The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell
Published in 2014
Genre: Nonfiction, biography, coffee table book
“Neil Richard Gaiman was born on November 10, 1960, to David and Sheila Gaiman (née Goldman) above a grocery store on White Hart Lane, Portchester, a small town in Hampshire on the southern coast of England.”
The Art of Neil Gaiman is a nonfiction book written by Hayley Campbell; I simply call it a nonfiction book because while it deals with fiction, it is in itself about Neil Gaiman and his career. However, I’m not sure if I should call it a biography since I honestly don’t remember the last biography I read and Campbell herself refers to it as a coffee book in her writing, so the task of classification is a difficult one.
What it definitely is, though, is a glimpse into the storied (intentional pun, I assure you) career of one of the most prolific authors of our time. Spanning the spectrum of written media, The Art of Neil Gaiman is a comprehensive look at how words, stories, and art have woven together to create a beautiful tome in tribute.
Initially, I was apprehensive about reading this book. I saw it in my “suggested” list on amazon.com and took note of the good rating it had received so, as a fan of Neil Gaiman, I purchased it. Upon receiving the book, it sat idle on my shelf for a couple of months while I chose the books surrounding it.
You see, I don’t really read much nonfiction. Part of the appeal of Gaiman, for me, is his wonderful imagination and the possibilities found in his prose and comic work. Nonfiction is just about a bunch of stuff that actually happened and smacks a little too much of history classes from back when I was in school. I was about halfway through the Sandman comics when I bought the book and decided it was high time to read it once I finished that series.
So, let’s get to the reason you’re reading this: the review.
The Art of Neil Gaiman is an art book; while you might be saying to yourself, “No duh, Erik. Very astute of you to notice,” this works on two levels. The book contains both the visible art medium and the written art that Gaiman has become famous for. The chapters are divided up by the varying types of media in order to collect and organize his works most efficiently.
In each chapter, art accompanies the stories about the projects ranging from comic sketches and finished artwork, to letters between Gaiman and his collaborators and first drafts of many famous projects. Campbell has done her homework, conducting interviews and taking images straight from Gaiman’s archive (otherwise known as his attic).
I was primarily aware of the novels Gaiman wrote and the Sandman comics, but didn’t realize just how diverse his body of work is. Starting his career in journalism, Gaiman has written comics, novels, film and television screenplays, children’s books, and has even had a novel adapted into a radio play. There are plenty of surprising revelations for a budding fan like myself to find and plenty of complementary anecdotes to give not only a sense of Gaiman as a writer, but as a person.
Throughout his career, Gaiman has networked himself across the varying types of artistic media, becoming friends and collaborators with Alan Moore, Terry Pratchett, Kim Newman, Amanda Palmer, Tori Amos, and hundreds of other dignitaries in their own fields of art. This seems appropriate due to how Gaiman approaches his work and his work relationships. He writes his best and only expects the same from those he works with and due to this, many of these people show up time and time again in his life.
The only reason I’m not giving The Art of Neil Gaiman a *Spoiler alert* perfect score is because of how the book presents its timeline. I understand that, through necessity, it is structured around the types of work that Gaiman has done with each chapter focusing on one medium. I think this works well, but since the book isn’t presented as one continuous chronology, there were times where I got a bit confused as to where on the line certain events were. There are some sign posts and review of events that were already covered in the book which definitely helped, but I personally could have benefitted from a timeline of his major publications and projects.
The Art of Neil Gaiman defies classification beyond the fact that it is nonfiction. Is it a biography or is it a coffee table book? Yes. Like Gaiman, the book can fall into many genres but takes the best bits of both and creates something new with them. If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. There are insights to be found through explanations of his process and outlook that have inspired me to go back to some projects that have been lying dormant, and I think that is the greatest gift this book gives.
Verdict: 4 letters scribbled in Neil’s illegible handwriting out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Neil Gaiman, fans of comics, fans of Neil Gaiman’s comics, artists, biography enthusiasts, coffee table book hoarders, and budding writers looking for a glimpse into the business.
Not recommended for: People who aren’t fans of Neil Gaiman, those who like the biographies they read to be chronological and will accept nothing else, or people offended by the “f” word (it slips out a few times in the book).