Neil Gaiman, Getting Back To His Graphic Novel Roots

Neil Gaiman got his start in the comics / graphic novels game, and enjoyed his first big mainstream success with his bestselling Sandman series of graphic novels. Nowadays he’s known primarily as a novelist and author of award-winning children’s books as well, but Gaiman is still active in the comics and graphic novels community to this day.

Here are a couple recent graphic novel anthology releases and an illustrated version of a Gaiman novella where Gaiman’s prose is enhanced by some of the world’s greatest artists to produce inventive, surprising and beautiful books that also just happen to be graphic novels.

Marvel 1602 (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $9.99)

Originally published in 2010, this reprint edition collects Marvel 1602 (2003) #1-8.

The year is 1602, and strange things are stirring in England. In the service of Queen Elizabeth, court magician Dr. Stephen Strange senses that the bizarre weather plaguing the skies above is not of natural origin. Her majesty’s premier spy, Sir Nicholas Fury, fends off an assassination attempt on the Queen by winged warriors rumored to be in service to a mad despot named Doom. News is spreading of witchbreed sightings – young men bearing fantastic superhuman powers and abilities. And in the center of the rising chaos is Virginia Dare, a young girl newly arrived from the New World, guarded by a towering Indian warrior. Can Fury and his allies find a connection to these unusual happenings before the whole world ends?

One Amazon reviewer says:

When I read this it felt like Marvel had a tryst with a History Book and they had a little kid, and this kid was the perfect blend of “what was” and “what could have been if superpowers were around.” Here we have the universe set 400 years in the past, with all sorts of people getting play. X-Men, Spider Man, Daredevil and The Fantastic Four are the ones who get the billing, but Nick Fury, quicksilver, Dr. Strange and a lot of others come along for the ride. What a trip Neil Gaiman [takes] you on.

I had watched Elizabeth not too long before, and parts of it felt like Gaiman’s take on the whole timeframe. He had countries taking advantage of the powers they had and he had players taking the place of whatever persona you could imagine. Could you see a person born with wings during the inquisition? Could you imagine the value of a man that can run faster than anything on Earth? Again and again the powers were wrapped into interesting areas, and then placed – carefully – into a superb storyline. It was beautiful.

The art was also something that deserves a lot of acclaim. you have so much told in the period of the dress and the form, and you have people who need to either blend into the shadows or work like rulers and this shows. From the heroes to the people and the settings themselves, this is done grand. I think a 5/5 is fair here. If you find a hero you want here or just a story, get it. I cannot believe I ever doubted or delayed.

Fans of the DC Universe’s occult characters and settings should consider picking up The Books of Magic (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $11.39)

From Neil Gaiman, the bestselling novelist and creator of the world-renowned comics title The Sandman, comes a mesmerizing tale of the dangers and opportunities of youth, and its endless possibilities. Illustrated by four of comics’ most accomplished artists, John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson, THE BOOKS OF MAGIC collects all four issues of the original miniseries that introduced the character of Timothy Hunter and set the stage for his continuing adventures.

Timothy Hunter could be the most powerful magician in the world, but does he really want to be? Guided through the magical world starting at the beginning of time by a group of DC Universe magicians, often referred to as the Trenchcoat Brigade (John Constantine, Phantom Stranger, Mister E, and Doctor Occult), they attempt to aid Timothy in his decision whether or not to embrace his gift.

However, by the time Timothy makes a choice, it may have already been made for him.
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Amazon reviewer Rodney Meek says:

In its most basic form, this is of course a classic quest story, wherein a young man has to undertake a journey to discover his destiny, and along the way will discover mentors, guides, companions, and foes. In Tim’s case, he’s actually taken to the past and the future, and given an introduction to many of the occult players of the present. He also takes a fateful trip to Faerie, a mystical land which has long been of fascination to Gaiman (see his “Stardust”, which also shares artist Charles Vess, for another treatment of the fey world)…

In large part, this collection is an attempt to codify and explain the chaotic history of the DC occult universe. Gaiman has an intimate knowledge of apparently every title ever produced over the last 30 or 40 years, and he induldges himself somewhat showily in dragging in every two-bit mage and witch for a fleeting guest appearance. Often, this is done for purposes of historical revisionism, which is for the good, since the accretion of rank silliness and sloppily conceived plots in the thousands of DC comics over the years has resulted in many mutually contradictory character origins and universal histories, not to mention a lot of gross stupidity…

The character of Tim Hunter proves to be promising enough, and any Constantine appearance is welcome. Doctor Occult turns out to be so interesting that one wants to learn more (although very little has subsequently been done with this character). This volume is exceedingly enjoyable to any DC readers who have been fascinated with the magic-oriented superheroes, but can be intimidating to the less avid. Nevertheless, even for the more timid, the Vess artwork alone is worth the price of admission.

The Sandman: Dream Hunters (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $12.82)

THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a graphic novel adaptation of Gaiman’s novella of the same name, illustrated by Yoshitako Amano.

The world was different in old Japan. In those days, creatures of myth and legend walked upon the earth, swam in the sea, flew through the air. Some were wild and some, at great cost, could be tamed. So it was that a wily fox made a wager to dislodge a humble young monk from his home—and lost her heart in the betting. So it was also that a master of the demons of this world set his own eyes on the monk, seeking to seize the pious man’s inner strength for his own. And so it was, the King of All Night’s Dreaming would find himself intervening on behalf of a love that was never meant to be….

Adapted by P. Craig Russell from the award-winning story by NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Neil Gaiman, THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a richly evocative return to the world of The Dreaming, seen through entirely new eyes.

Collects the entire 4-issue series as well as a sketch section by P. Craig Russell. Also included is a cover gallery that includes work by P. Craig Russell, Yuko Shimizu, Mike Mignola, Paul Pope and Joe Kubert.
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Amazon Hall of Fame and Top 100 Reviewer E A Solinas says:

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series ranks among the best graphic novels ever written — and its spinoff materials aren’t bad either. Among those spinoff materials is “The Dream Hunters,” a gorgeously illustrated novella about the love between a beautiful kitsune and a Buddhist monk, and the part that Gaiman’s legendary Dream plays in their story. Now it’s been reworked like fine modeler’s clay into an even more exquisite graphic novel, with lushly shaded artwork based on traditional Japanese art. It’s a stunning piece of work…

The story is actually a rather simple one: monk meets fox and they fall in love, only to become ensnared in a selfish man’s plot, and the young monk is forced to go on a journey. It’s like a Japanese-flavored version of the Orpheus legend, except that the monk doesn’t go into the land of the dead — his quest takes him into the world of Dream (yes, the dude from the “Sandman” series)…In fact, the story is all the more tragic because Gaiman’s quiet, simple prose makes you like the monk and fox immensely — she’s a basic trickster who learns to passionately love someone else, and he’s a saintly young man whose caring for animals leads to a romantic love…

And the artwork is simply exquisite — P. Craig Russell takes his cues from traditional Japanese artwork (lots of maple leaves and flying swallows), with plenty of soft muted colors and elaborate backgrounds. He swirls his realistic designs together with wastelands of bone, dragons of fire, houses sitting in the clouds, and a lord of Dreams who walks in a vast celestial robe of sleeping faces and green fire. Even without the story, this would be a visual feast.

Neil Gaiman’s beautiful tale of love, dreams and loss is no less exquisite for being reimagined — “Sandman: Dream Hunters” is like a beautiful painting of a little prose gem. A must-see.


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