The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell

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The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: If you don't expect more than what you get, this book is spot on in recapping the literary master's output to date.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Ilex
ISBN: 9781781571392

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An early Neil Gaiman book was all about Douglas Adams, and came out at the time he had a success with a book of his own regarding definitions of concepts that had previously not had a specific word attached. Gaiman himself is one of those concepts. I know what a polyglot is, and a polymath – but there should be a word for someone like Gaiman, who can write anything and everything he seems to want – a whimsical family-friendly picture book, a behemoth of modern fantasy, an all-ages horror story, something with a soupcon of sci-fi or with a factor of the fable. He can cross genres – and to some extent just leave them behind as unnecessary, as well as cross format – he was mastering the lengthy, literary graphic novel just as 'real' books were festering in his creativity, and songs and poems were just appearing here and there. So he is pretty much who you think of as regards someone who can turn his hands to anything he wishes. He is a poly-something, then, or just omni-something else.

This book is the brightest and most complete guide to the concept of Neil Gaiman – or at least that side of him that we can read. Written and compiled by a friend of the family – the daughter of Eddie Campbell, it does have some minor flaws, but at the same time can be quite absorbing, has a nice eye in appropriate quotes to hide the lack of new material, and does do what it suggests as regards insight and inside knowledge when it comes to source notebooks, exclusive images and so on.

It clearly has been a bit of a labour of love. While it does have the bones of a cut-and-paste job, with all the relevant discussions of his work being contemporary and nothing new, it finds the right quote. With a wordsmith such as Gaiman, it goes without saying that they're interesting quotes, whatever the length or derivation, but they're put in a nice setting by Campbell's introductory style, and added to immensely by the welter of images and side-boxes we get. Fans will add bonus marks for the huge bibliography, which itemises practically everything the man has done. The main script leaves quite a lot of anthologising and so on out, but for a self-confessed coffee table book packs in a large word-count of its own.

So I guess one should take it as read that this is ideal for Gaiman fans – start at a high rating, and just admit that you want this book; although I will have to chisel away a bit at an esteemed score and show why it needs knocking down a little. First, it is definitely a book that knows Gaiman, and comics in general, if not other sources of literature – hence e e cummings being capitalised twice. It mentions material that I for one had never heard of but without context – the song I google you comes up as relevant several times, but I'll have to google it to find out more. It makes an allegation about Death and a baguette in The Sandman that just is not true (it's surprising how I seem to pick up a Gaiman book some time most years, and that very issue is on my half-read-library-books pile precisely as I write).

The biggest sin however is that the book sticks so firmly to the creative output that we learn so very little of Gaiman himself. It's all very well covering his burgeoning career from writing pop biographies to other journalism to comics, but when we learn Violent Cases was partly built on reference photos of Gaiman's firstborn, we realise that nothing of that ilk has been mentioned – there might be a couple of references at most to his first wife, and beyond his move to America there is a galling lack of biographical information. But rest assured that high rating is still existent throughout that minor knocking. The book provides the joy of revisiting old favourites – whether returning to Gaiman knowing a lot or little, one can learn here, and get the pleasure of a quite intimate look at all his main works. It's a book for whom the phrase 'handsomely presented' was created, it doesn't pretend in the blurb to be about anything other than his creative output, and it is quite exhaustive when it comes to visual accompaniment. It has also (just about) managed to be fully up-to-date, by mentioning The Sandman: Overture and the book for summer 2014, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, painted by our guide's father Eddie. Therefore it is, to repeat, going to be most welcome on the shelves of Gaiman fans of any strength, and has come out as a major success.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For an even more exhaustive look at a British comic creator, and one who was to some extent Gaiman's friendly mentor, we also recommend Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin.

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Buy The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell at

Booklists.jpg The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell is in the Top Ten Biographies 2014.


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