The question still simmers away in my mind some 4 years after I first asked it, having just eagerly consumed my first novel of his… “How have I not heard of Neil Gaiman?”
Having been provided a well-loved, well-worn copy of Neverwhere by my father, I ravenously devoured it whilst tucked up warm on an Austrian mountainside.
“This is glorious” I thought, astounded. Upon my return home I sought out my father, to raid amongst his collections of Pratchett and King. “Is there more”? I cautiously inquired, both excited to further pursue this precious discovery, yet anxious that this literary feast might be drawn all too quickly to a close following this single, sumptuous morsel.
A wry smile: “There’s more…”
The original question still lurks in my mind to this day, simply because I still have to ask so often – how hasn’t everyone heard of Neil Gaiman?
NEIL GAIMAN WRITES MOVIE SCRIPTS
My most recent interaction; a locked-down in-law, singing the praises of the movie Stardust (Deniro, Pfeiffer, Gervais). “Gaiman that” I pipe up on Zoom.
Cult classic Coraline (McShane, French, Saunders) recently with my wife. “Gaiman this” I proclaim.
NEIL GAIMAN WRITES BOOKS
As I’d spent these intermittent 4 years patiently yet fastidiously gorging myself on his literary output, (affection for Anansi Boys and Norse Mythology lingers) I assumed society might by now have started to celebrate his surreptitious, incessant saturation of the zeitgeist.
I might reasonably have expected for him to be publicly lauded as at least a Rowling by now, although Gaiman is by no means such a one-trick pony.
It isn’t as if his output doesn’t surf the cresting waves of popular culture- following the success of American Gods (McShane, Whittle, Anderson), Amazon recently delivered their serialisation of his collaboration with Terry Pratchett; Good Omens (Sheen, Tennant, Hamm). It was so successful it left the Amazon execs pondering the notion of a (logistically questionable) second series, to stretch beyond the conclusion of the novel he co-authored with the legendary Pratchett.
Creating themes, narratives and dialogues for this echelon of star would surely fire Gaiman into the celebrity stratosphere? One of these actors was Doctor Who for crying out loud.
Oh, he also wrote an episode of Doctor Who.
NEIL GAIMAN WRITES COMIC BOOKS
How hasn’t everyone heard of Neil Gaiman?
Of course, some of his work is arguably a little more ‘niche’. He progressed from journalism into graphic novels in the late 80s, notably waking The Sandman from his cultural slumber for DC between ‘89 and ‘96, later writing 2 limited series for Marvel, before returning to DC in 2009 to contribute to the Batman litany. With assistance from Todd Macfarlane he went on to create his own superhero Angela, now a bona fide member of the Marvel Universe.
As ‘niche’ goes, that’s still pretty mainstream. Comic book stores and the graphic novel are at an absolute zenith at the moment, with the boom in both DC and Marvel studios’ movie output, while fashion and popular TV shows celebrate the superhero sub-culture.
NEIL GAIMAN IS ON TV
Have you heard of The Big Bang Theory?
Yeah, he was in that.
So maybe the answer is to do with demographics. Catering to savvy, adults is one thing but we all know that children hold the key to unlock the mainstream.
Well that can’t be it either; not since Fortunately the Milk exists. Not a child alive could read this book and not fall in love with the tale. True, this is not at least in part due to his ongoing pairing with legendary illustrator Chris Riddell, who seems to manifest Gaiman’s words on the page with perfect marriage of tone and character. Continued most recently in Art Matters their partnership has ensured that his literature is well loved the world over by children of all ages.
Oh, and he was in The Simpsons.
Perhaps then his work is too low brow? Comics, kids books and prime-time TV? Could be, except for the 5-star reviewed run of the production of Ocean at the End of the Lane by the National Theatre darling. The Sandman also contains nods to Shakespeare and Chaucer don’t you know, so that can’t be it.
NEIL GAIMAN IS ON TWITTER
Maybe then he’s just a bad guy?
Well, to repute this claim I cite the fact he has recently issued permission via Twitter for of all of his written output to be used by teachers during the pandemic who are short of materials or inspiration.
He also marked the new year by turning responses to his request on Twitter for “What warmth makes you think of” into a poem, and then the poem onto a scarf to raise money for UNHCR, and the plight of Syrian refugees.
What does a solidarity scarf look like?
Like this epic (and pretty stylish) piece of art. Our words of warmth knitted into it. I’ve loved working on this project with you all and raising funds for @refugees.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) December 11, 2019
Gaiman is easy to find (despite presently being stranded in New Zealand by the pandemic): He is popular and active on Twitter (2.7m followers) and Tumblr, which he uses via his website to interact directly with fans. He is open, interactive and genuine.
Oh, and he bakes brownies.
SO HOW HASN’T EVERYBODY HEARD OF NEIL GAIMAN?
His work is ubiquitous these days, but never over-worked or tired. His heritage is rich, and provides those who commit with a long and varied road to travel.
My suspicion is that it is because that is exactly how he wants it. Gaiman’s career is characterised, along with consistent success, by unwavering commitment to quality, staggering originality, and unfaltering inspiration: His work speaks for itself. He need not shout from the rooftops.
Nor I suppose do fans of his work – what Gaiman possesses is a gift, and when shared it is well treasured by those who find it.
A gift that, like those which are most precious, we want to keep for ourselves.
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