Neil Gaiman is a hugely important figure for comic-book fans in their 20s and 30s. For many of us, he represented a shift from the traditional superheroes we had been raised on — the caped crusaders, the men of steel — but Gaiman, and most notably his creation The Sandman, also marked the first time many of us felt like there was someone cool within the ranks of comics geeks. Gaiman was, and continues to be, one of the only writers in any genre who can effortlessly excite comic-book fans, literary fiction readers, and everybody in between. He is pleasing to read whether you’re a fan of horror, a fan of sci-fi, or even a fan of T. S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land is quoted in this 1988 advertisement trumpeting the eerie arrival of Sandman:
His friend and one of his only equals, Alan Moore, may have written more iconic stories for classic characters and had more films adapted from his work (albeit ones he wanted nothing to do with), but Gaiman’s appeal both within and beyond the world of comics puts him in a class by itself. He is, simply put, the most important living comic writer.
A quarter-century after The Sandman‘s debut Gaiman, who celebrated his 52nd birthday yesterday, could fully justify resting on his laurels. But he still continues to produce must-have work, and recently published the first installment of a bimonthly six-issue series, The Sandman: Overture. It’s interesting to see him revisit the title that brought him his initial fame, and fans will no doubt find it a welcome return.
What seems to resonate with those of us who have read Gaiman, be it The Sandman or one of his bestselling novels, like American Gods, is that despite his own devoted following, the author remains a devoted fan of the writers he learned his craft from, and this has helped him transcend the genre where he’s found the most success.
Although Gaiman once said, “I’m not the best person to say if something’s influenced me or not,” when asked about Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, he has expressed admiration for a number of writers who came before him. Take a close enough look at the authors below, and you’ll start to see how they’ve impacted his work.
“Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight..” — Gaiman on G.K. Chesterton.
“The odd thing is that the finest gift from Lovecraft was less the Cthulhupoid stuff and more some amazing pointers at the things that he was influenced by: one of the Granada paperback reprints, Dagon I think, all of which I read when I was eleven or twelve at my grandmother’s house in Southsea, contained his essay on Supernatural Horror in Literature and it was like being handed a road map for where I should be reading and what I should be looking for.” — Gaiman on H.P. Lovecraft
“Alan Moore got to be the Beatles and, along with Grant Morrison, I was Gerry and the Pacemakers.” — Gaiman on Alan Moore
“Poe isn’t for everyone. He’s too heady a draught for that. He may not be for you. But there are secrets to appreciating Poe, and I shall let you in on one of the most important ones: read him aloud.” — Gaiman on Edgar Allan Poe
“I wanted to write about Ray Bradbury. I wanted to write about him in the way that he wrote about Poe in ‘Usher II’ — a way that drove me to Poe.” — Gaiman on Ray Bradbury
“I definitely don’t write like Kipling but he was a literary hero as a kid.” — Gaiman on Rudyard Kipling
“Who on Earth could read a Vonnegut book and think that he was a grandfatherly bundle of warm fuzzy happiness? I mean, I read Vonnegut first as a ten year old, and it was shocking because he could joke in the face of such blackness and bleakness, and I’d never seen an author do that before. Everything was pointless, except, possibly, a few moments of love snatched from the darkness, a few moments in which we connect, or fail to.” — Gaiman on Kurt Vonnegut
“Tolkien’s words and sentences seemed like natural things, like rock formations or waterfalls, and wanting to write like Tolkien would have been, for me, like wanting to blossom like a cherry tree or climb a tree like a squirrel or rain like a thunderstorm.” — Gaiman on J. R. R. Tolkien
“I think the most important thing I learned from Stephen King I learned as a teenager, reading King’s book of essays on horror and on writing, Danse Macabre. In there he points out that if you just write a page a day, just 300 words, at the end of a year you’d have a novel. It was immensely reassuring – suddenly something huge and impossible became strangely easy.” — Gaiman on Stephen King
“C.S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer. He made me aware of the writer, that there was someone standing behind the words, that there was someone telling the story. I fell in love with the way he used parentheses — the auctorial asides that were both wise and chatty, and I rejoiced in using such brackets in my own essays and compositions through the rest of my childhood.” — Gaiman on C.S. Lewis