With The Ocean at the End of the Lane as one of our top anticipated releases of June 2013, now seems like a good time to resurrect our Giants of Fantasy series with a look at none other than Neil Gaiman.
I’m not sure that Gaiman really compares to any other writer. His first major breakthrough as a speculative fiction author came as a writer on the revived comic series Marvelman at issue #17, taking over for Alan Moore. His early works also include a set of graphic novels (back in their infancy) with frequent co-collaborator Dave McKean (Violent Cases, Signal to Noise, and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch). DC Comics hired Gaiman in the late 1980s to reboot an old character, The Sandman. Gaiman’s twelve collected volumes of The Sandman (1988-1996) have been in constant print since their compilation, and they are some of the few graphic novel titles to have ever appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. In short, The Sandman received a World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction, 26 Eisner Awards, and two Bram Stoker Awards. Gaiman is arguably a legend for his comic and graphic novel work alone, but this genre represents only a portion of his overall body of work.
Gaiman’s next major foray was into screenplays, with 1996’s BBC mini-series, Neverwhere. His following project was the English language version of Princess Mononoke in 1999, and in 2004 he worked on the movie MirrorMask with old friend Dave McKean. The 2007 movie Beowulf was co-written by Gaiman. He’s also done a number of television episodes for shows like Babylon 5 and Doctor Who. His latest episode for Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife” won a 2012 Hugo Award.
Gaiman’s first novel (Good Omens) was co-authored by another legend, Terry Pratchett (Discworld series) in 1990. This was followed in 1996 with a novelization of Neverwhere. 1999 saw Stardust make the jump from comic to illustrated novel. Gaiman then struck gold with 2001’s American Gods, which remains one of our top rated books here at The Ranting Dragon. While there is no sequel, companion Anansi Boys (2005) debuted at number one on the New York Times Bestseller list. He even has a few short story collections. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is his latest adult novel. Not content to merely write, Gaiman has also recorded the audiobook versions of most of his work.
Now, most authors wouldn’t include this next paragraph, but Gaiman’s a Giant for a reason! Gaiman’s list of juvenile fiction is longer than everything except for his list of comics and graphic novels. While The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (illustrated by Dave McKean) is a perennial favorite, Coraline was his breakout hit, winning Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards. In 2011, Gaiman topped even that with The Graveyard Book (and my favorite of all his books), winning the incredible Newberry, Carnegie, Locus, and Hugo awards. Among others. His juvenile fiction includes several more picture books, chapter books, and short story collections.
But wait! There’s more! Gaiman is also an incredibly active blogger, an early adopter of twitter, and an all around master of marketing in today’s digital marketplace. Seriously, check out the “Cool Stuff and Things” page on his website. I don’t know of many authors who are as approachable as Gaiman.
In the end, it’s not the incredibly long list of awards, uniquely diverse body of work, or even his tech savvy marketing that makes Gaiman stand out. It’s his writing. There are very, very few writers whom I would truly call a wordsmith, and Gaiman is one of them. You know the instant you sit down with one of his books that it’s his; no one else could write just exactly that way. From the pre-Tolkien style seen in Stardust to the gritty Sandman to the comedy of Good Omens to the contemporary fantasy that is American Gods, Gaiman doesn’t just impress. He doesn’t even just wow. He stuns. Continuously, without ever missing a beat. His prose is flawless, never a word too many or plot hole to be seen. If I could write like one author, from the dawn of writing to today, I’d choose to write like Neil Gaiman. And while I will likely never get there, that won’t stop me from trying.