Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Art of Neil Gaiman

By David Luhrssen
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Ten years ago, Neil Gaiman was called “the most-optioned author in Hollywood who has yet to have any of his work translated to the big screen.” The highly regarded writer and graphic novelist finally saw his fairytale, Stardust (2007), transformed into an endearing romantic fantasy starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. Two years later Coraline, a stop animation feature directed by Henry Selick, was derived from his gothic children’s story.

Since then, Gaiman remains much optioned but little filmed. From Hayley Campbell’s biography, The Art of Neil Gaiman (published by Harper Design), one gets the impression that while the author has no problem making money, he’d also like his ideas to be respected, his integrity maintained. He’s happy to sell, but in no hurry to sell out.

Born in the UK but living much of the time since the ‘90s in what Campbell calls “the woods of Wisconsin” (a suitably gothic mansion near Menomonee), Gaiman was a voracious reader whose childhood tastes ran toward fantasy, horror, science-fiction and the imagination: Lewis Carroll, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and G.K. Chesterton were among his heroes. He was a teenager when punk rock hit and was living near one of the epicenters, London. Punk taught Gaiman do just do it, learning all the while from mistakes. As part of the “British new wave” of comics writers and graphic novelists that followed in the wake of Alan Moore (Watchmen), he transliterated his influences into such towering achievements in the genre as Sandman and The Books of Magic.

Gaiman emerges from his biography as charming and creatively restless, a prolific writer whose ideas have often found their medium in association with pictures but cannot be contained in any one box. Among his accomplishments are screenplays for “Doctor Who” and Robert Zemeckis’ excellent, underappreciated film Beowulf, which makes palpable the archaic, dangerous quality of life in the Dark Ages.

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