You might be fooled into thinking that the oversized, full-color look at Neil Gaiman’s art history (and writing) was just that, a history of art. But a closer examination of the book reveals that the author of American Gods and the mind behind Neverwhere, Stardust, and Coraline has in fact been thoughtfully creating a mystique and a mythology since … he was three or four.
Pulling on Gaiman’s own recollection of events, interviews from publications that he wrote for and was written about by, and the works of Gaiman himself, Hayley Campbell turns her own admiration for Gaiman’s work into a full-on biography of sorts, sharing facts, philosophy, and art along the way. While my “Gaiman exposure” is severely limited (I’ve seen Stardust but have touched a mere fragment of the written and drawn collection), the biography aspects were intriguing enough to make me go scrambling for what I might put my hands on. The selection of factual tidbits from his childhood to his early journalism to his relationship to Alan Moore to his success in novels, graphic novels, and film… it’s all here.
Yes, Gaiman is English, but his exploration of American life is insightful (in the same way that Ireland’s John Connolly has fairly critiqued New England life in his books). His examination of fables, myths, and our various ‘truths’ leads itself to some dark, deep stuff that will stretch your mind and make you think. That’s right, in a world where artistic expression by way of frames, thought bubbles, and illustrations (comics, people!) are often derided as being for children or young fanboys at best, Gaiman creates a mythology based on his own experience, not just the standard worlds of DC and Marvel. He makes me want to write a comic!
But I’ve dwelled fully on Gaiman the creator, artist, man, and thinker; the truth is that it’s Campbell’s ability to share the thoughts, quirks, and meanings of Gaiman in a way that makes even the initiated interested that’s a real gift in its own right. Maybe one day we’ll be reading her biography put to art; it bears noting that Gaiman himself started writing on ‘fact’ and after defining the method, switched to transporting his own inner thoughts to fiction. It’s a reminder to all of us would-be writers: the best way to become a writer is to write and keep writing.