards, he is always acting for the best, but his moral code and his point of view are not human. And I like that. You know, he’s very stand-offish . . . he’s a bit stuck-up.”
Reviewing the first seventy-five issues of the series, a contributor to St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers commented that when Gaiman is “on form (which is most of the time) he is without peer.” The same writer further noted, “The various volumes of collected Sandman stories . . . are almost uniformly excellent and any one of them would make a good starting point for those readers who, while well-versed in the field of Gothic prose literature, have yet to discover the rare but powerful joy inherent in a great comic book.” In “Sandman”, volume 20, Gaiman wrote, “When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished, I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.” This Gaiman did, ending the “Sandman” series in 1996, at a high point, much to the disappointment of legions of fans. The series sold over seven million copies in books and magazines, and created a mini-industry in T-shirts and posters. In 1999 those fans won a brief reprieve: Gaiman teamed up with illustrator Yoshitaka Amano on Sandman: The Dream Hunters, the retelling of t
he Japanese tale, “The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night’s Dreaming.” Reviewing the book in School Library Journal, Francisca Goldsmith wrote, “The wise monk of the story is able to repel tricksters and dole out sage advice, but he is not above falling in love and having to face his own fate.” Goldsmith felt that the book would not only appeal to fans of Gaiman’s graphic novels, but also to newcomers “who will delight in discovering a compelling folklorist.” Charles De Lint, reviewing the novel in Fantasy and Science Fiction, commented that The Dream Hunters “doesn’t require any familiarity with that long-running comic book series to work.” De Lint concluded that “this is one of Gaiman’s most exquisite and evocative stories to date.”
Tales for Younger Readers
“Sandman” is written for a mature audience. As Gaiman once commented to AAYA, “if you’re too young for `Sandman,’ you will be bored silly by it. It’s filled with long bits with people having conversations.” More strongly focused toward a Young Adult audience are The Books of Magic and Death: The High Cost of Living. The Books of Magic collect the four magazine issues that concern the initiation of a young boy with “powers” into the lore of real magic. It includes cameos by such figures as the Sandman and his sister, Death. “It’s a fascinating look at magic, its benefits and burdens,” noted Locus reviewer Carolyn Cushman, “all dramatically illustrated, and with a healthy helping of humor.”
A spin-off of Gaiman’s “Sandman” series, Death: The High Cost of Living features the Endless who, Gaiman once noted, is “the friendliest, nicest, and easiest to get along with.” Allowed to return to Earth only once each century–“better to comprehend what the lives she takes must feel like, to taste the bitter tang of mortality,” as Gaiman explained–Death appears in the form of a sixteen-year-old girl who helps Sexton, a teenager contemplating suicide, to rediscover the many simple joys of living. “Gaiman brings a gritty urban contemporaneity to the fantasy genre,” wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. “The combination of wry mystic, immortal, and MTV slacker produces an engaging chemistry.”
Even though these works are aimed at younger readers, they lack none of the sophistication that Gaiman brings to his other works. “Gene Wolfe, one of my favorite writers in the whole world, once defined good literature as `that which can be read with pleasure by an educated reader and reread with increased pleasure,'” Gaiman once explained. “And that’s what I’ve always tried to do: create something that you can read with pleasure, that you can go back to and get more out of. It seems like part of a deal that there should be between a writer and a reader; that you want to give them more than they could get the first time.”
In fact, younger readers are among Gaiman’s most enthusiastic, and expressive, fans. “What I enjoy most is when people say to me, `When I was sixteen I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life and then I read “Sandman” and now I’m at University studying mythology,’ or whatever. I think it’s wonderful when you’ve opened a door to people and showed them things that they never would have been interested in, things that they would never have known they would have been interested in.” Recognizing his responsibility to his audience, Gaiman considers it a “point of honor” that the history reflected in his fiction is “good history: that the mythology is good, accurate mythology.”
In fact, he finds a specific value in introducing readers to mythology, not only the new mythology of Sandman but ancient human mythologies as well. “You gain a cultural underpinning to the last 2,500 to 3,000 years, which, if you lack it, there’s an awful lot of stuff that you will simply never quite understand,” Gaiman once noted. As an example, the author cited the seeming impenetrability of the Romantic poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: “They assumed in their readers a level of classical education which nobody has anymore.” Within “Sandman” even readers unfamiliar with the Norse god Loki or the three-headed spirit of Irish mythology “sort of half-know; there’s a gentle and sort of delightful familiarity with these tales. It feels right. And I think that’s probably the most important thing,” he added. “Giving people this stuff, pointing out that it can be interesting, but also pointing out what mythologies do know. And how they affect us.”
