Would you kindly…?

My apologies for the posting delay – I was laid low the last two days with a stomach bug. I’m still home from work, but now I have no more excuse to dawdle… So here, without much further ado, the latest entry. I promise not to throw up while writing it.

I’ve been re-reading The Sandman from beginning to end. About a month ago I got the last of the Absolute Sandman volumes – gorgeous hardback large-format reprints of the original comics, with tons of extras such as additional stories in the Endless universe or scripts of some of the most important issues.

Yes, I know, I'm a book fetishist.

This is probably the fourth or fifth time time I’m reading the series in its entirety, and I still have the same favourites: A Game of You (vol. 5), Worlds’ End (vol. 8) and The Kindly Ones (vol. 9 – more on that later). However, Brief Lives (vol. 7) has grown on me, especially the last few chapters. I’m still not all that hot on its art, but the storytelling is fantastic – Gaiman at his finest – and it’s pretty much the volume when Delirium comes into her own.

I’m currently halfway through The Kindly Ones, and even at a fifth re-read, it still packs quite a punch. I love the art (which some found too cartoony – but I definitely prefer it to the more generic comic-book art of some of the other volumes, even though they all have their inspired moments), but even more, I love how Gaiman manages to bring together dozens of threads from the previous volumes in clever but not ostentatious ways. He makes it all feel natural and, as in all the best tragedies, inevitable.

Imagine him brushing his teeth (and flossing) and he'll get a lot less creepy...

There are a number of things that in the hands of a lesser writer would feel like fan service, especially the return of the Corinthian, or indeed the extended scenes with Mervin Pumpkinhead. But what Gaiman pulls off is something that few series (in any medium) have managed so far: reading The Kindly Ones, you get the impression that he’s always known where he was going. And you want to follow him, even though you know it’ll all end in tears.

I haven’t been all that hot about most of Gaiman’s work since The Sandman. His recent short stories, and indeed his novels, have seemed too twee, too enamoured with their cleverness. There are always great bits, but in between those bits I feel I’m reading some Gaiman imitator who does an okay job but simply isn’t the same. Fragile Things was a shadow of Smoke and Mirrors (which contains some of my favourite short stories). Anansi Boys was fun but pretty forgettable. I liked Coraline a lot, though – perhaps Gaiman tries too hard to be clever and Gaimanesque when writing for adults, and when he writes for children he simply focuses on telling a good story. Which, in Coraline, he very much does.

Talking of Gaiman: this animated short reminded me of him – most of all because Nick Cave’s narration sounds exactly like some of Gaiman’s readings: