Authors Hank Wagner and Christopher Golden collaborated previously on The Complete Stephen King Universe, a comprehensive, excellent study of King’s writings. This time around they’ve enlisted the help of artist Stephen Bissette and have turned their attention to Neil Gaiman. The resulting effort is Prince of Stories, a thorough examination of Gaiman’s body of work. Actually, thorough is an understatement; Wagner, Golden and Bissette have compiled 500 plus pages of information about Gaiman, his diverse output and its impact. Prince of Stories is both a treasure trove for fans and a bibliography extraordinaire up to and including 2008’s Graveyard Book.
Given the sheer volume of information Wagner, Golden and and Bissette are presenting, they had to settle on a means of organization. Thus, Prince of Stories has been divided into twelve sections, most of which deal with a particular genre or format. Leading everything off are a foreword by Terry Pratchett and a quick introduction. The first section, “Early Years,” is somewhat different than those that follow, summing up Gaiman’s youth and work before Sandman. Here readers can peruse a quick Gaiman biography and enjoy two essays, one about a fantasy convention and the other a tongue in cheek piece, “Who Was Jack the Ripper,” written with Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman.
Immediately following is a section devoted to the work that first brought Gaiman to prominence: The Sandman. Each issue of each volume is discussed at length, delving into the characters, settings and themes at play. Obviously spoilers abound – this is true of all the titles discussed here – but for those who have read the series, this chapter provides a solid refresher, tossing in trivia and quotes from Gaiman for good measure.
The ensuing sections follow a similar format: summary, discussion of people, places and things, trivia and quotes. If a reader’s interest is in a particular genre, all she need do is turn to the correct section and browse. It’s a testament to the diversity of Gaiman’s work that so many genres are represented: graphic novels, comics, novels, children’s books, short stories, poems and songs, scripts. Not every title gets the in-depth treatment a la the Sandman section, but each receives at least a summary. Many of the sections are presented in chronological order, useful for tracking the progression of Gaiman’s writing, but perhaps a little less so when trying to find a particular title (a problem remedied by the index). The authors have added a particularly nice touch in “The Short Stories” section, providing not only the original publication source for each, but also coding them by which Gaiman collection(s) they appeared in, including audio collections.
Interspersed throughout the book are special tidbits, such as an essay by Gaiman on the DC Universe and The Green (“Notes Towards a Vegetable Theology”), a comic Gaiman wrote originally for the now-defunct Taboo (“Blood Monster”), photos, and interviews with various collaborators, including Mark Buckingham, Jill Thompson, Charles Vess and, most importantly, Dave McKean. And there’s a very lengthy interview with Gaiman himself done by Bissette. This latter is included in section eleven, “The World of Neil Gaiman,” which also touches on his online journal (an important two-way link between Gaiman and his fans) and his personal assistant, the Fabulous Lorraine (including her band The Flash Girls, for whom Gaiman has written songs).
With this much information, it could be easy to get lost in the details. Prince of Stories is best bitten off in small chunks – by genre or particular title. The text does wander astray occasionally – such as a discussion of Philip Jose Farmer’s work during the Sandman chapter – but is primarily on topic and easy to digest.
Wrapping up the book are a thorough index (invaluable for looking up titles and collaborators) and five appendices: a Neil Gaiman timeline, audio books (don’t overlook this section – hearing Gaiman read his words on CD is the next best thing to a live reading!), further reading, associated Web sites and chapter notes.
Prince of Stories is a marvelous addition to the bookshelves of any fan of Neil Gaiman. It’s not for new fans – too many spoilers – but for providing recommendations, and putting his works into context, it’s spot on!
(St. Martins, 2008)