'The Art of Neil Gaiman' is a Must-Own for Any Gaiman Fan

A book review article by: Jason Sacks

I have a wonderful story about Neil Gaiman that you might enjoy. My oldest daughter's high school best friend has three sisters. One day, when riding her bike to school on a foggy Seattle morning, one of the sisters was seriously injured when she was hit by a school bus whose driver (obviously) didn't see her.

The girl was stuck in the hospital for several months with injuries to her back and legs, and, as you might imagine, she was depressed, angry and in need of cheer. She was a fan of Neil Gaiman's writing, so one of the family members wrote Gaiman to tell him about her accident, expecting maybe to receive an email back with some nice thoughts or something like that. Instead Gaiman sent the girl autographed copies of his entire catalogue of books, a whole box full of material, personalized to her. The sisters all still smile giant smiles when they think about Neil Gaiman and his generosity.

Cartoon self-portrait by Neil (page 12)

From The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell; drawing by Neil Gaiman, NG Archive
Image Copyright © Neil Gaiman. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Some reviews are very simple to write. If you're a fan of the writing of Neil Gaiman – and I'd imagine most of you reading this review are fans of the great writer – then this book is a must-own. A beautiful 320-page hardcover, The Art of Neil Gaiman is a loving and encyclopedic history of Gaiman's career, with knowing analysis and biography by Hayley Campbell. It includes dozens of quotes from Gaiman, gathered from interviews he's conducted over the years for magazines and websites.

Based on the portrait that  Campbell presents of Gaiman in her new biography of him, Gaiman seems a very kind sort of person: nice, considerate, more than a little bit eccentric in his particularly British way, but overall a decent bloke who's worked his way up from complete obscurity to becoming one of the most beloved writers in the world. It's a sweet story of a little guy who used some luck, some connections and a tremendous desire to succeed – along with prodigious talents, of course – to become a virtual household name.

“The Body Inspector,” one of Neil’s dreams done in comic book form for Rick Veitch (page 155)

From The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell; drawing by Neil Gaiman; NG Archive
Image Copyright © Neil Gaiman. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

If Gaiman was American, this would be an odd sort of Horatio Alger story, but of course there's no way that he could be American, despite his living in Minneapolis and his marriage to a very talented American musician. There's too much of the dreamy Brit in him, too much of the sense of a contact with the deeper magic of the strange side of England, a fog-bound world in which faeries and magic seem always nearly at one's fingertips.

This book is essential, in part, because it covers Gaiman's entire life. An early section talks about his love for American comics when he was a child (including the story of his encounter with a fateful and somewhat psychedelic issue of Justice League of America that guest-starred the Sandman) and delves into his teen years as a punk rocker (the photo of Gaiman from this era is precious), and even shows a terrible page from Gaiman's own fanzine from 1976, when he was 16. This is the sort of biography that even reproduces a note from Gaiman's doctor that lists his mom's due date (Neil was born right on time), in gloriously-reproduced full color, preserved perfectly.

Neil Gaiman photographed at a shoot for his band the Ex-Execs, 1977 (page 32)

From The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell; photograph by Nick Harman,
Copyright © Nick Harman. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

We follow young Neil as he grows up. We get to read excerpts from his first novel (which doesn't look like it was very good at all), delve into the reportage and short stories that he created for the British Penthouse and its fellow skin mag Knave, and see him hobnobbing with some of the celebrities of the day. Along with those selections are some often-hilarious photos of Gaiman looking painfully young -- there's one sidesplittingly funny photo of him with crazy Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.

From there, The Art of Neil Gaiman moves into ground that's better known for us comics fans, but Campbell covers that ground encyclopedically: insightful looks at his early works like Violent Cases and Signal to Noise that provide insight into the writer's goals for those books; on through Miracleman and the inevitable inside stories and griping about the fate of the book, to a deeply insightful section on Sandman, then on to deep insights into his novels and film work That includes every famous and obscure item that has passed through his brain, from articles for rock fanzines all the way to Doctor Who scripts. After reading this book, even the most devoted fan will be hitting eBay to look for obscure material that they had never heard of.

Cartoon portrait of Neil Gaiman by Jill Thompson (page 13)
From The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell; drawing by Jill Thompson, NG Archive 
Image Copyright © Jill Thompson/Neil Gaiman. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Along with all that  rarely-seen material, Campbell also presents content that nobody could ever possibly have seen: handwritten manuscripts, with Gaiman's trademark scrawl, showing the author's thoughts as he first drops them on paper – short sketches, full texts, page layouts, much more. We see examples of how he jokes around with his friends, how deep his relationship goes with his old friend Dave McKean, and seemingly boundless ephemera from all eras of his career.

Pages of Neil’s notes for American Gods (page 227)

From The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell; NG Archive
Images Copyright © Neil Gaiman. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The effect of all this material, thoughtfully presented with interesting quotes from Gaiman about his output, is the portrait of a man who just plain loves to write. He's as hard a worker as you can find – from all accounts here, Gaiman is a detailed and thoughtful creator, a man who loves to meet his fans, and a person who truly does count his blessings. This is as close as you can get to reading Amanda Palmer's scrapbooks about her husband.

Sketches by Dave McKean (with some notes by Neil) from the 1994 signing tour (pages 172–173)

From The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell; drawings by Dave McKean; NG Archive
Image Copyright © Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean. Published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Is it too much of a cliché to say that this book is a dream for any fan of Neil Gaiman? It may be a cliché but it's true. I loved this intimate portait of one of my favorite authors.

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