Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s How The Marquis Got His Coat Back

Neil Gaiman, How The Marquis Got His Coat Back (Hodder Headline 2015)

1472235320.jpgI don’t really understand how this book came into being. Its 58 half-sized pages contain just one short story, hardly a book at all.

My copy, a gift from a friend who knows I’m a Neil Gaiman fan, has a Children’s Bookshop sticker on the inside cover, which suggests the book was published with reluctant teenaged (‘young adult’) readers in mind: a book this size isn’t too daunting, but at the same time the content isn’t babyish.

Another possibility is that someone thought that this story issued as a stand-alone would act as a promo for the 2014 anthology in which it first appeared – Rogues, edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois. If so, it seems not to have worked too well, as I saw that door-stopper on the Gleebooks bargain counter this week.

It would work well in the first scenario, though. It’s an elegant, intricate amusement set in a fantasy version of London and involving a mobster Elephant, sibling rivalry, mind-controlling shepherds, an excellent coat, an unexplained resurrection, a totally improbable rescue, the Mushroom, a beautiful young woman with magical powers, and more. My favourite bit:

‘Beg for mercy,’ said the Elephant.
That one was easy. ‘Mercy!’ said the Marquis. ‘I beg! I plead! Show me mercy – the finest of all gifts. It befits you, mighty Elephant, as lord of your own demesne, to be merciful to one who is not even fit to wipe the dust from your excellent toes …’
‘Did you know,’ said the Elephant, ‘that everything you say sounds sarcastic?’
‘I didn’t. I apologise. I meant every single word of it.’
‘Scream,’ said the Elephant.
The Marquis de Carabas screamed very loudly and very long. It is hard to scream when your throat has been recently cut, but he screamed as hard and piteously as he could.
‘You even scream sarcastically,’ said the Elephant.

Neil Gaiman always writes as if he can’t get over his luck at earning a living by making stuff up.

P Craig Russell’s take on Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book, Volume 1, graphic adaptation by P Craig Russell (Bloomsbury 2014)


This is a wonderful translation of The Graveyard Book into comic form. Paradoxically, it’s for an older readership than the novel, though I suppose that’s only a paradox if you think comics are just for children, and no one except newspaper headline writers think that any more, surely.

The reason I say this is for an older readership is that the story begins with a multiple murder, which the novel describes, brilliantly, in almost completely abstract terms, conveying the horror but not creating any images to haunt the young potential reader, but which the comic, while not going all out for the horror, makes completely explicit.

It’s a glowing jewel of a book. The story is full of surprises, the fantasy world is charming and scary, and the artwork – by Russell along with Kevin Nowlan, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, and Stephen B. Scott – is gorgeous.

If I remember the novel correctly, the episodic nature of the first half gives way to a more plot-driven second half. It certainly feels at the close of this volume as if the overarching story is about to assert itself, as the killer from the opening pages comes back into the picture. I’m looking forward to Volume 2, due out later this year

Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Headline 2013)

1472200322 Neil Gaiman is a rock star among writers. He’s a brilliant user of social media, a generous participant in readings and signings, a glamorously nerdy co-star with his wife Amanda Palmer (whose ‘Vegemite (the Black Death)‘ he has described as the only love song she’s written for him). He reads with a sinister intonation that reminds one of Hammer horror movies. He has written brilliant comic books, most notably the Sandman epic, and his children’s books (Coraline, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls, The Graveyard Book) tend to become instant classics. He has written screenplays for a handful of movies and for episodes of Doctor Who. The wonderfully creepy Coraline has been made into a successfully creepy animated movie, and his novel for grown-ups American Gods is on its way to becoming a TV series.

Gaiman fandom is such a phenomenon that shortly after the publication of The Ocean at the End of the Lane a lane in his native Portsmouth had its name changed to ‘The Ocean at the End of the’ Lane. The Internet has a photo of Neil (as he’s known to his fans) unveiling the sign, looking chuffed

On top of all that, the book is excellent. It’s a fantasy tale of a small boy who tangles with a vast amorphous monster and stops it from destroying the universe, with the help of three mysterious women who live in the house at the end of the lane, right next to the pond that the youngest of them – actually an eleven year old girl rather than a woman, though she has been around for millennia – insists is really an ocean. There’s a strong sense, as in many of his books, of childhood as a time of huge moral and other challenges, when the stakes are very high and the possibilities for wonder are endless. The protagonist is six years old but it’s not a children’s book: all but the most committed young readers are likely to be deterred by the elliptical writing in the first few pages, in which the narrator, having just attended his father’s funeral, is drawn by a vague nostalgic impulse to drive down the lane near his childhood home. It looks to me like an excellent way out of the dilemma faced by people who write books for adults as well as children: how to signal clearly enough to prospective readers whether they are going to be happy in a given book.

