Neil Gaiman’s too busy making art to bother with the knowing posture of someone who wants to look like he’s making art. He’s a rare sort of polymath — zipping between comics, novels, films, and audio to tell stories that far outstrip the sum of their genres, and it’s easy to see why even a poetry reading by him can ignite a mosh pit.
He’s also, famously, a warm cheerleader to budding creators. “I hope you’ll make mistakes,” he said in a commencement speech at the University of the Arts. “If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.”
Hayley Campbell’s The Art of Neil Gaiman offers the sort of behind-the-scene access to Gaiman’s early works to inspire anyone considering writing their own stories. Before he made The Sandman and Coraline, he was a 16-year-old fan of fantasy author Michael Moorcock, and wanted to draw comics that were (by his own admission) more or less exactly like Moorcock stories:
“The urge, starting out, is to copy,” Gaiman says. “And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.”
Hayley Campbell grew up a close family friend of Gaiman’s, and her book trails his artistic growth and romantic education. Gaiman inhaled superhero comics as well as Victorian novels. The punk movement’s DIY ethos gave him a joyfully unembarrassed love of every genre and medium for storytelling.
Later, as a journalist and book reviewer for Knave (an erotic magazine), he read two or three books a day. “What was great was it wasn’t [only] science fiction/fantasy,” he says. “It was a mixture … without any regard for fiction or nonfiction, just going oh, that looks interesting, I’ll order this. I’ll order that. These might be a detective book, a book about photography, a movie thing. I was simply asking publishers for stuff that was interesting.”
A very important reminder that we shouldn’t just learn from works in the medium in which we happen to practice. You can check out the book here.