Deconstructing: Neil Gaiman Pt 2

If you haven’t checked out the previous blog on this topic, you should do so here. This is part of an ongoing series of new things that I’m doing on the blog here; looking at the careers of famous creative people and deconstructing them for lessons. Hopefully ones in the future will be shorter.


We left off last time with Neil Gaiman just starting to write for comics. After writing Black Orchid for DC, people at the company felt that he needed to work on another property in order to get his name out there, since both he and Dave McCean were not driving sales based just on name recognition at the time. In a number of interviews and talks about it, Gaiman has detailed the series of exchanges that went back and forth between him and the editor about what property he would work on. Eventually, they settled on Sandman

The story about Sandman is long, spanning 75 issues, and Gaiman himself has done a number of talks that can be found on Youtube which are going to be infinitely more eloquent than what I can do here. Instead, we’re going to drill in on a few different aspects of the process.

Prior to writing his pitch, Gaiman was stranded in a small town in England due to severe weather knocking out power and any external communications. As a result, he was forced to sit and, essentially, think. Unable to do much else, his mind ticked away and eventually spat out the reboot idea for Sandman, the Endless, and everything else that would become the full series.

This is a great lesson – sometimes you just need to unplug, you need to get away from it all. Even in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s, a lot of people were already spending a lot of time watching television, and Gaiman mentions that it was here that he was away from distractions. Working as a journalist and writer at the time, one can deduce from discussions and stories from the time that Gaiman was working hard and still not making a “middle class income”. 

This fits how a number of different outbreaks happen – unplugging and giving oneself lots of time to just think and process. The time “unplugged” by Gaiman has been mirrored in the descriptions of creative processes of a lot of other creators and can be pulled into your own creative endeavors.

Sandman was a property of firsts. It was the first property to be repackaged and sold as a trade-paper back during its initial run, and there was a full reprint of the early editions before it was even completed. Also, once Gaiman finished his work on it, DC didn’t assign a new creative team to the task of continuing it.

Dealing with the first of these first – this is a lesson of packaging your work as a creative. Though DC almost certainly had the final say on this, the lesson still stands. Find ways to get paid more than once from your work, try to find ways to package and re-package your work. If you sell short stories – repackage them into anthologies. There’s a lot to this.

The other lesson from this comes from how Gaiman marketed Sandman. In appearances he would make over the years, he would mention that Sandman would end when he was done his writing. He knew that this essentially never happened in the world of comic books. And yet, that is exactly what happened.

Again, speculating from the outside is a dangerous thing. We aren’t positive why the management at DC made this decision, unless they come and tell me. That’d be awesome. There are two things that seem to have influenced this decision. The first was Gaiman sticking to his guns and continuing to say, knowing that it would be a hard sell, that this was his position. He did not capitulate or give up in the face of adversity. The second was that he demonstrated that this was something that only he could do. He put out his best work every moment for Sandman, and it shows. Not all writers, especially when writing for a product that they will not be able to control, tend to hold back. They don’t use their best ideas for fear that, I don’t know, they won’t get more? One of the few things I’ve learned from my admittedly beginning forays into the creative field is that no – you get more ideas, and you get better ones. Its a muscle and you’ve got to exercise it.

Next time – American Gods and Novels.

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