Neil Gaiman on the artist’s life

A friend sent me this link. Just in case you haven’t already seen it in a hundred other places, here is a very cool motivational speech for anyone contemplating being an artist:

I recommend you stay to the end for the best advice he ever got, which he ignored.

Added later: Gavin Aung, of Melbourne, has done a lovely cartoon version of part of the speech at zen pencils.

Bill Willingham’s Bad Doings and Big Ideas

Bill Willingham (writer and artist), and Mark Buckingham, Zander Cannon, Duncan Fegredo, Peter Gross, Paul Guinan, Nico Henrichon, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Michael Wm Kaluta, Jason Little, Marc Laming, Shawn McManus, Linda Medley, Albert Monteys, Kevin Nowlan, David Peterson, Paul Pope, Eric Powell, Ron Randall, John Stokes, Jill Thompson, Daniel Torres, Bernie Wrightson (artists), John Costanza and Todd Klein (letterers), Bad Doings and Big Ideas: A Bill Willingham Deluxe Edition (Vertigo 2011)

As I continue on my intermittent re-entry into the world of comics, which I abandoned at roughly 12 and came back to in my late 50s, it’s the non-fiction that I respond to most, and after that – oddly, since I don’t care for it in non-graphic narratives or movies – it’s fantasy-horror. Or maybe it’s not so odd, as it was Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman that re-piqued my interest.

This hefty hardback full of horror was a Christmas gift, and one that gave me a lot of pleasure. Bill Willingham, I gather from his entertaining interstitials here, is a writer and artist best known for a series of comics called Fables. This is not that. It’s a collection of Other Stuff, including a number of adventures of minor characters from the Sandman universe. I don’t know what the uninitiated would make of these, with their injokes and unexplained walk-ons, but the stories stand up by themselves, especially the 60 or so pages of Thessaly the witch (the second half of which I read in its own book, also a gift, a while back).

The opening story, Proposition Player, is the longest (130+ pages) and most interesting. Willingham tells us it was the first thing he wrote for Vertigo, having been an artist with them for some time. It must have been quite a debut: the hero starts out working for a casino and ends up through a series of poor choices and successful gambles as the most powerful God (capital intended) in the cosmos. The gambles are much grander than Pascal’s bet, and I wonder if the story’s cheerful blasphemy does more damage to the cultural authority of established religion than the humourless argumentation of, say, Richard Dawkins.

I’m currently leading a double life as a reader. In one life, I’m reading a number of huge books, and in the other a whole lot of smaller ones as counterpoint. When I was reading Reamde, which is great fun but far too big to lump around in a shoulder bag, I read poetry books and literary journals, physically but not intellectually light. Now I’m a third of the way through Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light, not as physically weighty as Readme, but quite a slog – the slogginess doesn’t make me want to give up on the book, but it does make me cry out for something lively to relieve the pain. Bad Doings and Big Ideas was perfect for the part. And I have a couple more Christmas present comics that are also looking good.

The Swamp Thing

Alan Moore, Steve R. Bissette and John Totleben, Saga of the Swamp Thing (Vertigo 2009)

I’m not a horror aficionado, but my younger son knew I enjoyed and admired other Alan Moore comics. He gave me From Hell for my birthday, and this for Father’s Day.

Having read it, I’m still not a horror fan. Demons and monsters aren’t my bag unless they’re funny like Bartimaeus, theological like Milton’s Satan, or … actually, there are quite a lot of exceptions. Still, I respond too literally to things like children becoming autistic as a result of major trauma and then institutionalised and preyed on by stray demons, and when a plot hinges on some plants speeding up their production of oxygen at night, I want to give a lecture on the difference between plant respiration and photosynthesis. Maybe pedantry protects me from the horrors of the unconscious mind.

Still, Alan Moore is a story-telling genius. In 1982, he – and illustrators Bissette and Totleben – took over the Swamp Thing comic series created ten years earlier by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. They collaborated on something like 45 issues – this book collects the first eight of them, of which the very first busies itself tying up loose ends from the previous 19 issues, and the second redefines the nature of the eponymous monster. So we are plunged in medias res, but know we won’t be given the detail of what went before. We can tell something is being rebuilt, not quite from the ground up, and forward impetus is well established.

This book interested me as early work by the creator of Watchmen which, like Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman, won my engagement by sheer brilliance. I don’t feel compelled to read on here, though anyone with a love of horror would certainly be hooked.