Monday, February 8, 2016

On Neil Gaiman

I started reading stories by Neil Gaiman because of two guys with sort of the same name. Sean Houthoofd recommended I read Sandman. He said it was the sort of thing I would like. I read comics, I liked mythology. I forget which paperback he showed me first, but whatever it was, I hated the art enough that I didn't take another look at Sandman for a decade.

Later, Shawn Galdeen lent me Stardust--the Vertigo edition with the spectacular Charles Vess illustrations. Then he lent me Neverwhere, which wasn't as good but I still liked it. This was right before American Gods came out, so I have been able to follow Gaiman's works since them.

Eventually, based on American Gods, I went back and read Sandman. Now that I trusted Gaiman's writing enough to get past the art, I really got into it. I never came to appreciate the art, except Michael Zulli's issues and certain others like Vess's (Issue 19 is a masterpiece of both writing and penciling).

Then came Anansi Boys. I liked about the first fifty pages of that book, but after that I found it boring and anti-climactic. Gaiman writes an awful lot of anti-climaxes. The Last Temptation, done in collaboration with Michael Zulli and Alice Cooper, is a perfect example. So's Odd and the Frost Giants. And, to some extent, the entirety of Sandman. An anti-climax isn't always a bad thing. Gaiman's characters, when coming to the end of their stories, tend to talk things through rather than fight. That's what Odd does with the frost giant--and it works for that story. Odd is such a great character as he is, lamed in a logging accident, that an explosive confrontation would be totally out of tone with the rest of the book. But in Anansi Boys, the ending just felt flat. Lots of people seem to like it, though.

One problem for me was that I love Anansi--the spider and trickster figure from certain mythologies. I wanted a story that felt like Anansi stories feel, and the novel wasn't like that at all, even when it was retelling some of the folktales. So it didn't match my expectations. That, in part, is on me.

Like many writers, Gaiman explores similar themes across his stories. The cyclical nature of stories and of time is one. The nature of identity as related to choice is another.

Between the publication of American Gods and Anansi Boys, I attended the Sandman convention called Fiddler's Green. It was a good excuse to visit Galdeen in Minneapolis, and I got to talk to Todd Klein about lettering for a very long time. What a great guy. At that convention, we watched Neil Gaiman and Kaitlin Kiernan write a single-page Sandman story each. We saw Charles Vess and Jill Thompson draw them. We saw Todd Klein letter them. And we were each given a single photocopy of the two stories. It doesn't get much better than that.

Then I read Gaiman's Marvel series, 1602 and The Eternals. I did not enjoy either one of them. I can't exactly put it into words why I didn't like them. Just didn't. Somewhere in the middle there I read Smoke and Mirrors, and enjoyed a lot of that. Loved Coraline, too.

Then came Fragile Things. I liked a few of the stories and poems in there: "The Day the Saucers Came" is great. So's "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire." And the idea at the heart of "Inventing Aladdin" is a nice one, even if Shahrzad learned all her stories from books. I like Gaiman's characterization of Shahrzad as desperate, finding inspiration in her quotidian existence, but I also like the supremely confident Shahrzad, who enters Shahriyar's chamber with all the learning of the world in her head.

Other than that, the rest of Fragile Things feels like the same story told over and over again, and it's not even a terribly interesting story, at least for me. It's the story of a guy who just doesn't understand women. So the women become aliens, or huldre folk, or nothing more than a few scraps of a life found in a bus. It's not that Gaiman's stories depict woman in a negative light in this way, but it's just boring to read again and again. Sure, "Sunbird's" good, but I prefer Sylvia Warner's "The Phoenix," which covers much the same territory.

I tried to read The Graveyard Book. Didn't like it, so I gave up a few chapters into it.. I might give it another try in a while. I did like Sandman: Overture, but that seems irrelevant at this point. It's Sandman, after all.

What's given me more faith in him in the long run are Fortunately: The Milk (which I was predisposed to like because of the Skottie Young illustrations) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Regardless, I'll pay attention to what Gaiman's writing. It just might be great.

1 comment:

  1. I'd recommend reading, or re-reading, Kipling's Jungle Book before re-tackling the Graveyard Book.