EPS Review #80 - American Gods

by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins 2001

I have been looking at Graphic Novels, partly for the kids, but partly for me, too. Some cartoon books have been very successful with us (The Cartoon History of the Universe and its ilk, Doraemon, Dragonball, and of course Tintin/Asterix, also Bone [ very Pogo-like drawings ], and the Graphic Classics of Lovecraft, Jack London etc). Some have not: I bought League of Gentlemen and scanned it, only to find that the invisible man gets up to some very naughty things in a girl's dormitory. Ditto Watchmen, and indeed the vast majority of the violent and pervy manga/comic world. Inevitably I ran across Gaiman, who is a sort of god to comic book devotees. With my inexorable angle on Japan, I first read his take on a Japanese fairy story of a monk and a fox. The drawings in that one are very good. A friend at work who loaned me this volume, then followed through with the complete set of Sandman, which I think not so well drawn. However, they grew on me, or are still growing, as I am not yet done reading them all. At first the adolescent obsession with Goth and doom bothered me, but lately I have found some of the stories affecting and imaginative.

Also I bought and read Coraline, when waiting for a doctor's appointment. I disliked it, seemed too like a Twilight Zone episode, though other friends tell me they love the button-eyed alter-parents.

Anyway, I ripped through "American Gods" when I should have been reading my book club's selection Death comes to the Archbishop. (I also read The Da Vinci Code during the same period, not that DCTTA is dull or anything). In common with The Sandman series, it has lots of gods with problems. America is a hostile place for gods, who are spawned by belief, brought over mostly from other countries, though a few germinate here, like the goddesses of TV and the media, and the nerd god. Wednesday (Odin) does a road trip/quest with Shadow to stir the old gods to battle with the new, before they are overcome. While reading the book, I felt it was rather original, though I am less sure afterward (in the afterword Gaiman claims he read Zelazny after he wrote this book). Certainly, Gaiman has done a lot of research on gods, and he has a fine feeling for the land. I like the buffalo man, and I liked Bast, and Ibis. The scenes with Shadow's dead wife are weird and sad, though she is used a bit too much as a corpus ex machina. Definitely recommended, if you can bear fantasy at all.

Gaiman's website. Interesting that he has emigrated from the UK to the US. The House on the Rock figures in this book, has anyone been?

Yams readers note that 69 Love Songs was the main background of the book's composition.

Some cons, inspired by Wednesday's list. Apparently "phony" comes from the fawney rig scam, a favorite phrase of Gaiman's.

Hey if you like Dragonball, here is Toriyama's earlier work with Arale-chan, the only place you will find it in English:

Several friends have recommended Good Omens, the Gaiman/Pratchett collaboration. I stopped reading Pratchett after a mere dozen or so of his works, but am tempted to try this one.

The Horrible Histories and Horrible Science series are semi-graphic and great for kids.

Scott wrote: "League of Gentlemen" kind of sucked, didn't it?

I'm sorry Ross isn't quite there yet for "Watchmen". I just reread it, and I still think this is one of the very best of the earlier graphic novels.

I've been a fan of "Sandman" for many years. I'm glad you like them.

By sheer coincidence, I just picked up "American Gods" at a book-sale table. I thought it was a bit obvious, but I did like the notion of gods being brought for by people believing in them. I would definitely like to visit the House on the Rock.

Recommendations: Maus and "Maus II". Also, Scott McCloud's great Understanding Comics, which was re-released a year ago in advance of his second such book; the second one is not very good.

Bill wrote: With your attachment to Japan, have you read many manga books? I picked up a few of these in NYC. The ones available in New York seem intended for a different demographic than me -- not sure if they write manga for fifty-somethings.

Also, have you read what must be a graphic novel classic by now, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Vol 1 and 2? Not really a novel, more like a personal history of the holocaust told through the eyes of the author's father, a survivor. Really grim stuff, Spiegelman pulls no punches. Almost hard to read in parts, the books nevertheless contain no graphic gore. A graphic writer can do things a print writer can't. For example, the Jews are drawn as mice (thus "maus," I guess), the Germans as cats (mean ones), and the Poles as pigs.

More recently, I enjoyed Posy Simmonds' Gemma Bovery, a loose re-telling of Flaubert's novel in a modern Anglo, French setting. I liked Simmonds' light touch, both graphically and verbally. It would have tempting caricaturize the village baker ("sank you"), but Simmonds stops well short of that. And Gemma herself leaves a sense of mystery -- what was she all about? Her lover, whom she persuades to leave his family and England for Gemma and France, comes off as a weakling in need of a shave. What does she see in him? Gemma was serialized in one of the London papers a few years ago, published in an attractive book form as the story ended.

I replied: Well, I have tried to read manga, but most of them seem too adolescent. I do have some oddities, like a manga of "The Tale of Genji" which I found too boring to read in the original. I haven't been able to get around to reading the manga version either. I was a huge Pogo fan as a youth. But when I read those books now, it is as if I drained everything interesting from over-reading them decades ago. I have seen Maus, but have not yet read it. Seems too adult to leave around for the kids to read. WIll buy it eventually, I suppose. Didn't he also illustrate Little Lit? We like those. The Gemma Bovery recommendation looks like a winner! I will buy it, read it, then put it in P's xmas pile. Thanks!

Roger wrote: I started up a 'second' book club with my family, and got: Stop the Train by Geraldine McCaughrean. They are all reading it, and we have great discussions.

Neil wrote: My best books read last year (not new ones) were: Quarantine and The Gift of Stones both by Jim Crace, who is in my view the best English living author and whose books are both original in concept and have a poetic rhythmic flow to the writing. I also loved Vernon GL but then so did most people so maybe I can't get a European subsidy for my planned trip to Sardinia out of that one.