Tue
May 21 2013 9:00am

The Many Bromances of Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman Harlan Ellison

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?

 

Neil Gaiman Terry Pratchett

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

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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18 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
NO GENE WOLFE?

Gentlemen, I am dissapoint.
Dave Thompson
2. DKT
Fun article.

I'd add: Gaiman and Gene Wolfe
James Harcourt
3. James Harcourt
Can he write another decent and weighty fantasy/horror/SF novel aside from American Gods? And does he really have to be a literary celebrity poseur with his fingers seemingly in every pie? Rarely has a substantial reputation been formed on such insubstantial output. I apologise to Gaiman fans, but I've never quite understood his cult reputation. Even in regard to those 'bromances', you have a far greater comics/graphic novel writer (Alan Moore), a far greater SF writer (Harlan Ellison), you have a finer/wittier fantasy novelist (Terry Pratchett), and so on...he's not even an equal part of the relationship, he's George Harrison to the others' Lennon/McCartney.
Joe Matise
4. snoopy369
Yeah, how'd you manage to leave out Gene Wolfe? Otherwise nice article.

James: Why does he need to? Gaiman does all sorts of things, why pin him down in one thing that he has already done really well once. And if you really want, Sandman is a decent and weighty fantasy/horror novel... Gaiman is popular because he really connects with people viscerally, not just in text but in the art and style in his works. It's no surprise that he's more popular with women than with men; he's much more of a 'character' writer, and an environment builder, than he is a plotter - and that's just fine as he's really, really good at it.
James Harcourt
5. Colin R
I am sort of mystified by Good Omens; I didn't find it very appealing at all, and I definitely felt like Gaiman was overmatched by Pratchett. Still, being overmatched by Pratchett is hardly dishonorable, and to be second rate compared to people like Alan Moore and Terry Pratchett is still a pretty good achievement.
James Harcourt
6. Nicholas Winter
Colin R: Good Omens is perfectly good novel so long as you treat it as a Pratchett novel as it has nothing in that would suggest that Gaiman even passed by it. It's precisely like The Revenge of The Nerds which is a damn fine Charles Stross novel thats listed as being co-authored by Cory Doctorow even though there's nothing of him in it.
Joe Matise
7. snoopy369
Yeah, how'd you manage to leave out Gene Wolfe? Otherwise nice article.

James: Why does he need to? Gaiman does all sorts of things, why pin him down in one thing that he has already done really well once. And if you really want, Sandman is a decent and weighty fantasy/horror novel... Gaiman is popular because he really connects with people viscerally, not just in text but in the art and style in his works. It's no surprise that he's more popular with women than with men; he's much more of a 'character' writer, and an environment builder, than he is a plotter - and that's just fine as he's really, really good at it.
Jenny Creed
8. JennyCreed
Jill Thompson springs to mind. Just look at what happened with the Little Endless to see how she and Gaiman feed of each other to generate a feedback spiral that ends up with both of them making better art.

And it's really funny to read interviews with her about her work with Gaiman and Grant Morrison, at least if you're a fan of both writers. Such completely different things happen you can hardly believe they're related to the same world, let alone the same art form. With Gaiman, she feels completely connected, he's always available, always looking up references for her, always engaged in discussing the work and learning and teaching. With Morrison, she's sitting around waiting for scripts that never come and trying to convince her husband that the fact two characters based on Morrison and herself are in a relationship doesn't mean anything, but he heals her sick cat with chaos magic.
James Harcourt
9. Mndrew
Gaiman and Scalzi's twitter exchanges are always, in the words of the genre, 'a real hoot'.
David Goldfarb
10. David_Goldfarb
When the first issue of Gaiman's Miracleman came out, Sandman had already been running for a year and a half. So I'm not sure in what sense the one gig was before the other.
James Harcourt
11. thaxll
I quite like his interactions with his wife singer/performer Amanda Palmer.
example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r56Mqzp6d58
James Harcourt
12. AO
Stardust was a comic book published in prestige format (1997), after that it was published as a book (1998).
James Harcourt
13. Neile
Charles Vess also worked on three issues of Sandman, so he and Neil Gaiman collaborated before Stardust.
James Harcourt
14. Tora
@James

I take it you did not think Neverwhere, Stardust, or Anansi Boys were decent and weighty? His novels don't need to be weighty to be decent but I'm going to guess you're aware of that.

