Joseph McCabe: Hanging Out With the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman

Reprinted from the leafy being over there.

If you want to fit in around the offices of the Green Man Review there a couple prerequisites. First of all you’d have to be seriously disturbed in one way or another, requiring the regular medication provided by a fine ale or lager. Then you should appreciate the music and careers of Fairport Convention and all associated musicians (especially Richard Thompson). You should be familiar with the work of Emma Bull. And last, but certainly not least, you must pay homage to Mister Neil Gaiman, writer extraordinaire . . . the Dream King. Joseph McCabe’s introduction tells the reason why.

“Neil Gaiman’s stories have always crossed boundaries. The boundaries between life and death, between reality and dream, between male and female, and between humans and gods. And the forms these stories take refuse to adhere to any strict boundaries of genre or medium. If an idea doesn’t quite work in one medium, Gaiman does not abandon it like an unwanted child, but instead lifts it up and carefully examines it to see if it could work in another — be it a comic book, a movie, a novel, a short story, a poem, or a song.”

That’s right. Those of us who occupy space in the big old mansion that is the Central Headquarters of the Green Man love crossing boundaries, wherever they are and wherever they take us. And the work of Neil Gaiman enables us to go further than we could without it. We celebrate kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights and ladies, elves, hobbits, troubadours, and all we ask is that they enable us to have a new experience. Good, bad, happy, sad, just something new — to make us dance and sing, to make us think. And the work of Neil Gaiman certainly does that. And this paperback book, carefully designed to stand out of the bookshelf (its pages are black, not white!) gives us a glimpse into the mind of the man, the Dream King.

McCabe begins with an interview with Gaiman conducted at Boskone 39 (the annual convention of the New England Science Fiction Assn.) which lays the basic foundation for what is to come. McCabe draws Gaiman out on several collaborators, who appear in their own interviews later in the book. Gaiman is open and charming. “Charlie’s brilliant [Charles Vess]. Charlie’s just fun. I mean Charlie’s a lot like getting to collaborate with Arthur Rackham or somebody. . . ” He discusses The Sandman series, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, and the need for lemonade stands! Then McCabe talks to the collaborators. Dave McKean is perhaps Gaiman’s most familiar partner, having set the standard for the look of The Sandman and working with Neil on a host of other projects. What does he think of his partner? Well, when asked to comment on Gaiman’s quote that their partnership was a Venn diagram, he replies [with a laugh]

. . .we do have a big chunk in the middle that’s common to both of us. And we do have a respect for each other . . . the other thing that’s really helped us is we have lives away from each other. If we were like Simon and Garfunkel we’d be at each other’s throats, but we have very happy lives away from each other . . . [Neil’s] a completely professional writer–he can just write anything. And that’s something I can’t do. . . we have a good time together.”

Kim Newman, Stephen Jones, Karen Berger, Sam Kieth, artists and editors, discuss the development of Gaiman’s work. The Sandman is of particular interest to everyone, probably because it set the standard and introduced Gaiman to his biggest audience. The creation of the early Sandman stories makes for fascinating reading, as the story is told from a variety of perspectives and the reader sees the development of the books from concept to print. You may never have a clearer portrait of the collaborative work that is the comic book than is provided in these pages. You may see that collaboration doesn’t ALWAYS mean everybody’s getting along either! Some bitter comments float to the top here and there. Not about Neil Gaiman though. People seem pretty content with his part of the work.

The book is filled with drawings and sketches from each of the artists. Some portraits, some rough drafts of work that was later changed, some unused pages, it’s a treasure chest well worth exploring. Check out the 16 page colour section!

Sandman isn’t the only work covered by the conversations. McCabe speaks to singer-songwriter Tori Amos with whom Gaiman has collaborated (on 2001’s Strange Little Girls ). Rock’n’roller Alice Cooper whose album The Last Temptation was co-developed and scripted by Gaiman. Even GMR ‘s darling Emma Bull appears (along with “Fabulous” Lorraine Garland), in a pair of interviews about The Flash Girls. (This gothic folk duo has recorded songs by Gaiman.) And Terry Pratchett talks about writing novels with Gaiman. When you look up “Rennaissance Man” in the dictionary . . . there should be a picture of Neil Gaiman, methinks!

The book is dense, and attractive. Lots of pictures, accompanied by plenty of words. (Okay, Cat, I know there are some facts that need correcting in the second edition.) But, as an overview of a spectacular career, and as a tribute to that career, Hanging Out With the Dream King is not too shabby.

(Fantagraphics/Raincoast Books, 2005)

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