Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell

Campbell is Gaiman's "scary goddaughter" and the daughter of cartoonist Eddie Campbell; she's now a journalist in London and one of the few sensible writers about comics for UK papers. And The Art of Neil Gaiman is a slightly oversized, heavily illustrated book about all things Gaiman, including a thumbnail biography and focusing mostly on loving examinations of all of the various writings he's done for various media. (It is, therefore, much like Gaiman's own very early book, Don't Panic!, about Douglas Adams. The rhythms of the creative life are strangely consistent over the decades.)

I've been a Gaiman reader and aficionado for a long time -- I hesitate to call myself a "fan," since he's attracted some very devoted sorts who would find my zeal insufficient -- all the way back to Black Orchid and Don't Panic!, and I found this pleasant and complete, if hagiographic and unsurprising. The point of a book like this is to celebrate rather than criticize, of course, but Campbell has a non-nonsense, journalistic tone rather than the pose of a breathless acolyte, so it comes across as more-or-less honest and balanced. Campbell also, since she's already part of the Gaiman circle, got unmatched access to Gaiman and his various collaborators -- she already knew a lot of the people she had to interview for this book, and spent a lot of time rooting around in Gaiman's attic and basement for artifacts from his long, twisting career. It's very clear that no one other than Gaiman himself would have had that level of access, and Gaiman has too many other projects to write his own book-length bibliography.

This is also a heavily designed book, with art integrated on every page, from notebook scraps to comics panels to movie stills and snapshots. And it all reads very cleanly, even with lightly tinted paper and slightly fussy caption styles. I believe this is primarily due to Art Director Julie Weir, credited as part of a larger team of The Ilex Press, which owns the copyright. (They look like a book-packaging firm to my eye, though the name isn't familiar.) The art is also generally well-chosen -- though Gaiman's scrawl makes the many examples of his handwritten notes difficult to decipher -- and doesn't focus on just the big obvious pictures (though there are plenty of those as well).

So this is about as good as a project like this could ever be: it's inherently celebratory rather than critical, obviously, but it covers all of Gaiman's various activities (comics, novels, movies, odder things) in appropriate depth and detail and even really devoted fans will likely learn some new trivia. If you like, say, 60% or more of things Gaimanesque, you will likely enjoy reading this.

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