Further forays into juvenile fiction include the award-winning The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, “a funky comic-book-inspired picture-book fantasy,” as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly described it. Young Nathan one day offers to trade off his father for a bowl of goldfish with which he has become fascinated. So far so good, but when Nathan returns home without his father, his mother makes him go back and swap over and over again to get his father back. “An energetic, eye-catching volume,” the Publishers Weekly writer concluded. “I love writing children’s books,” Gaiman told Anderson. “I think I will always write children’s books. I love warping young minds.”
Writes Traditional Prose Works
The inventiveness that critics see in Gaiman’s graphic novels is also evident in his fantasy collaboration with former fellow journalist Terry Pratchett titled Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. An avid fan of writer Douglas Adams, Gaiman had great fun outlining the origins, development, and phenomenal success of Adams’s popular The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion. After the book was finished, he couldn’t fight the temptation to mimic Adams’s classic English humor style; he wrote the first 4,000 words of Good Omens in early 1988, sent it to a few friends–one being Pratchett–and then put it in a drawer. A year later Pratchett convinced Gaiman to collaborate on the novel. “I’d never written a novel at that point,” Gaiman explained to AAYA, “so I thought I’d quite like the idea of doing it as an apprentice, with a master craftsmen.” Most of the novel was written on the phone: “Terry and I would write our bits, then we’d have long, long phone calls during the course of which we’d read each other the bits we’d written and we’d just make each other laugh going over bits that were coming up. The fun was just getting the other one to the point of complete hysteria.” Gaiman acknowledges that Pratchett authored sixty percent of Good Omens, “mainly because you couldn’t stop him writing. It was a delight to write; it was really nine weeks of madness, that book.”
In Good Omens, Gaiman and Pratchett recount how, after six thousand years on earth, Hell decides it’s time to send up the Antichrist and jump-start Armageddon–the end of humankind. The slightly tarnished but still angelic Aziraphale and the quasi-demonic Crowley, field agents for Heaven and Hell, respectively, are quite content with their long lives in the “Earthly Paradise” and would prefer not to return to the monotony of their former existences. While written in a slapstick style, full of wordplay, antiheroic heroes, and a humor that sometimes borders on the sophomoric, Good Omens also tackles universal themes. Commending the novel, reviewer Howard Waldrup noted in the Washington Post that it “tackles things most science fiction and fantasy writers never think about, much less write.”
In addition to Good Omens, Gaiman has written several other prose works, including the novel American Gods and the short story collection Angels and Visitations, which, along with 1994’s Mr. Punch and the “Sandman” epic, he personally counts among his most accomplished works. Indeed, Mr. Punch stands out as one of his more concise creative efforts. Contained in a single volume, it follows in the tradition of Gaiman’s first work, Violent Ca
ses, as a narration by a man who recalls a haunting incident from his childhood and attempts to seek its meaning. “I was fascinated both by family secrets and the weirdness of families; what families are all about,” Gaiman once commented. “The Punch and Judy story–the incredible violence and the murders and the death in this little puppet story designed to entertain children–became just a wonderful metaphor for just the relationship between kids and adults, the way that kids perceive the world versus the way that adults perceive the world.” The most challenging thing about Mr. Punch, which falls into some as-yet-undefined category of literature between comic book and novella, was “trying to write it as if the narrator himself was starting to understand it for the first time while he was talking . . . that he’d known all this stuff but he’d never put it together.” Gaiman’s work raises introspective questions that the reader is left to ponder. Similarly, Stardust, a thought-provoking adult fairy story written by Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, also attempts to bridge the gap between the graphic novel and novel formats. While Mr. Punch, with its haunting full-page montages by Dave McKean, looks like a comic, Gaiman once described Stardust as a “very extensively illustrated novella.”
Stardust tells a love story of seventeen-year-old Tristran Thorn who journeys to the fanciful land of Faerie on a quest to fetch a fallen star far from his village of Wall. He has promised his love, Victoria, this star, and on his journey he has to deal with others more powerful and ruthless who also seek the fallen star. Finally, Tristran’s journey brings him back to a faerie market near his village where all secrets about his parentage are revealed. Set in nineteenth-century England, the tale “evokes the crisp style of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales,” according to Kurt Lancaster writing in the Christian Science Monitor. “In a literary world that seems so full of Grishams and Clancys, it’s delightful to find a fresh tale that evokes not just contemporary fantasy but such otherworldly classics by Spencer and Shakespeare,” Lancaster concluded. Susan Salpini, reviewing Stardust in School Library Journal, called it an “old-fashioned fairy tale of mythic images, magic, and lyrical passages.” Salpini further commented, “While the bones of the story–the hero, the quest, the maiden–are traditional, Gaiman offers a role that is fresh and original.” A contributor to Publishers Weekly noted that “Gaiman employs exquisitely rich language, natural wisdom, good humor and a dash of darkness to conjure up a fairy tale in the grand tradition.” Scott W. Schumack announced in Starlog that Gaiman “has written one of the best fairy tales in recent memory” with Stardust, “a book to be treasured.” And for Booklist‘s Ray Olson, a critical analysis of Stardust could be summed up in one word: “Superb.”
