Free Press Journal

Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman! Here’s our novel tribute


The award-winning writer of Coraline, The Graveyard Book and the Sandman graphic novel series, Neil Gaiman turned 57 on Friday. MARILYN GORE and PREEJA ARAVIND use it as an excuse to geek out

How do you wish someone who doesn’t know you a happy birthday? Usually, a simple, ‘Happy Birthday!’ would suffice. Now, if the person in question is a best-selling author (and one of your all-time favourites), you’d want that wish to be a little more special. More so, if you’d prefer your wish to actually reach him. You write a piece about him, his mad writing skills and, in this case, his hair.

If you’ve never heard of Neil Gaiman, you’d want to look him up. The first thing you’d probably notice in any picture is the hair; then, the black t-shirt. A closer look at his profile, and you realise he’s a writer. But that’s about all you can say about him, unless you have plenty of time to spare.

Rise to cult status

Born on November 10, 1960, in Portchester, England, Neil Gaiman turned 57 this past Friday. Since the 1980s, he’s gone from freelance journalist to biographer to award-winning author of graphic novels, novels, short stories, films and even audio theatre productions across genres—much of which have been commercially successful as well.

“I was very, very good at taking a voice that already existed and parodying or pastiching it,” Gaiman has said of his early writing. With the reading of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, he discovered a narrative goldmine in comics and graphic novels. He took over writing for Miracleman after Moore stopped, and has contributed to DC Comics, its imprint Vertigo, and the rival comic book group Marvel Comics.

Gaiman’s ascent to cult status began when he wrote the Sandman series for DC Comics between 1988 and 1996. Sandman became the first comic ever to receive a literary award: The 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.

No slowing down

For a man nearing his 60th birthday, Gaiman has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, Good Omens—or, to give it its full name, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch—the World Fantasy Award-nominated novel Gaiman co-wrote with fantasy legend Sir Terry Pratchett back in 1990, is currently being filmed as a TV series. This, even as the second season of the TV adaptation of his American Gods (available in India on Amazon Prime Video) is still under production (with fans hoping for a third season, and an adaptation of American Gods spin-off, Anansi Boys).

Fluid boundaries

In terms of adaptation, Gaiman swings both ways. Neverwhere was originally a teleplay he devised with comedian Lenny Henry. It aired on TV in 1996, before being novelized in the same year.

Gaiman has said his stories come from a place of “wondering what if… (What would happenifachairwas bitten by awerewolf?, for example)”.  So it’s not hard to imagine why he is impossible to pigeonhole. The New Yorker called his work “genre pieces that refuse to remain true to their genres”. His writing spans fantasy, gothic horror, children’s stories, and even songs; and he has described is audience as “bipeds”. He is funny, theatrical, allusive, subversive, and he is not above making fun of himself. He voices a story-stealing author—obviously called Neil Gaiman—in The Simpsons. The Graveyard Book came about since Gaiman wanted to “write something a lot likeThe Jungle Book and set it in a graveyard”. American Gods and Norse Mythology are distinctly different, despite both being retellings of Norse myths and legends. London Above and London Below are as crucial to Neverwhere as any of its lead characters, and Coraline can be seen as a gothic version of Alice in Wonderland or the Chronicles of Narnia. In one short story (spoiler alert), a little boy frightened of monsters turns out to be the monster.

This fluidity also reflects in his extensive collaborations; in addition to Discworld-creator Terry Pratchett, he has also worked with Michael Reaves and his daughter Mallory. He wrote Mirror Mask, a direct-to-video film that was designed and directed by his good friend David McKean (with whom Gaiman has been collaborating since the early 1980s). He also regularly collaborates with artist Chris Riddell.

Life mirrors art

There seems to be no real boundary between Neil Gaiman the writer and Neil Gaiman the person. Anyone who follows him on Twitter (@neilhimself) knows where he’s been, what he’s been doing, and what he’s planning. He gave us our first look at the cast of the Good Omens adaptation on Twitter. He shares pictures of his toddler son, Anthony, and he lets us know when he’s been stealth signing books at airports along his route.

Speaking of airports, Mr Gaiman, if you’re reading this… we have plenty of those here in India. So perhaps it’s time for a visit? We also have plenty of cake.