"And does he really have to be a literary celebrity poseur with his
fingers seemingly in every pie? Rarely has a substantial reputation been formed on such insubstantial output."

This is insubstantial output?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Gaiman_bibliography#Fiction

Is he a poseur because he writes more than just novels? Is he a poseur because he has written screenplays, adapted and original? Is he a poseur because he's written episodes of Doctor Who? Or is he a poseur for having written only 4 solo novels while another popular author has dozens because he writes nothing BUT novels?

I'm genuinely curious because your questions suggest an issue with media rather than quality. Do you believe his varied media to have had an adverse affect on the quality of his work? Hence, why only 1 of his 4 novels is "decent"? (I'm going to guess you HAVE read more than just American Gods since you proclaim it to be his only decent novel).

Or is it the mixed media in itself that indicates his poseurness? An affirmation of this question is indicative of a sentiment that doesn't value the "Renaissance Man", which would be very sad indeed if that were the case. How dare anyone have multiple interests including in how and what they write!

I'd like to look at another author through a similar manner to illustrate why I'm taking issue with you.

I don't like Stephen King's work, I hate many films adapted from his novels (with a passion), and I don't particularly care about his opinion of other authors' work (he likes Neil's btw). His work is not to my taste or standards just as Neil's work is not to yours. But I don't consider him a poseur for it.

He is also not a poseur for writing an episode of The X-Files (though I hate that episode), writing about writing, writing for Entertainment Weekly, and writing outside of the horror genre. Perhaps you would give him much more leeway than Neil since most of these works were done alone. However, he is still a writer who does more than write novels so his work is somewhat eclectic.

Despite this varied media, I don't hate King or his reputation and I don't consider him to be a hack or a sell-out or any other bullshit terms writers and artists get. He and Neil are doing what they want as artists and entrepreneurs and we can't understand or like everything anyone does.

I think that not understanding a reputation and disliking the work should not be coupled with opinions about the author as a person, insults or not. Of course, this and all the above are just my opinions as your comments were yours. But I still wouldn't let an insult like poseur stand without responding, especially when its followed by an apology for a completely neutral (read: inoffensive) opinion on not understanding Neil's cult reputation. The first is an opinion of Neil and the second an opinion of yourself. Do you see the difference?

There really is nothing wrong with not liking someone's work, just be aware if that is what your opinion is of. If you don't want to offend, of course. I'm sure you can come up with much more disparaging remarks on Neil or his work if that's what you're aiming for.

P.S. George Harrison brought a hell of a lot more to the Beatles than many realize. His solo album All Things Must Pass is still my favorite solo Beatles' album :)
Jenny Creed
15. JennyCreed
I can clear this up for you, James. Sorry I didn't notice your post before.

Gaiman has a cult reputation because he's consistently likeable and approachable and does good work, in that order. Maybe people tend to mix together the author and the work; it's certainly an easy mistake to make when an author makes such efforts to connect with his audience.

Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer if Gaiman was a reculusive workaholic as much as the next fan, but that's just not our decision to make.
William S. Higgins
16. higgins
The first book I ever bought with Gaiman's name on it was Ghastly Beyond Belief: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of Quotations, for which his partner was British horror maven Kim Newman. This afternoon, Wikipedia calls the book "a light-hearted tribute to entertainingly bad prose in fantastic fiction." (Tomorrow, as we all know, Wikipedia may call it something else.) It was published in the UK but Alice Bentley and Greg Ketter had the wit to stock it in their Chicago store, The Stars Our Destination, where I found it.

GBB is riddled with dreadful dialogue, frenzied movie-poster slogans, and overblown blurbmanship. Fortunately, none of it was actually written by Mr. Newman or Mr. Gaiman, who merely compiled these choice bits for the delectation of readers.

Both authors may have gone on to greater things, but Ghastly Beyond Belief was, as far as I can tell, the first time Mr. Gaiman found himself between covers with a partner. As it is darned funny, I reckon it a success, so it deserves a salute here.
James Harcourt
17. rackhamtree
Okay, just to keep the facts straight, I LOVE the form but the original editionj of 'Stardust, Being A Romance Within the Realms of Faerie' was not a comic book or even a graphic novel (No word balloons, no panel to panel continuity, etc.) it was simply a profusely illustrated book that happened to be published by a comic book publisher.
James Harcourt
18. Marein
I've heard say his girlfriend is pretty creative.

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