7.6.09

Neil Gaiman

Boy, do I hate Neil Gaiman.

Why? He's a comics legend! A critically acclaimed fantasy author! That's partly why, I think. I'm jealous, and not just because of his success. I mean, look at him. As a nerdy writer, he has no right to be this attractive. It's unfair.

But there's something else. Gaiman is so nice it's insufferable. I doubt if he's ever been angry in his life. At least, not 'clothes rip like the Incredible Hulk' angry. He's just wan, melancholy, sensitive, sympathetic. Nice.

Horrible things need to happen to him.

I should get all this out of the way before I start dissing his work. It aught to be known that I can't be fair and impartial when judging Gaiman's writing. I can't. I hate him too much.

Hate him enough to read the first three volumes of Sandman before stopping. Huh? Yeah, I know. Sandman is pretty amazing. I couldn't stop myself in time. The first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes, was one of the few comic books that genuinely scared me. Number two, The Doll's House, had a wonderful central character, a great single-issue hop through time, and the genius idea of a convention for serial killers. The third collection, Dream Country, was a bit of a mixed bag. There was a silly story about cats. And for the life of me, I couldn't understand what was so special about the Shakespeare tale that warranted a World Fantasy Award (the only comic to ever get one).

Hold on. This was supposed to be a tear down job. OK, here we go. You can't read Sandman and be unconscious of the author's obvious storytelling gifts. You start reading and you keep on reading. But you finish the story, and then... what? What do you walk away with? Gaiman is incredibly coy when expressing his themes - about our need for fantasy, to tell stories, for freedom of thought and action, for family. I was constantly frustrated by the equivocal language and symbols he would use.

I found this even more with his first novel, American Gods. Yes, I devoured it. But at the end, I didn't think Gaiman had said anything particularly profound about religion or America (or indeed, the American religion). Moreover, the ideas I did encounter seemed pretty similar to the ones I had already found in Terry Pratchett's satirical fantasy Discworld. And Pratchett expressed them much more powerfully. And he was far funnier.

So Gaiman is a hack? Well... perhaps that's unfair. Nowhere have I encountered stories with the particular creepiness Gaiman can conjure. The tone of his tales is unique. So maybe we can describe him as... an artist.

Through gritted teeth.

What may unclench my jaw is Gaiman's film projects. Take a little gander at my favourite films. Gaiman has been involved with three of them. First, he did a sweep over the English translation of Princess Mononoke. I have no idea how much he amended and changed, but whatever his influence, it could not have been negative. That film is perfect. Next, he co-wrote the Beowulf film, which I praise to the skies over here. Last, there's Mirrormask, a beautiful film and a clever fable about our conflicting natures, and the need to maintain balance between them.

Today, I eschewed the sunshine (a surprise after the morning's apocalyptic rain) to go see Coraline, a film adaptation of Gaiman's illustrated children's book. The film used a similar conceit to Mirrormask, but this time the fable was about the dangers of wishing for perfection - how such perfection is neurotic at heart, and how it can imprison you. It was great, although I admit to being a little bored during the middle. Unsurprising, perhaps, as I'm a tad outside the film's target audience.

Why do I love Gaiman's films when I'm left frustrated by his books? Maybe his stories are best suited to the screen, where you need to hammer home your point, and you can't hide behind flowery language. I'm sure that if Gaiman continues to make films, my hatred for him will ebb.

But no promises.

P.S. To fully understand why Neil Gaiman is so infuriating, listen to the DVD commentary of Mirrormask, where his inconsequential comments are entirely ignored by the film's director Dave McKean. Also, read Gaiman's horribly patronising introduction to the second volume of Astro City. 'I'll tell you a secret.' he writes. 'Stories can mean more than what they literally mean'. No fucking shit, Sherlock. 'I'm not just talking about metaphor,' he adds. Yes you bloody well are. Astro City creator Kurt Busiek describes it as metaphor. It's a metaphor!

Arrh! Die, Gaiman, die!

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