Gaiman also novelized his British-aired television series Neverwhere, a story that takes place below the streets of London, a world “populated by monsters, murderers, abbots, and assassins,” according to Joe Nazarro, writing in Starlog. The book, like the television series, follows the adventures of Richard Mayhew, a worker in a London office whose everyday world is suddenly shattered when a young girl named Door comes into his life–a visitor from London Below. The girl has the power to open locks and discover doors, both metaphorical and real, and is in desperate flight from a pair of killers– Croup and Vandemar–who have done in Door’s aristocratic family and now want to include her on the death list. Together Richard and Door battle the assassins, and meet other macabre characters along the way, including the Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, and Old Bailey. For his fantasy world in Neverwhere, Gaiman uses the tube stops on the London Underground, but a highly fanciful railway in this case. “Gaiman’s signal talent has always been to take the cliches of myth and turn them back into the fecund archetypes they really are,” wrote McConnell in a Commonweal review of Neverwhere. “And he just keeps getting better.” Booklist‘s Olson called the book “Excellent escapist fare,” while Erin Cassin noted in Library Journal that “Gaiman’s gift for mixing the absurd with the frightful give this novel the feeling of a bedtime story with adult sophistication.”
Gaiman has also published two short story collections, Angels and Visitations and Smoke and Mirrors, the latter a collection of thirty prose and verse narratives. “Poe would love [Gaiman],” wrote Booklist contributor Olson in a review of Smoke and Mirrors, for “he knows how to stick to a story’s point of view until it is thrust home.” Olson concluded that the collection was a “box of bonbons for dark fantasy fans,” including everything from an erotic vampire sketch in “Tastings,” to an elucidation of what provoked Lucifer to rebel against God in the tale “Murder Mysteries.” Starlog‘s Schumack felt that Smoke and Mirrors “establishes [Gaiman] as a great fantasy writer,” while a contributor to Publishers Weekly noted that each of the tales “skirts the edges of a puncture in reality through which something dark and mysterious peeks.”
A Writer of Many Talents
Gaiman has turned his hand to television scripts and to screenplays, as well as adapting the original Japanese script for the popular anime movie Princess Mononoke. However, after working in prose, television script, and comics formats, Gaiman still finds comics to be the most challenging. “Frankly, all the three have in common is that they all use the alphabet,” he once explained to AAYA. “With prose you’re using words to reach into the back of somebody’s head and build up pictures and images. It’s as if you’ve put somebody in a dark room and you’re talking to them. Its main strength is the fact that everybody is getting an individual experience. On the other hand, it has weaknesses. . . . You can lose immediacy in a book. Unlike a movie, you’ll never be on the edge of your seat.
“With a T.V. script, you’re writing something that is really a guide. You’re giving the lines and you’re saying what’s happening, but there are hundreds of people involved in the process who will make other decisions about things, from lighting to where the camera is. Although you can suggest and although you can put everything you have in your head in the script, you know that a lot of it is going to be ignored.
“I think there are probably as many ways to write comics as there are comics writers and any way you do it is right. But the way that I do it is called `full script.’ You start with page one, panel one, and you describe everything in the panel. And you tell the artist what to draw. Then you go on to panel two. And you may well tell them what size the panels are, what kind of feeling you’re after, etc.” Script writing is incredibly time-consuming, as Gaiman once explained: “When I started writing `Sandman,’ it took up two weeks of every month and by the time I finished, it was taking up about six weeks of every month. It is two thousand pages long, which is quite large–four thousand pages of script, well over a million words.” Some comics writers also do their own art, but they are in the minority. It takes a lot longer to both write and draw a story, noted Gaiman: “If you stop and think about it, it’s kind of like saying that a playwright is somebody who should get up on stage and act everything out. Comics is my first love and I think it’s always something that I will go back to.”
Whether working in comic books, graphic novels, traditional novel and short story format, or television and movie scripts, Gaiman maintains his unique view on the world, a quirky mix of Gothic, fantasy, science fiction, and myth, all wrapped up in an early twentieth-century literary ribbon. As the contributor for St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic
Writers concluded, Gaiman’s oeuvre is a “heady mixture of the everyday and the obscure. Managing to be salutary, evocative and entertaining at the same time is a trick that few can pull off. In this respect, [Gaiman’s] blending of poetic prose, marvelous inventions and artistic vision has assured him of his place in the vanguard of modern-day dark fantasists.”