The Art of Neil Gaiman

By Hayley Campbell

Harper Design. 320 pp. $39.99)

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Reviewed by Tish Wells

If you haven't heard of Neil Gaiman, you've missed a major force in creative fiction in the last 20 years. His offbeat writing runs from comics to films to television series to books.

The best way to meet the man, other than at a book reading, is in the new biography The Art of Neil Gaiman, by Hayley Campbell. Lushly illustrated, it's a rich treat of an introduction to Gaiman and his work.

That "work" is imaginative fiction, science, and fantasy, and all that lies outside the straight lines of a practical 9-to-5 life. It is also very dark, bloody, and often drenched in Victorian gothic.

He is a hardworking master storyteller with his own quirky outlook.

From his earliest childhood, Gaiman read books, absorbing words, characters, and concepts along with his meals. His parents dropped him off at the library during summer vacations, and he'd vanish into the stacks, coming out only to eat a family-provided sandwich, then disappear inside again.

He read classics such as Shakespeare and Kipling, and everything else - mythology, popular fiction, newspapers, pulp "penny dreadful" magazines, and more.

This gave him an incredibly rich mental set of ingredients to draw from in creating his own imaginative fiction.

It is apparent that Gaiman's imagination is always at work. It spills out organically into many fields like comic books, magazines, films, television, and books. Many creative people want to team up with him, and do, creating unique work.

Campbell's book shows the world of comic books where Gaiman found a home, ultimately creating a unique version of a classic DC title - The Sandman, who is generally known as benign. In Gaiman's version, he becomes a dark, brooding figure, full of angst. Gaiman wrote the series for roughly seven years; The Sandman ended when he left.

The creation of the story behind the movie Stardust started on a vacation when he saw a stone wall with an opening and thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting if the other side of that wall was fairyland?" Years later, he saw a falling meteor, and that image combined with the memory of the opening in the wall. His imagination took off, and he wrote a four-part comic book version with 175 illustrations. That is reprinted as a novel. Then, Hollywood came calling, and at the end, a film was made.

It's clear from The Art of Neil Gaiman that life, for Gaiman, always has something new to savor, investigate, and use as grist for more stories. This is probably only Book 1 of his career and life.

Tish Wells is a Web editor and researcher for the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers