The Art Of Neil Gaiman, by Hayley Campbell - book review

 

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The Independent Culture

We all know Neil Gaiman, even if we don’t read comics or fantasy novels, or watch Doctor Who or blockbuster movies. He’s the rock-star author who always dresses in black, the English guy America has claimed as one of its own. He’s the man with two million Twitter followers who married a punk cabaret singer and has Hollywood mates.

Gaiman has written picture books for small children, comic books for people who don’t read comic books and for comics obsessives. He’s written episodes of Doctor Who, and the screenplay for Beowulf, starring Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie. He’s written short stories and novels and radio plays. He once wrote a biography of Duran Duran. Eminently suitable, then, for a biography of his own. We all know Neil Gaiman, or at least some aspect of him, but what’s he really like?

Enter The Art of Neil Gaiman, a sumptuous coffee-table book that is basically Gaiman Porn. Hayley Campbell is the daughter of Eddie, a veteran British graphic novelist, and as such she’s had Gaiman as a family friend for as long as she can remember. That friendship has allowed her unprecedented access to the piles of correspondence, sketches, story notes and artwork that fills Gaiman’s Addams Family-esque home.

The book is lushly illustrated, as you might expect. Though a writer, Gaiman has worked almost all his career in highly visual media. We can count, naturally, his early work in the UK porn magazine Knave, his Duran Duran biography, and of course his comic work.

To many, Gaiman’s magnum opus is The Sandman, a reinvention of a third-tier DC Comics concept which, in Gaiman’s hands, became a mythic, epic tale. The Sandman was credited with getting women reading comics, and allowing creators to push the boundaries of what was considered normal. Campbell lovingly details its inception, creation and life as the centrepiece to her biography. Well illustrated as it is, though, this is a book more about the writer’s art than the pictures which accompany it. Campbell is a talented writer herself, and deftly weaves together Gaiman’s own words and quotes culled from interviews, with her extensive knowledge of his work and the wider comics industry, plus some often sweet personal observations.

Perhaps the most interesting sections are the opening chapters concerned with Gaiman’s early life and his nascent writing career. It’s the closest the book comes to telling us what Gaiman is really like. Maybe that’s because, as an almost ubiquitous  online presence, his views on The Sandman or Doctor Who, Stardust or American Gods, are well documented, as much as Campbell offers fresh insights.

There are no kiss-and-tell stories here, no warts-and-all dirt-digging. And why should there be? This is a portrait of the artist, as a young and not-so-young man, by a friend. Fans will adore it; those ambivalent to Gaiman will surely find something to appreciate in this story of a hard-working writer who has mastered practically all the disciplines involving words that exist.

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