Thursday, March 21, 2013

Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic

I forget when I first came across Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic. It must have been in the early 2000s, before I turned the study of sequential art into something of a morbid obsession. I was not yet versed in the lore, though I had probably spent some time with the Sandman.

Timothy Hunter’s inaugural adventure is a graphic novel adaptation of every escapist’s childhood dream: mysterious agents of destiny reveal themselves to make promises of unimaginable power and take the protagonist to see the surreal underside of the world. Folklore notions – even some fairly academic ones – are brought to contribution, and so the monsters and the wonders which we are taken to visit are rendered more credible by their richness and familiarity.

Upon a recent second reading, I found it perplexing that I so loved the book at the time of my first exposure, for I could not have been very familiar with the characters (apart from John Constantine and the Endless). This tends to show that the novel’s more hermetic aspects (such as its references to the wider DC universe) must have been expertly counterbalanced by Gaiman’s story-telling. The trick of hiring four different artists to convey changing moods – and reflect the four stages of the protagonist’s initiatory journey – is exceptionally well executed; in less capable hands, the project would have likely turned into an inchoate mess.

While not the most accessible of Gaiman’s works, The Books of Magic is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the supernatural. The stories which John Ney Rieber developed subsequently with the same characters, though adequately told and illustrated, do not approach Gaiman’s miniseries in terms of depth, and will likely only interest aficionados of the genre.

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