I think we all have what I refer to as comfort food for the soul — little bits and pieces of things that we have accumulated over the years we can latch onto when we need them, things that make us feel better. A piece of music, a picture, a story or even a particular author all have their place in the pantheon of things that help you over the rough spots.
For most of us these were established many years ago, usually when we were children, and it's rare that we ever admit to ourselves as adults that we still have the need to find something that will serve the same purpose. But on occasion, as an adult, you can experience a traumatic event that takes you out looking for something that will replicate the old friends of childhood.
For just as they say you can't go home again, it seems there are times when the things that brought you comfort as a child bring you no comfort as an adult. Whether it's because the trauma you are coping with is a result of that childhood, so anything associated with it is sullied, or because what had magic for you at ten just doesn't seem to evoke the same response anymore doesn't matter; what matters is you want something you can curl up in like a blanket around your soul.
Initially, I tried my old favourites, but they got tired soon, and most were not as I remembered them. Or even worse, my jaundiced adult eye saw all the things I missed as a child; things that evoked reactions that weren't guaranteed to bring me comfort. As a child, you didn't notice that all the villains happened to be swarthy, or talk with strange foreign accents, and that the heroes and heroines seemed to be fighting to preserve the values of the British Empire.
Thankfully, some years after others discovered him, a bespectacled young wizard helped restore my faith in the ability of reading to instill magic. He and his adult author helped steady the earth under my feet when it was particularly unstable. In the four years since then, the ranks of authors and characters have swelled to the level where I'm able to find at least one new work a month that worms its way beneath my skin to make my heart beat a little faster and calm the fire in my brain.
But it wasn't until last month that the final piece of the puzzle dropped into place, which enabled me to build a bridge back to the books of childhood that had been my anchor in days gone by. My wife came home with a DVD called Mirror Mask, written by a man named Neil Gaiman and designed by Dave McKean. It was a fantastical journey into the mind of a young girl driven to distraction by the illness of her mother.
The story was the perfect mixture of whimsy, fear, and truth that makes you want to cry, laugh, and gasp for breath all at the same time. Combined with the illustrations of Dave McKean, which were brought to life with the usual impeccable magic of the folk at the Jim Henson factory, it wove a spell over me that wasn't going to go anywhere soon.
Now I wasn't completely ignorant of his existence before; I had heard others praise his graphic novel The Sandman to the skies, but hadn't had the opportunity to read any of his work myself. Obtaining Mr. Gaiman's Stardust and Coraline to review, I found they lived up to my expectations — indeed, this would be the understatement of the year, if not the decade. Where had this man's writing been hiding? Who had kept it from me and why and, of course, where could I get more of it? Lots more of it so that I could stuff myself past the bursting point.
I wanted to have his words squeezing out of my ears, so I would leave a trail of them that I could follow home on those days I was feeling particularly lost. It was thinking such extravagant thoughts of praise while reading Stardust that the idea came to me. Why not celebrate his work as a special feature at Blogcritics? We do it with musicians and bands on a monthly basis in the music section, why not an author in the books section?
So that's what we're going to do here at Blogcritics, and Desicritics is going to join in on the fun and round up some of their authors to review, talk about, opine, and generally go on about Mr. Gaiman's work as well. We're even getting a couple of guest reviewers to grace our pages. Confirmed so far are the Indian author, Ashok K. Banker, author of the modern Ramayana, and Robert Scott, co-author of The Eldarn Sequence, with one more pending, and hopefully he will agree as well. (I'm not going to mention his name, because I don't want to pressure him into making a decision – authors have insane schedules sometimes and can't even commit to seeing their family for dinner let alone try and write 1,000 words about someone else's work.)
Any Blogcritics writer is, of course, encouraged to participate — simply find something of Neil's you want to write about for one reason or another, and once it's published, let our books editor, Natalie Bennett, know so she can a link your post to Gaiman central (here). There has to be close to 1600 of us writing at Blogcritics now, so I expect to see a few stories pop up.
I've even had the nerve to ask about an interview with Mr. Gaiman — but don't hold your breath on that one. I would like to finish off the last day of the month with something special — it being Halloween and all — so if anyone thinks up a real grand idea to mark the occasion, don't be shy and let us know in the usual ways.
Like I noted above, I got a head start on everyone else and already have two reviews published, but would sure love to see the list below start growing as of Sunday, October 1 (or shortly thereafter). Even if you only want to talk about your favourite issue of one of his comics, that would be great!
For more reviews and views about Neil Gaiman: