Neil Gaiman is a hugely important figure for comic-book fans in their 20s and 30s. For many of us, he represented a shift from the traditional superheroes we had been raised on — the caped crusaders, the men of steel — but Gaiman, and most notably his creation The Sandman, also marked the first time many of us felt like there was someone cool within the ranks of comics geeks. Gaiman was, and continues to be, one of the only writers in any genre who can effortlessly excite comic-book fans, literary fiction readers, and everybody in between. He is pleasing to read whether you’re a fan of horror, a fan of sci-fi, or even a fan of T. S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land is quoted in this 1988 advertisement trumpeting the eerie arrival of Sandman:
His friend and one of his only equals, Alan Moore, may have written more iconic stories for classic characters and had more films adapted from his work (albeit ones he wanted nothing to do with), but Gaiman’s appeal both within and beyond the world of comics puts him in a class by itself. He is, simply put, the most important living comic writer.
A quarter-century after The Sandman‘s debut Gaiman, who celebrated his 52nd birthday yesterday, could fully justify resting on his laurels. But he still continues to produce must-have work, and recently published the first installment of a bimonthly six-issue series, The Sandman: Overture. It’s interesting to see him revisit the title that brought him his initial fame, and fans will no doubt find it a welcome return.
What seems to resonate with those of us who have read Gaiman, be it The Sandman or one of his bestselling novels, like American Gods, is that despite his own devoted following, the author remains a devoted fan of the writers he learned his craft from, and this has helped him transcend the genre where he’s found the most success.
Although Gaiman once said, “I’m not the best person to say if something’s influenced me or not,” when asked about Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, he has expressed admiration for a number of writers who came before him. Take a close enough look at the authors below, and you’ll start to see how they’ve impacted his work.