The Neil Gaiman ready reckoner

Neil Gaiman is a bit of a geek hero, but which of his works is the best? Seb Patrick provides the run-down...

Neil Gaiman

Even if you don’t know him by name, the chances are that – given you’re the sort of person reading a site called “Den of Geek” – you’ve encountered Neil Gaiman’s work in some form or another. After all, he’s far more than simply one of the most influential comics writers of all time – he’s been a New York Times bestselling author, he’s won multiple Hugo awards for his fiction (and a World Fantasy Award for a comic – the only writer ever to do so), and most recently broke more prominently into the wider consciousness when his name was attached to two of 2007’s biggest fantasy films – as writer of the original novel of Stardust, and screenwriter, with Roger Avary, of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. All this, and he still finds time to be one of the internet’s foremost (and longest-serving) celebrity bloggers, and an inspiration to moody black-clad teenagers the world over…

Violent Cases (graphic novel, 1987)

4 out of 5
Rarely remembered as the comics debut of both Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKean, this is a touching and personal semi-autobiographical story about childhood and mobsters. The style is unlike much else you’ll see in comics, but it’s well worth digging out.

Black Orchid (comic miniseries, 1988)

3 out of 5
Another McKean collaboration, this saw Gaiman laying out many of the templates he would perfect with Sandman – revamping an old DC character, and introducing mature themes into a post-Swamp Thing universe.

The Sandman (comic series, 1989 – 1996)

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5 out of 5
Only the greatest long-form achievement in the history of comics. A seventy-six issue epic on the nature of dreams, storytelling, myth and legend, featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and somehow fitting every single pantheon and belief system into a single universe. Ten books make up the main storyline, and if we did a Sandman-only Ready Reckoner, they’d all get five stars. So just start at the beginning, frankly.

Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett; novel, 1990)

5 out of 5
One of the funniest novels ever written, this riff on The Omen sees the son of the Antichrist accidentally ending up living a Just William-esque existence in a sleepy English town, while the demon and angel team of Crowley and Aziraphale attempt to avert the forthcoming apocalypse. Pray that Terry Gilliam gets to make his movie version one of these millennia – and with Johnny Depp as Crowley, please.

The Books of Magic (comic miniseries, 1991)

4 out of 5
An eleven-year old, dark-haired bespectacled English boy is told he has the potential to become the most powerful magician of his age? And he has an owl? To his credit, Gaiman reckons that he and JK Rowling were simply cribbing from the same sources, rather than being angry that Potter stole his thunder; nevertheless, the adventures of Tim Hunter are a pleasingly grown-up take on the whole concept.

Miracleman (comic run, 1992)

4 out of 5
It’s a difficult task to follow Alan Moore at the best of times; when he’s left you a superhero series in which the titular character has eradicated crime, war, poverty and illness and created a utopian dictatorship, however, it’s even harder. Credit to Gaiman, then, for managing to put a completely different, yet no less memorable, spin on Moore’s setup in a run that sadly only lasted eight issues before its publisher imploded. Now embroiled in a messy rights issue, it can only be hoped that one day he’ll get the chance to finish it.

Neverwhere (TV series and novel, 1996)

5 out of 5
With a budget that would make Roger Corman blush, and an utterly baffling decision to shoot on video when the sets had been lit for film, the TV series of Neverwhere was generally judged to be something of a flop. But the setting, script and cast were all excellent (Paterson Joseph in particular seeming to treat the whole thing as an audition to play The Doctor), and watching it now on its recent DVD release, there’s plenty to enjoy. The novel, meanwhile (written after the series) is up there with his best – an enthralling tale of a city and society living underneath and “between the cracks” of London…

Smoke and Mirrors (short story collection, 1998)

4 out of 5
Some of Gaiman’s very best work comes in the short story form – and here, you’ll find such utter classics as “Chivalry” (in which an old woman finds the Holy Grail in an Oxfam shop), the spoof-autobiographical “The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch” (er, starring Jonathan Ross and Jane Goldman) and the really-autobiographical “The Goldfish Pool” (based on Gaiman’s own experiences of trying to sell Good Omens to Hollywood).

Stardust (illustrated novella, 1999)

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3 out of 5
Recently a Major Motion Picture, of course, Stardust – originally published with lavish illustrations by Charles Vess, but later in simple novel form – is a charming adult fairy tale, with some inspired moments (the seven brothers of Stormhold, underused in the film, are a particular highlight), but is somewhat lightweight compared to his better work.

American Gods (novel, 2001)

5 out of 5
Sandman aside, this might just be Gaiman’s finest hour. An utterly sprawling, mighty tome, it’s ostensibly the story of what happens when gods of modern technology and culture fight to replace the traditional gods brought to America in the minds of its myriad settling founders; but it ultimately takes in a lot more than that, including a Fargo-esque subplot that’s practically an engrossing novel in itself, and rug-pulling plot twists galore. Hard work, but thoroughly worth it.

Coraline (childrens novel, 2002)

4 out of 5
If he weren’t so good at writing books for adults, Gaiman could quite easily spend his career standing astride the “dark and quirky childrens books” field like a colossus. Coraline is a marvellously creepy fable, and one perfectly suited to stop-motion master Henry Selick, whose movie version is due out next year.

1602 (comic miniseries, 2003)

3 out of 5
Gaiman made a much-trumpeted return to comics in 2003 with his first work for Marvel – largely done to fund the Miracleman lawsuit – but while transplanting Marvel’s most well-known characters and concepts to the seventeenth century was a neat conceit, the story was, in truth, rather dull once the novelty had worn off.

MirrorMask (film, 2005)

2 out of 5
A rare misstep, this dark fantasy looked superb – thanks to Dave McKean’s unique visuals – but the script was somewhat flat, and despite a strong cast (including Rob Brydon, Gina McKee and Red Dwarf’s Robert Llewellyn) failed both critically and commercially, making Gaiman’s first foray into movies a disappointing one.

Anansi Boys (novel, 2005)

4 out of 5
Spinning out of a minor character in American Gods, this doesn’t quite have the epic scale of its parent work, but is nevertheless an engaging, character driven tale – and a rare example of a spinoff-cum-sequel requiring no prior knowledge whatsoever of the original.

Eternals (comic miniseries, 2006)

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3 out of 5
Bringing Jack Kirby’s bizarre godlike creations back into the Marvel universe, this miniseries started brightly – but as the layers of mystery were peeled back, and the characters began to discover their true nature, it quickly became somewhat less interesting, and petered to its conclusion much as 1602 had previously.

Fragile Things (short story collection, 2006)

3 out of 5
As with Smoke and Mirrors, some superb work can be found in this format – particularly the Hugo-winning “A Study in Emerald” (a Sherlock Holmes/HP Lovecraft crossover with a wonderful late narrative twist) and the American Gods sequel novella The Monarch of the Glen. As with Smoke and Mirrors, though, the (self-admitted) filler of poems and more lightweight material drags the overall quality down a touch.

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