Over the past few decades, Neil Gaiman has become more than an author of graphic novels and fantasy. He has become one of THE authors.
And "Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman" is more than just a homage to Gaiman's many otherworldly works -- it's also a detailed guide to his assorted comics, graphic novels and books, as well as offering insight into Gaiman and his many collaborators, and a wealth of assorted trivia and information.
First, there's a nice little foreword from Gaiman's "Good Omens" collaborator Terry Pratchett ("There was no natural unity between hat and man") and a steady introduction to who and what Neil Gaiman is.
Then there are the in-depth studies and analyses of his works -- Hank Wagner, Stephen Bissette and Christopher Golden go into the depths of his bestselling, groundbreaking graphic novel series "Sandman." Issue by issue, chapter by chapter they summarize and dissect the entire comic book series, whether it's standalone stories of the Endless, tales of Dream's sister Death, or the long shadowy journey of the titular Morpheus.
And they do plenty of dissection of Gaiman's other stories -- the "Spawn" spinoff about a warrior angel, the Eternals, "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch," the legendary "1602," the little-known "Black Orchid," the pre-Potterian budding wizard known as Tim Hunter, "Miracleman," and countless other contributions. There's even the tale of graphic novels that never really made it out into the world, or were cut short prematurely.
Gaiman's novels get the same treatment -- Wagner, Golden and Bissette don't go into quite as much detail, but they do address the important stuff, including listing and describing the poems and short stories Gaiman has written. And there's the children's books such as "Interworld," "Coraline," "Odd and the Frost Giants," "The Wolves in the Walls." At the time it was written, "The Graveyard Book"
There's even a section devoted to Gaiman's forays into television (a "Babylon 5" episode) and film (the translation of "Princess Mononoke," "Beowulf," and the stunning "Mirrormask"). Not to mention his work with Alice Cooper.
It's pretty obvious from the start that this is a labor of love for Wagner, Bissette and Golden -- it's a colourful, slightly mad patchwork of various quotes, trivia, summaries and interviews having to do with Gaiman. This isn't just a homage, but a sort of composite portrait of the artist and his work -- and it succeeds brilliantly.
Part of this is because they are so thorough -- they include detailed character summaries after every book/graphic novel, bits of trivia ("Anansi Boys" actually predated "American Gods"), influences (G.K. Chesterton and Shakespeare, among others), and quotes from Gaiman on his works at the end of each chapter ("I owe an enormous debt to Hope Mirrlees, Lord Dunsany, James Branch Cabell and C.S. Lewis...").
It also has a number of interviews with people who collaborated with Gaiman -- Charles Vess, Terry Pratchett, Mark Buckingham, Rogues, his personal assistant Lorraine Garland, and of course longtime collaborator Dave McKean.
But the best part is where Gaiman himself is. Not only is there a highly detailed, extensive interview at the end (and some sprinkled through the text), but also clever, lesser-known writings: essays on making 24 pages in 24 hours, an intricate study of the "vegetable theology," a recounting of his first-ever fantasy convention, and a hilarious study of who Jack the Ripper truly was ("'Lord Alfred, would you care to slice the tarts?' Tennyson misunderstood his monarch's request").
"Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman" is the sort of detailed, intelligent tome that actually does justice to Gaiman's peculiar, haunting genius. Definitely a must-read.