"Where to start?" is the first response that comes to mind when considering the question, “Who in the world is Neil Gaiman?” Given the increased chatter across social media and the number of excited conversations in comic book stores across Houston, Gaiman’s lecture and Q&A this Saturday at the Wortham Center may be the hottest ticket of the summer.
Not sure what the fuss is all about? Fear not. We’ve put together a quick primer about this post-modern, multi-disciplinary master of prose whose accomplishments range from authoring best-selling novels (including American Gods and Anansi Boys), marrying and fathering a son with punk-chanteuse Amanda Palmer and, believe it or not, beekeeping.
Sometime after the first issue appeared in 1989 (Gaiman was just 26 at the time), author Norman Mailer purportedly described Sandman as “a comic strip for intellectuals.” Far more than a mere “comic strip,” Sandman transformed the comic book medium, which Gaiman himself once called “disposable.” Over the course of 12 volumes, Gaiman’s writing draws upon mythology, noir and Romantic-era genres to spin the epic tale of Dream, a sensitive goth-kid with spiky hair and alabaster skin who at times seems as bewildered as the reader by mankind’s capacities for both depravity and redemption. (Dream also looks a lot like a twenty-something Gaiman.) Pulpy one moment, Shakespearean the next, Sandman is certainly not for the squeamish (one particularly nasty character called The Corinthian has a penchant for munching on eyeballs), but it is an ideal introduction to Gaiman’s storytelling mastery.
A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman once said, “Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy . . . You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool.” With this in mind, Gaiman has authored several books for children and teenagers, including Coraline (2002), the truly spooky story of a little girl estranged from her parents who journeys to an alternate Alice-in-Wonderland-like universe to match wits with the “Other Mother” who sews buttons into the eyes of wayward children. For Gaiman, it doesn’t matter if a kid prefers R.L. Stine to Stephen King or Neil Gaiman; the most important thing is that a child loves to read.
Tori and Amanda
It makes total sense that a writer who resembles a much skinnier Robert Smith or goofier Daniel Ash would develop a creative partnership with such a moody and melodramatic singer as Tori Amos. It’s no accident in Sandman that Dream’s spaced-out redheaded sister Delirium (one of six of his siblings) bears a striking resemblance both in appearance and demeanor to Amos, as does another character with the cheery name Death. For Amos's 2001 concept all-covers album, Strange Little Girls, Gaiman wrote a short story for each of the 12 girls Amos portrays on the album.
A decade later, Gaiman married singer Amanda Palmer who, like her husband and Amos, welcomes and nurtures an intense, personal connection with her fanbase.
Well . . . by all accounts, Gaiman has retired from beekeeping, although no doubt it is a practice that is still close to his heart. Indeed, he has cited winning a blue ribbon for his honey as one of the three “most thrilling” awards he has received (Newbery and Hugo awards being the other two).
Neil Gaiman will speak July 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets from $28. Brown Theater, Wortham Center, 501 Texas Ave. 713-227-4772. More info at spahouston.org.