Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


for Dec. 3, 2006


Hanging Out with the Dream King:
Conversations with Neil Gaiman and his Collaborators

cover2004 - available in soft cover

By Joseph McCabe.

298 pages

Published by Fantagraphics Books

Cover price: $17.95 USA

This was a book that was sent to me as a reviewer at UGO -- but UGO never ended up using my review (our's is not to wonder why), so, somewhat belatedly, I'm presenting it here.

It's probably no exaggeration to say that Neil Gaiman's The Sandman (1989-1996) is one of the most critically regarded comics...well, ever. And Gaiman is a genuine celebrity in comics circles, both for his work, and for his public persona as a witty, thoughtful, public speaker. In fact, on Prisoners of Gravity (a 1990s TV series that featured interviews with comicbook and SF personalities) Gaiman was once voted favourite interviewee.

Fantagraphics has published the kind of book generally reserved for respected novelists and filmmakers, interviewing the man himself and various people he's collaborated with over the years (from Dave McKean to Terry Pratchett).

Quite unexpectedly, there's a lot here to interest even readers who aren't big Neil Gaiman fans.

There's little doubt that interviewer Joseph McCabe is a fan, but because the lion's share of the book interviews artists, editors, colourists, fellow writers (even rock stars) who've worked with Gaiman -- from Karen Berger to Colleen Doran to P. Craig Russell to Tori Amos -- the whole thing becomes more a catalyst for talking with various different creative people -- about Gaiman, sure, but also about how they got into the business, how they approach their projects, etc.

And it can be darn intriguing.

Ironically, Gaiman is only interviewed twice in a 300 page book and you get little insight into where he "got his ideas". At one point, Gaiman says how radical the Sandman was...but then provides no explanation for why he came up with it, or why, if it was so "radical", he thought DC would go for it. You come away with a hint of Gaiman as someone to hang out with (as others talk about how nice he is) but not much of his personal philosophies. Novelist Gene Wolfe says that he "thinks" Gaiman isn't a Christian -- 28 interviews and the closest we get to dissecting Gaiman's spiritual beliefs is someone who "thinks" Gaiman may not be something?

McCabe is maybe less interested in philosophy, than in the technical aspects of artistic collaborations.

To be honest, the book can threaten to become a saccharine love-in as Gaiman explains how wonderful are his collaborators...and they wax about how brilliant he is. I have nothing against Gaiman; I've liked some of what I've read by him. It's just, y'know, he's not as good as those interviewed here think he is...no one is.

Someone should release a book in which half the essays are by hardcore supporters of The Sandman, and of Gaiman, explaining why he's so brilliant...and the other half can be by people who think it's peurile, and the reader can sift through the contradictory opinions themselves. Now that would be a provocative book. After all, it's been said that you can judge a man by his enemies, as well as his friends.

The anecdotes related can be intriguing (Gaiman talking about receiving the preliminary character sketches for Death...and then encountering a waitress that very day who looked just like her) and the insights into the comics biz can be quite illuminating. McCabe himself seems well up on art styles, literature, and musicians, making for questions that can respond to and build upon the artists' off-the-cuff references as the interviews unfold.

Intriguing insights into Gaiman include that he insisted his initial artists be credited as co-creators of the Sandman. Although, curiously, when Gaiman and others detail the various inspirations that led to fashioning the image of of titular hero, Morpheus, what no one mentions is that he looks a little like Marvel Comics' earlier dreamlord, Nightmare.

Though I said that a general comics fan might get more out of this book than the Sandman-centric premise would imply, there are still times where interviewer and interviewee will be discussing a particular scene or story line, without providing much orientation for the reader who hasn't read it. But, overall, a good book for fanboys and casual comics readers alike. .

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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