Magic & Good Madness: A Neil Gaiman Reread

The Many Bromances of Neil Gaiman

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Tor.com’s ongoing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-esque attempt to define Neil Gaiman and/or his work has read his most well-known epic, made a mixtape out of another, and looked at his habit of creating his own world inside of the worlds of others. Now, we look at his penchant for constant collaboration with other artists, writers, and musicians. Collaborations that more often than not end up further honing the author’s unique style.

They say that behind every great writer, is that writer’s bro. And by “bro,” we mean an artistic equal whose work brings new definition to yours and a friend who otherwise has your back. A bro can be any gender and the bonds between you can feel like they were always meant to be. Neil Gaiman has a lot of bromances, and though we love the man and his writing, where would he be without these seven essential bros?

Neil Gaiman Alan Moore

Gaiman & Alan Moore

Most big Neil Gaiman fans know that his background in writing about comics eventually made him a comics author in his own right. Before Sandman, one of Gaiman’s first notable gigs was taking over the writing of the perpetually troubled Eclipse title Miracleman (retitled from Marvelman after Marvel Comics took notice). Moore, a comics legend even then, essentially handed the title to Gaiman, providing him with the opportunity of a lifetime.

Stylistically, the pairing was an adroit choice, as both writers take great care in visualizing strange worlds just beyond one’s scope of vision, and both take great pleasure in relaying what would happen if those worlds slipped quietly into ours.

And although he only got to do a few issues before Eclipse was shuttered, the author never forgot that vote of confidence from one of comics’ greatest creators. The two have been friends every since and Gaiman’s even been known to do an impression of Alan Moore from time to time. (The picture above is Gaiman at Moore’s wedding a few years back.) In many ways, Moore was Gaiman’s first mentor, allowing the world their first glimpses of Gaiman’s writing.

 

Neil Gaiman Dave McKean

Gaiman & Dave McKean

Gaiman and Dave McKean go waaayy back, having met in the offices of a telephone sales company when Gaiman was 26 and McKean was 23. To make the hours pass more quickly, they began working on an anthology comic book, which eventually lead to their first professional collaboration, a graphic novel titled Violent Cases, which brought them to the notice of the then-fledgling Vertigo Comics imprint.

McKean’s jagged conceptual collage artistic style would prove so unique that Gaiman would choose him to do the covers to every issue of Sandman and to this day it is exceptionally difficult to think of the series without thinking of McKean’s covers. You could argue that the concept of dream logic has never been as clearly defined as they are in the covers of Sandman. Which is ironic considering that McKean’s style teases the reader, refusing to define a narrative while still providing the symbols and elements that propel that narrative.

McKean and Gaiman still work together to this day, from children’s picture books like The Wolves in the Walls to Black Orchid to Gaiman’s most recent novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman’s bromance with McKean is one which redefines Gaiman in a way we can’t imagine his work without. Was it all because he loved McKean’s beard?

 

Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Good Omens, the collaboration between Gaiman and sci-fi/fantasy humorist Terry Pratchett, is so definitively entertaining that sometimes it feels like it shouldn’t exist. The writing styles of the two authors complement each other in ways that enhance their more obscure skills. Gaiman can be very funny, but he’s funnier with Pratchett, and Pratchett can be a masterfully loony plotter, but he’s a meticulous lunatic with Gaiman.

Gaiman first encountered Pratchett in 1985 and according to this piece Gaiman wrote about their friendship they “discovered we shared a similar sense of humor, and a similar set of cultural referents; we read the same obscure books, took pleasure in pointing each other to weird Victorian reference books.” Gaiman’s collaborations by and large tend to produce unique material, but the hilariously apocalyptic Good Omens stands out even amongst that. Hopefully, they’ll do it again some day.

 

Neil Gaiman Charles Vess

Gaiman & Charles Vess

With Neil Gaiman being one of the most celebrated fantasy(ish) authors of all time, it would be sort of a crime if he didn’t become bros with one of the most celebrated fantasy(ish) artists of all time; Charles Vess! Starting first with Vess’s awesome illustrations for the Gaiman novel Stardust, the pair have also collaborated on some children’s pictures books. In the case of Instructions, nearly every fantasy narrative is contained in one story, forcing both the writer and artist to the extremes of their talent. (Also, the awesome adventure cat who stars in Instructions is exactly what we imagine a compound version of these two guys would look like.)

 

Neil Gaiman Harlan Ellison

Gaiman & Harlan Ellison

There’s a great scene in the documentary on Ellison Dreams With Sharp Teeth in which Gaiman does an impression of Harlan Ellison leaving a threatening voicemail on his answering machine. Where others already familiar with Ellis’ personality might take umbrage to this, Gaiman seems completely amused. And in many ways, Gaiman comes off as a calming presence for the author, shaving the edges off of Ellison’s occasional temper-tantrums. Although they seem like a buddy cop/opposites attract pair, the two share a love for darkly original story threads in their work. Like peas in a creepy pod.

 

Tori Amos Neil Gaiman

Photo originally published in October 10, 1999 issue of Sunday Independent

Gaiman & Tori Amos

In some ways it seems like Neil Gaiman and musician Tori Amos were always been meant to be a part of each others’ lives. Amos first became aware of the author after the publication of the “Doll’s House” arc in Sandman and was inspired to include Neil’s name in a demo of her song “Tear In My Hand.” A friend of Amos’ ended up giving Neil the demo of that song without her knowledge and suddenly Amos was on the phone with a young comics writer who was gushing about how good her songwriting was.

The lives of the two have been intertwined ever since. Amos is godmother to his youngest daughter Maddy and Gaiman is godfather to her daughter Tash. They both regularly appear in each other’s works. Amos as a talking tree, or a shade of Delirium the Endless. Gaiman as an occasional figure in Amos’ vast song catalogue. Wikipedia has a more extensive list of their longtime collaboration.

The two remain intensely supportive of each other, even though their celebrity keeps them apart for long periods. Those familiar with Amos and her music can attest to the fact that sometimes it feels like she sprung entirely from one of his stories and those familiar with Gaiman’s more esoteric work can attest to it feeling akin to Amos’ music. There’s no beginning and no end to their artistic pairing. In some ways, they create each other.

 

One of the amazing aspects of Gaiman’s work is how these artistic collaborations paradoxically define him by encouraging new ways in which he can tell a story. And yet, Gaiman’s own unique tone rarely becomes lost within the stories that result from these pairings.

The “bromances” we highlight above are some of our favorites, but they’re certainly not all that Gaiman has been up to in these past few decades. Let us know which of his collaborations resonate with you!


Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.

Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and bromanced this article with Ryan but has yet to produce his own charming stop-motion kid’s movie about a creepy button-eyed mom.

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