clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Our favorite Neil Gaiman books, comics, and more

From early short stories to a surprise appearance on Arthur

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Tom Sturridge as Dream sits in an ornate chair in front of a curtain in a photo from Netflix’s The Sandman Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

This week, Netflix’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman makes its debut. It’s been a long, long road for the adaptation of the legendary comic, and Gaiman’s involvement helped keep the adaptation true to his intent while making some key changes.

With the series out, what better time to celebrate the work of Gaiman, whose writing has been featured across basically every possible writing medium you could think of? Here are some of our favorite novels, short stories, graphic novels, TV episodes, and other assorted works from the author (and for something more Sandman-specific, here are our favorite storylines from the comic).

The Sandman

A page from issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings,” from The Sandman. Image: Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg/DC Comics

While the question of whether or not The Sandman is Neil Gaiman’s best work is a matter of debate, I emphatically maintain that it is the most Neil Gaiman work. This is because, as my colleague Susana Polo so eloquently explains, The Sandman was the product not only of a once-in-a-lifetime moment in comics publishing history, but of a young and ambitious writer who poured every one of his creative passions into the work for fear that he might not have such an opportunity again.

The result was not only one of the biggest cult hits in superhero comics (if not the biggest), but a primer for the types of stories Gaiman would go on to write throughout the rest of his career. The quarreling deities and modern anthropomorphic aspects of American Gods? That’s in The Sandman. The urban fantasy elements and far-flung folklore of Neverwhere and Stardust? That’s in The Sandman. The whimsical horror-humor of Coraline? You guessed it — The Sandman. If nothing else, The Sandman is a perfect entry point for any potential reader to acquaint themselves with Neil Gaiman’s particular style of writing. The Sandman feels like the ur-text for every story Gaiman might conceivably aspire to write in the future. —Toussaint Egan

Good Omens

Cover art for Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Image: Workman Publishing

Good Omens is one of those pop culture things I had heard about but never really fully known what the heck it was about — till I finally read the book and absolutely fell in love with it and understood all the hype. Written by both Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, Good Omens somehow turns the apocalypse into a witty and charming musing on the joys of humanity.

At its core, it’s about Aziraphale and Crowley, an angel and a demon, who’ve spent the last few thousands of years cycling in and out of each other’s lives, and as such have grown rather fond of each other and living on Earth. They team up to stop the apocalypse from happening, even though their celestial and infernal bosses really want the end of the world to just kick off already.

The television adaptation, which stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant, is just as delightful — and fleshes out Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship even more. It’s getting a second season. Gaiman has a lot of input in it and it will incorporate bits of the sequel he and Pratchett never got to write, so here’s hoping it holds up. —Petrana Radulovic

Smoke and Mirrors

Cover art for Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors,” with a woman hugging a snowy tree behind a bushel of apples and the quote “Lies and half-truths fall like snow” Image: HarperCollins

Gaiman is, if nothing else, a versatile writer. In addition to comics and novels, he’s penned works as diverse as one of the most beloved episodes of Doctor Who and the English screenplay for Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. But for my money, there’s nothing that Gaiman does better than short stories.

First published in 1998, Smoke and Mirrors collects pieces dating as far back as 1984. The reader will find erotica, a Christmas card, dreamy sci-fi, fairy tale retellings, deconstructions of the great fantasy authors, and even a bit of poetry within. But above all, they’ll discover Gaiman’s talent for the short, fantastical horror yarn that winds you up with unease and ends with — well, if you don’t hear the Cryptkeeper cackle as if from a great distance, maybe you’re not paying attention. —Susana Polo


The cover for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust Image: Charles Vess/DC Comics

My favorite trivia fact about Stardust is that Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones once compared notes on John Donne’s “Song” — and in response to that poem, Gaiman wrote Stardust and Jones wrote Howl’s Moving Castle.

