Neil Gaiman: Books & Poems

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

Neil Gaiman is a prolific author who writes about mythology and history. He's written for film, TV, comics, and magazines, in addition to books and stories for readers of all ages. Let's take a look at the work of this award-winning British writer.

Gaiman's Comic Book Writing

Neil Gaiman
A portrait of Neil Gaiman

In 1984, as Neil Gaiman was just getting starting his writing career, he found a copy of Swamp Thing, a graphic novel by Alan Moore, in a train station. He read it from cover to cover and was a converted comics geek from that day on. Later, he became a friend of Moore's and took over writing a few of his books when Moore left them behind. That work led an editor at DC Comics to notice Gaiman - she asked him to write a comic book reinventing an old character. The result formed the biggest chunk of Gaiman's comic writing: Sandman, a revival of a DC Comics character from the early '70s.

Gaiman has written tons of comic stories, including a Batman storyline, but Sandman is the longest-running. It tells the story of Dream of the Endless, an eternal being who is made of the concept of dreams. Sandman tells the story of Dream escaping a 70-year-long captivity and reclaiming the kingdom of dreams. It originally ran from 1989 to 1996, but it was revived from 2006 to 2009 and again from 2013 to 2015.

Sandman was the start of a few trends in Gaiman's work. It's the first example of Gaiman taking an old, established character and making it his own. The Sandman is a popular figure in folklore, but Gaiman is able to make him new and exciting by putting his own twist on the character. Those twists are another common aspect of Gaiman's writing - he likes to get pretty weird with his characters and plots. Many of them have mystical powers or can access alternate universes. But unlike many fantasy/sci-fi authors, Gaiman mostly sets his stories in everyday locations - the London Underground, small-town America, and other places - again with his own twist of unreality.

Gaiman's novel Stardust, another story inspired by old English folklore and myths, is also often published in illustrated form, and has been published by the Vertigo arm of DC Comics, which also published Sandman. Stardust was made into a movie in 2007, with Gaiman as a producer.

Gaiman's Books for Young Readers

Some of Gaiman's best-known work is in the young adult genre. He's written many books for kid and teen readers - too many to list here. These are just a few of his works for YA audiences, many of which you're probably familiar with.

Gaiman has written both picture and chapter books for younger readers. His picture books in the Chu series - Chu's Day, Chu's Day at the Beach, and Chu's First Day of School - follow a panda cub named Chu with a powerful sneeze.

Coraline, a young adult book and one of Gaiman's most popular, tells the story of a girl named Coraline who discovers that a door in her apartment leads into an alternate universe. Coraline was adapted into an animated movie in 2009, but Gaiman didn't write it.

InterWorld, The Silver Dream, and Eternity's Wheel, published in 2007, 2013, and 2015, were co-written by Gaiman and Michael Reeves, an American writer and animator. They tell the story of Joey Harker, an everyday teen who discovers that he can travel between dimensions.

Among Gaiman's other books for younger readers are a revival of the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel and The Graveyard Book, a re-imagining of The Jungle Book. Both of these are examples of Gaiman doing what he did with the Sandman: making old characters new and creepy again. He does it even more in his longer novels for an adult audience.

Gaiman's Books for Adults

One of Gaiman's most popular books, American Gods, may be the best example of his theme of taking old characters and stories and bringing them into the present with new story lines. American Gods deals with all kinds of mythological figures - it's the story of old gods from Roman, Norse, and Greek mythology struggling for existence against the new gods - technology, money, gluttony - of modern America. American Gods won Hugo and Nebula awards in the Sci-Fi genre as well as horror and fantasy genre awards when it was published in 2001.

Gaiman also won several awards for his 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, about a spirit who entered the world when a man committed suicide. The main character of the book has to team up with a childhood neighbor girl to get a mischievous spirit to return to its own realm. While Ocean doesn't revive any old fairy tales, it uses a lot of the same themes and ideas that Gaiman's revivals of fairy tales do.

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