In honor of Neil Gaiman’s appearance in our home town of Long Beach this month (details here) and this week’s release of Sandman Overture, friend of Pulp Fiction Eric Bryan has put together some recommended reading for the author that made his indelible mark on comics before becoming the well-known novelist he is today.
The big dog of Gaiman’s catalogue, and one of the finest pieces of modern comics (or any comics for that matter), Sandman starts as a modern take on a Golden Age character but goes so much further. Gaiman stretches here, learning as he goes in many ways. Though starting with a small and relatively self-contained storyline regarding Dream (our hero) as a character, it eventually expands to the point where nearly all literature is, or could be, included. Beyond just Dream, Gaiman also creates Death, one of the most beloved characters in alternative comics. Sandman is a cornerstone of comics, let alone adult comics, and the Rosetta stone for understanding how fantasy books in a post-Sandman world work. Beyond essential reading, Sandman is mandatory
The Books of Magic
Where Sandman could act as the key to the Vertigo/DC universe, The Books of Magic actually is! Timothy Hunter, our Harry Potter stand in, could be the most powerful magician in the universe. Him wanting to is the greater issue. Weaving in and out of Vertigo and DC mainstay characters, Gaiman presents a rare young adult approach to very adult comics, creating 4 issues of wonderful comics that would go on to set in motion a whole Books of Magic series.
A fun, readable, and Constantine-filled story of magic and fantasy, The Books of Magic is essential for the Gaiman completionist and general reader alike.
The Graveyard Book
A supernatural take on The Jungle Book, The Graveyard Book tells the story of Bod, the lone survivor of his family’s murder. As an 18 month old, he walks (read: toddles) off to the local graveyard and is adopted by the spirits there as an innocent. We then follow his dealings with supernatural and the natural alike, as he becomes a man.
Gaiman has a very real affection for childhood, and that shows here. He manages to take on antiquated, but beloved source material, and weave into it something both tributary and modern, without losing anything in the process. Gaiman’s latest reflects his love for the fantastic and ever strengthening storytelling ability. The man truly may have no limitations within “genre” writing, and this bridge between his children’s writing and adult fiction is a prime example.
Functioning as both a fantastic introduction to Neil Gaiman’s whimsy and affection for childhood as well as a well told fantasy story, Coraline is an essential of the Gaiman catalogue. In the tradition of classics Matilda and Harriet the Spy, Coraline takes on danger, fantasy, magic, and adventure through the eyes of a child, but with respect not generally given to such child protagonists.
Coraline is an adventurer, and as such, is enchanted with the new house her and her parents have moved into, particularly when she discovers a mysterious other world in it. But when “the other mother,” a being in that fantastic other world, wants to keep Coraline forever (and steals her parents in the process), Coraline must find a way to save her parents and herself.
A rousing story for readers of all ages, Coraline is an all ages fantasy done rightl It respects it’s audience and characters, presents a story that has no age limit, and does it all with a healthy dose of fun.
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Neil Gaiman doesn’t get into super heroes all that often, but when he does, it absolutely warrants a look. Functioning as a funeral for Batman, Gaiman demonstrates an ability to take on Batman’s past without being sappy, creating one last mystery for the world’s greatest detective to solve. Rounded out by Andy Kubert’s masterful line work, there isn’t really a better team you could want for the dark knight’s last ride. If you’re a fan of Grant Morrison’s famed run with Batman, this will sit nicely with you.