Both the original novel and the movie version of Stardust play with fairy tale conventions (in a similar way that Howl’s Moving Castle does). It follows Tristran Thorn (Tristan in the movie), who promises to fetch a fallen star for the most beautiful girl in his village — only to find out that the fallen star is actually a headstrong young lady. There’s faeries, witches, pirates on floating ships — it’s a fun romp and a compelling romance. And somehow, the film version manages to capture the magic, albeit with a few changes to make it more cinematic and give it a happier ending.

However, the original book ending is one of the most poignant, bittersweet endings I’ve ever read and it holds a special place in my heart for just how devastated it makes me feel. —PR


Cover art for Neil Gaiman’s Coraline Image: HarperCollins

Coraline is a children’s horror masterpiece. I still remember finding the book at my local library, at once spellbound and terrified by illustrated cover, which showed off a character with buttons for eyes. I had recently made the jump from the early readers section into middle grade chapter books, and I was fully judging books by their covers. Little did I know how strongly this iconography would haunt me for weeks to come. It also made me a young Neil Gaiman fan.

I could not remember the last time I read a book that quickly. The conceit is genuinely frightening, even if you’re adult, and incredibly relatable as a child. Much like other portal-to-another-world children’s suspense (see also: Spirited Away), Coraline stars a young girl who wishes her life could be a little different after moving to a new home. She crawls through a small door and into another universe, where she meets Other Mother, who makes her favorite foods and lets her have the adventures she truly wants. The catch? She can’t ever leave. Also, her eyes will be replaced with buttons, like all residents of this universe.

The movie adaptation is also excellent. In a beautiful coincidence, I had just become obsessed with stop motion, particularly that era of campy Tim Burton horror — especially anything directed by Henry Selick. Coraline was adapted by the animation studio Laika (years later they made Kubo and the Two Strings, an absolute marvel of animation). The Selick-directed Coraline movie is whimsical, wonderful, and most importantly, absolutely terrifying. I watched it when I was in sixth grade, and it gave me nightmares for weeks. It was, and still is, everything I ever wanted. —Nicole Clark

His 2012 “Make Good Art” commencement speech

In 2012, I was a junior in college, approaching the end of my education and the start of a career in a volatile industry. This commencement speech, which I stumbled upon after a friend shared it on Facebook, had a massive positive impact on me at a time I needed that boost.

The whole thing is worthwhile, but one part in particular is worth calling out.

People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

It’s a valuable life lesson, especially as work creeps more and more into every part of our lives. I’m grateful I heard it at a time I really needed it. —Pete Volk

His Tumblr Presence

Before I elaborate — yes, people still use Tumblr and it’s far more popular than most people think. Neil Gaiman has been an active Tumblr user since 2011, and he still actively uses the microblogging platform to this day. This is notable, because celebrities have notoriously been bullied off of Tumblr. Yet somehow, Neil Gaiman has outlived them all, watching from the shadows of his own dashboard.

He keeps his ask box open and answers questions from fans. He gives life and writing advice. He talks about the various adaptations of his works, giving information he is able to give and answering with a signature “wait and see” when he cannot. He plays along with dumb jokes and reblogs additions. He helps fans track down obscure lines he’s written. And as is the reality of the internet, he deals with his share of haters and trolls, but he’s always remarkably graceful toward them.

He also reblogs posts, adding on new information, providing funny commentary, or giving helpful tips (this usually causes some surprise from people who organically stumble upon a comment from Neil Gaiman in the wild, and it’s always really amusing to see).

He’s just a good presence on the internet, which is exceedingly rare to see these days. —PR

Neil Gaiman? What are you doing in my falafel?

I’d be remiss if I did not mention the episode of PBS Kids series Arthur where Neil Gaiman comes to advise Sue Ellen about writing her own graphic novel. In the episode, she meets Gaiman (his Arthur-sona, at least, which is a cat) at a book reading and he gifts her a copy of the Coraline graphic novel. When she attempts to write her own book and gets discouraged by her friends’ feedback and her own self-doubts, an imaginary version of Gaiman appears to give her some good advice! It’s a lovely episode about the creative process — but also offers the hilarity of a tiny catlike Neil Gaiman sitting in falafel. —PR

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.