Neil Gaiman Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Neil Gaiman 1960-

(Full name Neil Richard Gaiman) English graphic novelist, novelist, short-story writer, editor, children's writer, television writer, radio play writer, and screenplay writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Gaiman's career through 2004.

Gaiman is a central figure in the emergence of the “graphic novel,” a genre which combines novelistic storylines with comic-book graphics. Gaiman has won numerous awards for his bestselling, critically acclaimed graphic novels and illustrated prose novels that combine elements of science fiction, Gothic horror, dark fantasy, age-old legend, ancient mythology, and biblical allegory in modern-day settings. His stories have been hailed as myths for the modern world, exploring with sophistication, complexity, and a postmodern sensibility the enduring power of dreams, storytelling, and the imagination in life at the turn of the millennium. Gaiman is best known for his epic graphic novel series The Sandman (1990-97), depicting episodes in the adventures of Morpheus, the Dream Lord, a mythical character who rules over the realm of human dreams and nightmares. The immense popularity of Gaiman’s works has earned him a cult-like celebrity status among his many adoring and enthusiastic fans and spawned a host of product tie-ins, such as T-shirts, posters, calendars, and toys. Jeff Zeleski quotes Gaiman’s film agent, Jon Levin, as saying that Gaiman “is able to synthesize ancient mythology with the current zeitgeist. His characters, no matter how fantastical the world, are essentially human.”

Biographical Information

Gaiman was born November 10, 1960, in Portchester, England. His father owned a vitamin-pill factory and his mother was a pharmacist. As a child, Gaiman was a voracious reader. “I loved comics when I was growing up,” he told novelist Steve Erickson in an interview, “and I never saw any reason why they should be considered inferior. I thought they could have as much power and passion and elegance as any other medium.” While influenced by British fantasy novelists such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Gaiman found American comic books more compelling than their British counterparts. As a teenager, he became disillusioned with the comic book medium as a whole, feeling it had nothing new to offer. However, with the emergence of the graphic novel form in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Gaiman was inspired by the possibilities of this new development in the comic book genre. He was especially influenced by the comic book series The Swamp Thing, written by Alan Moore and published during the mid-1980s. Gaiman graduated from Whitgift School in 1977, at age sixteen. Intending to one day become a comic book writer, he decided to work first as a journalist, in order to learn more about the publishing industry. During the 1980s, he lived in London and worked as a freelance journalist and editor. Before making a name for himself as a graphic novelist, Gaiman wrote several nonfiction books on commission, such as Duran, Duran (1984), a history of the popular rock band of the same name, and Don’t Panic (1987), a companion guide to the satirical science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. He collaborated with his friend Dave McKean, an artist, on Violent Cases (1987), his first comic book publication. Violent Cases was soon published as a graphic novel, and Gaiman was invited by DC Comics, the purveyor of many of the twentieth-century’s classic comic book heroes, to write a comic book based on one of their already-created superheroes from the 1940s. Gaiman thus wrote an updated story based on the classic comic book heroine Black Orchid. He next turned to the little-known DC Comics character of the Sandman, completely reinventing this classic superhero on his own terms. Gaiman has since authored numerous graphic novels, short stories, prose novels, and children’s books. He served as Chair of the Society of Comic Strip Illustrators from...

(The entire section is 2,282 words.)