My brilliant wife bought me Neil Gaiman’s “Midnight Days” for Christmas. I read it right away. It’s a collection of some of his earliest work in American comics: “Swamp Thing,” “Hellblazer” and such. It sort of set me on a minor Gaiman kick, which was ramped up when two gems reappeared thanks to my reacquisition of storage boxes.
First, I found the hardcover collection of the Gaiman-penned “Marvel 1602.” It’s an amazing book, talking Marvel’s Silver Age characters and placing them in 1602, with all colonization and religious disputes adding historical context. The first class of “X-Men” are there and referred to as “witchbreed,” since their mutant powers were considered to be Satan-spawned. Nick Fury serves as Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster and Dr. Stephen Strange as her physician. Daredevil, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four all appear in some form. Even Captain America is included, although you may not recognize him at first.
Later, while going through a box of CDs, I found the tribute disc “Where’s Neil When You Need Him?” produced by Dancing Ferret Discs. The songs are all based on Gaiman works ranging from his “Sandman” comics to works for children, such as “The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.” The 17 songs are by artists you’ve probably never heard of and Tori Amos. Her song “Sister Named Desire” is track 17. Gaiman wrote the liner notes and frequent collaborator Dave McKean did the illustrations. Most of the songs tend toward the industrial and gothic, which I was very into when I bought this CD in 2006. Listening to it now makes me feel young.
Feeling young is a good thing. I’m less than two months away from being a father for the first time. A couple nights ago my wife asked if I wanted to read a story to our as yet unborn child, Clark. Of course I said yes. I wanted to read him the beginning of Gaiman’s “Neverwhere.” I would have chosen “Stardust” but I don’t have a copy of that anymore. Instead, I read “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book,” which I think Gaiman would approve of. He might suggest, however, that I pick up his new children’s book “Chu’s Day” and I plan to do so. The book is about a lovable young panda named Chu.
My wife loves pandas, so that’s a major win for everyone.
So I’ve been listening to the tribute CD on my way to and from school and reading “Marvel 1602” when I get a break from homework. Being immersed in Gaiman’s work is very much like letting yourself be a kid again. There is so much wonder and joy but doesn’t discount how real the monsters in the closet are to children.
If you’ve never read any of his work, you can choose from graphic novels, adult novels — his first adult novel in seven years, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” comes out in June — or works for younger readers. A quick search of the Yakima Valley Libraries catalogue tells me that most of his work, including the 10 volumes of “The Sandman,” is available.
If you are familiar with Gaiman, chime in. Do you have a favorite? Or is there something you missed and hope to find?
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• Backstage Pass is a new blog on www.yakima-herald.com covering pop culture from Hollywood to your backyard. T.J. Tranchell, a freelance journalist and Herald-Republic customer service clerk, can be reached at email@example.com.