Thursday, 4 April 2013

Books: Stardust


Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Charles Vess

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Ok - so howsabout I try and keep this short (for once?).

No I haven't seen the film. Don't much want to either [1]: I mean - just judging from the clips and bits of trailers and that it looks like it's got as much soul and authentic rustic English atmosphere as a McDonald's Happy Meal [2].

I did try reading the book [4] a long while back: but didn't get very far. I think it's the thing where if your headspace is in "comics" it can be a bit much to be suddenly attacked by a multitude of words coming at you from all sides: it's like if you think you're going to watch an episode of something and then all of a sudden it's a film - and you're like: what the hell is this? And your brain can't take it and decides to flop out through your ears - you know? (see also: Posy Simmonds' Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe).

But - what the hey: I was stuck for something to read: this was on my "maybe" pile - so I thought what the hey: let's give this baby a go.

And: well - yeah: to be perfectly frank - it really hit the spot: and I'll tell you - spending your Thursday lunchtime with a hot soup and a nice little homemade sandwich by your side: with the first two Strokes albums on your ipod and looking up from your reading to watch the April snow drift outside - well: it's a pretty sweet set-up: thank you very much (or - like it says at one point in the book (talking about something totally different admittedly): it's "exhilarating, and intoxicating, and fine.”

The guy who does the pictures (which like I said: aren't really "comics" but are more like the type of thing you'd find in a top-of-the-line children's book from the late Victorian age: in fact - the whole book is like: the kind of thing that seems like it would be best discovered in a small library at the bottom of an sun-drenched English garden when you've somewhere in the wilds between still being a child and not quite yet a teenager: and you've been given the whole of the day to do whatever the hell you want... So you find this library: in fact - maybe it would be better described as a little hut with books inside (but whatever) and somehow you get the door open by giving it the biggest shove you have: inside it's all dusty: so dusty that you can see it floating in the air in the beams of sunshine that smash in through the windows and you nose around all these handsomely bound leather books with strange names: that are half-English and half-something else (French maybe? You can't say for certain) and then - right at the end - on a bottom shelf where there's nothing else: there's this book: and you know (even before you pick it up) that it's the book you're going to spend your whole weekend getting lost in: well - Stardust is that book: or (at least) that's the way reading it (if you're reading it properly) is going to make you feel): but yeah (sorry that got a way from me a little) the artwork is by Charles Vess (not - as I thought when I started: P. Craig Russell: but then that's an easy mistake to make right? Especially how P. Craig Russell does the art for every other Neil Gaiman comic out there....): Vess some of you Sandman readers might recognize as the guy who illustrated the two Shakespeare stories: A Midsummer Night's Dream [7] and The Tempest [8] (the final issue of the series): as good as those two stories were tho - the artwork didn't actually manage to leave much of impression in my mind which leads me to the conclusion that maybe Vess isn't cut out for comics work: especially as - well: pretty much everything that he does in the pages of Stardust feels top-of-the-line [9] with a delightful lightness-of-touch that (compared to the smashing drums and distorted guitars of other comic book artists) makes you feel like you're listening to a piano sonata or a string quartet.

(Although - I must say - there were a few annoying points here-and-there where the placement of a picture managed to ruin the surprises and twists before you managed to read them: but - I don't know - maybe that was part of the point or something?).

Of course (or maybe this is just obvious to the hardcore Neil Gaiman fans out there?) it's seems like it was written to slot alongside the Yoshitaka Amano version of the Dream Hunters: and while that's a fairy-tale story told with all the ingredients from the far East - Stardust is a very English affair (maybe I should have been listening to The Kinks or something instead?) - it takes it's own sweet ("Years passed.") time to get to where it's going: but - hey: what you rushing for anyway? Sometimes it's nice to have something a little bit ballad-edy - right? Without any frivolous modern references or whatever (see: any kids cartoon based on a classic fairy-tale: you know what I mean - right? Like how they all have a bullet-time reference or a joke about bodily functions): the nearest Stardust gets to that is when one character (when asked her name) replies: "I answer to "hey you!" or to "girl!" or to "foolish slattern!" or to many another imprecation." (and what the hell is a slattern? Or an imprecation?).

I mean: I could try and devel a little bit more into what and why exactly the whole concept of fairy-tale does and the hold that (if it's done right) it can still hold over us (it's like soup or something you know? Basic ingredients that everyone knows backwards - but if you serve and season it with enough care and love and attention: well - it hits a spot inside you that nothing else really gets close to - because (and this is because yeah - you know: you hear them most when you're a kid blah blah blah) - it hits you somewhere in the centre: somewhere in your core).

But like I said - I'm gonna keep this one short. So maybe just pick up a copy and read it yourself. "Here, truly, there by Dragons. Also gryphons, wyverns, hippogriffs, basilisks, and hydras."

[1] Matthew Vaughn? Layer Cake = Yes. Kick-Ass = Ok. X-Men: First Class = No Thank you.

[2] If anyone asked me then I would have recommended they got the 80s version of Terry Gilliam to direct it for them: I'm thinking particularly of Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (but then he is my go-to-guy for most fantasy adaptations (oops - pun unintended: ha)- so what the hey): and if he's busy then - I dunno - Ridley Scott in his Legend phase or whoever it was that directed Labyrinth [3].

[3] Holy moly - Jim Henson!

[4] And - urg - like with seemingly all Neil Gaiman books [5] I guess I should make clear which book I'm talking about seeing how there's two different versions: there's the Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess version (cover above) that is described as a "story book with pictures" and isn't really a comic book: but - what the hey - that's where the library shelves it seeing how it doesn't really fit anywhere else: that's the one we'll talk about (and that's the one that came first). But - just so you know: there's also a "proper book" (ie no pictures version) that was released by Neil Gaiman a few years later (I haven't read it so couldn't tell you if it has an extra words or whatever: but judging from what's written on the wikipedia page: it doesn't seem like it.....But hey - if that's wrong - I'm sure someone will show up in the comments and correct me - right?).

[5] See also: Neverwhere, Coraline, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters and Murder Mysteries: all of which are available in multiple formats (I don't know if this is a good thing or bad thing: make up your own mind).

[6] Not that I'm a total Strokes devotee or something (in fact: I'm probably floating in the same sort of orbit as Nick Southall: "Sometimes I listen to this record and I enjoy the fact that it’s just 11 great scuzzy pop songs. And sometimes I listen to this record and think it’s an ideological black hole, a vacuum, a vortex, an evil, dark, empty, hollow, selfish, greedy, solipsistic thing, the death of culture, and that it shouldn’t be allowed.").

[7] As collected in The Sandman: Dream Country.

[8] As collected in The Sandman: The Wake.

[9] This is the bit that I will mention that Vess also drew - as so delightedly described on wikipedia - "a prose-based inset that appeared in Sandman #62": which is a really good example of how weightless his art can feel when freed from the stifling restrictions of the comic panel.


Further reading: The Sandman: The Dream HuntersCoraline, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Murder Mysteries, Gemma Bovery, The Sandman, The HobbitSagaSmax, The Unwritten.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

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