God drives a Cadillac

If you’ll allow me to be crude for a moment: more often than not, gods are dicks. They’re narcissists and sociopaths. They crave your worship and don’t think twice of smiting you if you displease them the teensiest bit. They like a spot of sacrifice, ideally of the human kind – the bloodier the better. Whoever thought it was a good idea to give such hypersensitive, overpowered egomaniacs with the maturity of toddlers even the slightest bit of power?

What’s that you say? We did it? By believing in them, we invested them with power?

… literal theocracy sucks.

American Gods

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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:

youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj4RBmU-PIo]

League of Extraordinary Literary Self-Indulgence, part I

I came to comics fairly late. Of course I read the odd Asterix, Tintin and Disney comicbook when I was a kid, but I never really read those adolescent fantasies with guys in tights and big-breasted caped beauties fighting dastardly villains when not moping about their lovelives.

When I was 26, I went to Glasgow for a few months. Being a literature nerd, one of my favourite pastimes was to go to Waterstone’s (or, on my most nerdy days, Forbidden Planet), grab a book or five, sit down on one of the couches and read. That’s when I came across Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’d heard of it before, and I’d read Gaiman’s Smoke & Mirrors and Good Omens, the novel he’d written with Terry Pratchett. I’d always wanted to check out Sandman, but since I wasn’t into comics… I didn’t. Until Glasgow.

Smoke & Mirrors

And there, within the space of one or two days, I got hooked on Gaiman’s mythopoetic world. (Yes, I’ve always wanted to use the word “mythopoetic”. Now I have. Life suddenly feels empty.) And I started to think, “Hmm. Maybe there’s something about them there comics after all.”

Shortly after I started looking for other comic book authors of similar renown as Gaiman. Names like Mike Mignola came up, or Daniel Clowes, or (of course) Will Eisner. But the name that came up most insistently was Alan Moore. And the titles that were mentioned were Swamp Thing, From Hell, V for Vendetta and Watchmen. So I got started on From Hell, not knowing what to expect – and got hooked. Yup, the book grabbed me pretty much like a sharp hook to my belly, pulling my insides out. But metaphorically. And in a good way.

Ahem. Anyway, after reading V for Vendetta and then Watchmen (rather unsettling, as I read it just after 9/11), I knew that Moore was my kind of writer.

From Hell

 Next: Top 10, Promethea… and the League.

P.S.: Here’s a little bonus, at no additional charge, for the Neil Gaiman fans among you: