Gaiman's family is of Polish and other Eastern European-Jewish origins; his great-grandfather emigrated to the UK from Antwerp, Belgium before 1914 and his grandfather eventually settled in the Hampshire city of Portsmouth and established a chain of grocery stores. His father, David Bernard Gaiman, worked in the same chain of stores; his mother, Sheila Gaiman (née Goldman), was a pharmacist. He has two younger sisters, Claire and Lizzy. After living for a period in the nearby town of Portchester, Hampshire, where Neil was born in 1960, the Gaimans moved in 1965 to the West Sussex town of East Grinstead where his parents studied Dianetics at the Scientology centre in the town; one of Gaiman's sisters works for the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. His other sister, Lizzy Calcioli, has said, "Most of our social activities were involved with Scientology or our Jewish family. It would get very confusing when people would ask my religion as a kid. I’d say, 'I’m a Jewish Scientologist.'" Gaiman says that he is not a Scientologist, and that like Judaism, Scientology is his family's religion. About his personal views, Gaiman has stated, "I think we can say that God exists in the DC Universe. I would not stand up and beat the drum for the existence of God in this universe. I don't know, I think there's probably a 50/50 chance. It doesn't really matter to me."
Gaiman was able to read at the age of four. He said, "I was a reader. I loved reading. Reading things gave me pleasure. I was very good at most subjects in school, not because I had any particular aptitude in them, but because normally on the first day of school they'd hand out schoolbooks, and I'd read them—which would mean that I'd know what was coming up, because I'd read it." When he was about ten years old, he read his way through the works of Dennis Wheatley, where especially The Ka of Gifford Hillary and The Haunting of Toby Jugg made an impact on him. One work that made a particular impression on him was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings from his school library, although it only had the first two books in the trilogy. He consistently took them out and read them. He would later win the school English prize and the school reading prize, enabling him finally to acquire the third book in the trilogy.
For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. He later recalled that "I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you ... I'd think, 'Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses.' I liked the power of putting things in brackets."Narnia also introduced him to literary awards, specifically the 1956 Carnegie Medal won by the concluding volume. When Gaiman won the 2010 Medal himself, the press reported him recalling, "... it had to be the most important literary award there ever was" and observing, "if you can make yourself aged seven happy, you're really doing well – it's like writing a letter to yourself aged seven."
Gaiman was educated at several Church of England schools, including Fonthill School in East Grinstead,Ardingly College (1970–74), and Whitgift School in Croydon (1974–77). His father's position as a public relations official of the Church of Scientology was the cause of the seven-year-old Gaiman being blocked from entering a boys' school, forcing him to remain at the school that he had previously been attending. He lived in East Grinstead for many years, from 1965 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1987. He met his first wife, Mary McGrath, while she was studying Scientology and living in a house in East Grinstead that was owned by his father. The couple were married in 1985 after having their first child, Michael.
Journalism, early writings, and literary influences
In the early 1980s, Gaiman pursued journalism, conducting interviews and writing book reviews, as a means to learn about the world and to make connections that he hoped would later assist him in getting published. He wrote and reviewed extensively for the British Fantasy Society. His first professional short story publication was "Featherquest", a fantasy story, in Imagine Magazine in May 1984.
When waiting for a train at London's Victoria Station in 1984, Gaiman noticed a copy of Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore, and carefully read it. Moore's fresh and vigorous approach to comics had such an impact on Gaiman that he would later write; "that was the final straw, what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics".
In 1984, he wrote his first book, a biography of the band Duran Duran, as well as Ghastly Beyond Belief, a book of quotations, with Kim Newman. Even though Gaiman thought he did a terrible job, the book's first edition sold out very quickly. When he went to relinquish his rights to the book, he discovered the publisher had gone bankrupt. After this, he was offered a job by Penthouse. He refused the offer.
He also wrote interviews and articles for many British magazines, including Knave. During this he sometimes wrote under pseudonyms, including Gerry Musgrave, Richard Grey, and "a couple of house names". Gaiman has said he ended his journalism career in 1987 because British newspapers regularly publish untruths as fact. In the late 1980s, he wrote Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion in what he calls a "classic English humour" style. Following on from that he wrote the opening of what would become his collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the comic novelGood Omens, about the impending apocalypse.
The Sandman tells the tale of the ageless, anthropomorphic personification of Dream that is known by many names, including Morpheus. The series began in January 1989 and concluded in March 1996. In the eighth issue of The Sandman, Gaiman and artist Mike Dringenberg introduced Death, the older sister of Dream, who would become as popular as the series' title character. The Death: The High Cost of Living limited series launched DC's Vertigo line in 1993. The 75 issues of the regular series, along with an illustrated prose text and a special containing seven short stories, have been collected into 12 volumes that remain in print, 14 if the Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life spin-offs are included. Artists include Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel and Michael Zulli, lettering by Todd Klein, colours by Daniel Vozzo, and covers by Dave McKean. The series became one of DC's top selling titles, eclipsing even Batman and Superman. Comics historian Les Daniels called Gaiman's work "astonishing" and noted that The Sandman was "a mixture of fantasy, horror, and ironic humor such as comic books had never seen before." DC Comics writer and executive Paul Levitz observed that "The Sandman became the first extraordinary success as a series of graphic novel collections, reaching out and converting new readers to the medium, particularly young women on college campuses, and making Gaiman himself into an iconic cultural figure."
Gaiman and Jamie Delano were to become co-writers of the Swamp Thing series following Rick Veitch. An editorial decision by DC to censor Veitch's final storyline caused both Gaiman and Delano to withdraw from the title.
In 1990, Gaiman wrote The Books of Magic, a four-part mini-series that provided a tour of the mythological and magical parts of the DC Universe through a frame story about an English teenager who discovers that he is destined to be the world's greatest wizard. The miniseries was popular, and sired an ongoing series written by John Ney Rieber.
In the mid-1990s, he also created a number of new characters and a setting that was to be featured in a title published by Tekno Comix. The concepts were then altered and split between three titles set in the same continuity: Lady Justice, Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man, and Teknophage. They were later featured in Phage: Shadow Death and Wheel of Worlds. Although Gaiman's name appeared prominently on all titles, he was not involved in writing of any of the above-mentioned books.
Asked why he likes comics more than other forms of storytelling, Gaiman said: "One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground. It was virgin territory. When I was working on Sandman, I felt a lot of the time that I was actually picking up a machete and heading out into the jungle. I got to write in places and do things that nobody had ever done before. When I’m writing novels I’m painfully aware that I’m working in a medium that people have been writing absolutely jaw-droppingly brilliant things for, you know, three-four thousand years now. You know, you can go back. We have things like The Golden Ass. And you go, well, I don’t know that I’m as good as that and that's two and a half thousand years old. But with comics I felt like – I can do stuff nobody has ever done. I can do stuff nobody has ever thought of. And I could and it was enormously fun."
In a collaboration with author Terry Pratchett best known for his series of Discworld novels, Gaiman's first novel Good Omens was published in 1990. In recent years Pratchett has said that while the entire novel was a collaborative effort and most of the ideas could be credited to both of them, Pratchett did a larger portion of writing and editing if for no other reason than Gaiman's scheduled involvement with Sandman.
The 1996 novelisation of Gaiman's teleplay for the BBC mini-series Neverwhere was his first solo novel. The novel was released in tandem with the television series though it presents some notable differences from the television series. Gaiman has since revised the novel twice, the first time for an American audience unfamiliar with the London Underground, the second time because he felt unsatisfied with the original.
In 1999 first printings of his fantasy novel Stardust were released. The novel has been released both as a standard novel and in an illustrated text edition.
American Gods became one of Gaiman's best-selling and multi-award winning novels upon its release in 2001. A special 10th Anniversary edition was released, with the "author's preferred text" 12,000 words longer than the original mass-market editions.
Gaiman has not written a direct sequel to American Gods but he has revisited the characters. A glimpse at Shadow's travels in Europe is found in a short story which finds him in Scotland, applying the same concepts developed in American Gods to the story of Beowulf. The 2005 novel Anansi Boys deals with Anansi ('Mr. Nancy'), tracing the relationship of his two sons, one semi-divine and the other an unassuming Englishman, as they explore their common heritage. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list.
In late 2008, Gaiman released a new children's book, The Graveyard Book. It follows the adventures of a boy named Bod after his family is murdered and he is left to be brought up by a graveyard. It is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. As of late January 2009[update], it had been on The New York Times Bestseller children's list for fifteen weeks.
As of 2008, Gaiman has several books planned. After a tour of China, he decided to write a non-fiction book about his travels and the general mythos of China. Following that, will be a new 'adult' novel (his first since 2005's Anansi Boys). After that, another 'all-ages' book (in the same vein as Coraline and The Graveyard Book). Following that, Gaiman says that he will release another non-fiction book called The Dream Catchers. In December 2011, Gaiman announced that in January 2012 he would begin work on what is essentially, American Gods 2.
Gaiman wrote the 1996 BBC dark fantasy television series Neverwhere. He cowrote the screenplay for the movie MirrorMask with his old friend Dave McKean for McKean to direct. In addition, he wrote the localised English language script to the anime movie Princess Mononoke, based on a translation of the Japanese script.
Gaiman frequently performs public readings from his stories and poetry, and has toured with his wife, musician Amanda Palmer. In some of these performances he has also sung songs, in "a novelist's version of singing", despite having "no kind of singing voice".
Blog and Twitter
In February 2001, when Gaiman had completed writing American Gods, his publishers set up a promotional web site featuring a weblog in which Gaiman described the day-to-day process of revising, publishing, and promoting the novel. After the novel was published, the web site evolved into a more general Official Neil Gaiman Website.
Gaiman generally posts to the blog describing the day-to-day process of being Neil Gaiman and writing, revising, publishing, or promoting whatever the current project is. He also posts reader emails and answers questions, which gives him unusually direct and immediate interaction with fans. One of his answers on why he writes the blog is "because writing is, like death, a lonely business."
The original American Gods blog was extracted for publication in the NESFA Press collection of Gaiman miscellany, Adventures in the Dream Trade.
To celebrate the seventh anniversary of the blog, the novel American Gods was provided free of charge online for a month.
Gaiman is an active user of the social networking site Twitter with over 1.8 million followers as of February 2013, using the username @neilhimself. In 2013, Gaiman was named by IGN as one of "The Best Tweeters in Comics", describing his posts as "sublime." Gaiman also runs a Tumblr account on which he primarily answers fan questions.
Gaiman is married to songwriter and performer Amanda Palmer. The couple publicly announced that they were dating in June 2009, announced their engagement on Twitter on 1 January 2010. On 16 November 2010, Amanda Palmer hosted a non-legally binding flash mob wedding for Gaiman's birthday in New Orleans. They were legally married on 2 January 2011. The wedding took place in the parlour of writers Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. On marrying Palmer, he took her middle name, MacKinnon, as one of his names.
Friendship with Tori Amos
One of Gaiman's most commented-upon friendships is with the musician Tori Amos, a Sandman fan who became friends with Gaiman after making a reference to "Neil and the Dream King" on her 1991 demo tape. He included her in turn as a character (a talking tree) in his novel Stardust. Amos also mentions Gaiman in her songs, "Tear in Your Hand" ("If you need me, me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the dream king. Neil says hi by the way"), "Space Dog" ("Where's Neil when you need him?"), "Horses" ("But will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?"), "Carbon" ("Get me Neil on the line, no I can't hold. Have him read, 'Snow, Glass, Apples' where nothing is what it seems"), "Sweet Dreams" ("You're forgetting to fly, darling, when you sleep"), and "Not Dying Today" ("Neil is thrilled he can claim he's mammalian, 'but the bad news,' he said, 'girl you're a dandelion'"). He also wrote stories for the tour book of Boys for Pele and Scarlet's Walk, a letter for the tour book of American Doll Posse, and the stories behind each girl in her album Strange Little Girls. Amos penned the introduction for his novel Death: the High Cost of Living, and posed for the cover. She also wrote a song called "Sister Named Desire" based on his Sandman character, which was included on his anthology, Where's Neil When You Need Him?.
Gaiman is godfather to Tori Amos's daughter Tash, and wrote a poem called "Blueberry Girl" for Tori and Tash. The poem has been turned into a book by the illustrator Charles Vess. Gaiman read the poem aloud to an audience at the Sundance Kabuki Theater in San Francisco on 5 October 2008 during his book reading tour for The Graveyard Book. It was published in March 2009 with the title, Blueberry Girl.
In issue No. 9 of the series, Gaiman introduced the characters Angela, Cogliostro, and Medieval Spawn. Prior to this issue, Spawn was an assassin who worked for the government and came back as a reluctant agent of Hell but had no direction. In Angela, a cruel and malicious angel, Gaiman introduced a character who threatened Spawn's existence, as well as providing a moral opposite. Cogliostro was introduced as a mentor character for exposition and instruction, providing guidance. Medieval Spawn introduced a history and precedent that not all Spawns were self-serving or evil, giving additional character development to Malebolgia, the demon that creates Hellspawn.
As intended, all three characters were used repeatedly throughout the next decade by Todd McFarlane within the wider Spawn universe. In papers filed by Gaiman in early 2002, however, he claimed that the characters were jointly owned by their scripter (himself) and artist (McFarlane), not merely by McFarlane in his role as the creator of the series. Disagreement over who owned the rights to a character was the primary motivation for McFarlane and other artists to form Image Comics (although that argument related more towards disagreements between writers and artists as character creators). As McFarlane used the characters without Gaiman's permission or royalty payments, Gaiman believed his copyrighted work was being infringed upon, which violated their original, oral, agreement. McFarlane initially agreed that Gaiman had not signed away any rights to the characters, and negotiated with Gaiman to effectively 'swap' McFarlane's interest in the character Marvelman (McFarlane believes he purchased interest in the character when Eclipse Comics was liquidated; Gaiman is interested in being able to continue his aborted run on that title) but later claimed that Gaiman's work had been work-for-hire and that McFarlane owned all of Gaiman's creations entirely. The presiding judge, however, ruled against their agreement being work for hire, based in large part on the legal requirement that "copyright assignments must be in writing."
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court ruling in February 2004 granting joint ownership of the characters to Gaiman and McFarlane. On the specific issue of Cogliostro, presiding Judge John C. Shabaz proclaimed, "The expressive work that is the comic-book character Count Nicholas Cogliostro was the joint work of Gaiman and McFarlane—their contributions strike us as quite equal—and both are entitled to ownership of the copyright". Similar analysis led to similar results for the other two characters, Angela and Medieval Spawn.
This legal battle was brought by Gaiman and the specifically formed Marvels and Miracles, LLC, which Gaiman created to help sort out the legal rights surrounding Marvelman. Gaiman wrote Marvel 1602 in 2003 to help fund this project. All of Marvel Comics' profits for the original issues of the series went to Marvels and Miracles. In 2009, Marvel Comics purchased Marvelman.
Gaiman returned to court over three more Spawn characters, Dark Ages Spawn, Domina and Tiffany, that are claimed to be "derivative of the three he co-created with McFarlane." The judge ruled that Gaiman was right in his claims and gave McFarlane until the start of September 2010 to settle matters.
Gaiman's work is known for a high degree of allusiveness. Meredith Collins, for instance, has commented upon the degree to which his novel Stardust depends on allusions to Victorian fairy tales and culture. Particularly in The Sandman, literary figures and characters appear often; the character of Fiddler's Green is modelled visually on G. K. Chesterton, both William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer appear as characters, as do several characters from within A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The comic also draws from numerous mythologies and historical periods.
Clay Smith has argued that this sort of allusiveness serves to situate Gaiman as a strong authorial presence in his own works, often to the exclusion of his collaborators. However, Smith's viewpoint is in the minority: to many, if there is a problem with Gaiman scholarship and intertextuality it is that "... his literary merit and vast popularity have propelled him into the nascent comics canon so quickly that there is not yet a basis of critical scholarship about his work."
Though Gaiman's work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure laid out in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Gaiman says that he started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true – I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."
2006 Locus Award, fantasy novel, for Anansi Boys. The book was also nominated for a Hugo Award, but Gaiman asked for it to be withdrawn from the list, stating that he wanted to give other writers a chance and that it was really more fantasy than science fiction.
^Gaiman, Neil (16 January 2009). "Journeys End". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2009. "My paternal great-grandfather came to the UK before 1914; and he would have come from Antwerp."
^Lancaster, James (11 October 2005). "Everyone has the potential to be great". The Argus. pp. 10–11. "David Gaiman quote: "It's not me you should be interviewing. It's my son. Neil Gaiman. He's in the New York Times Bestsellers list. Fantasy. He's flavour of the month, very famous"
^Gaiman, Neil (20 December 2008). "Trees". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Archived from the original on 29 September 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
^"Head Bars Son of Cult Man". The Times. 13 August 1968. p. 2. "A headmaster has refused the son of a scientologist entry to a preparatory school until, he says, the cult "clears its name". The boy, Neil Gaiman, aged 7, (...) Mr. David Gaiman, the father, aged 35, former South Coast businessman, has become in recent weeks a prominent spokesman in Britain for scientology, which has its headquarters at East Grinstead."
^Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 235. ISBN978-0-7566-6742-9. "Neil Gaiman scripted the complex Black Orchid prestige format limited series in December , re-envisioning the character with the help of artist Dave McKean."
^Manning "1980s" in Dolan, p. 238: "In arguably one of the greatest achievements in serialized modern comic books, writer Neil Gaiman crafted the seventy-five-issue ongoing series The Sandman, introducing its readers to a complex world of horror and fantasy."
^Manning "1980s" in Dolan, p. 240: "Neil Gaiman, aided by penciller Mike Dringenberg, introduced the character Death to a fascinated readership...Death was an instant hit and arguably became more popular than the Sandman himself."
^Manning "1990s" in Dolan, p. 262: "In March 1993, DC Comics debuted a three-issue limited series entitled Death: The High Cost of Living...Written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by future comics superstar Chris Bachalo, The High Cost of Living had one notable trait besides a brilliant story: its cover bore a new logo. With this debut, DC's provocative new mature-reader imprint, Vertigo, was born."
^Manning "1990s" in Dolan, p. 247: "Neil Gaiman chronicled the adventures of magic pupil Timothy Hunter in this miniseries. each issue explored the realms of magic as portrayed by a different painter."
^Manning, Matthew K.; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2008). "2000s". Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. Dorling Kindersley. p. 317. ISBN978-0756641238. "Neil Gaiman...took his creative vision and penchant for times past to Marvel, crafting this eight-issue limited series alongside fan-favorite artist Andy Kubert. Digitally painted by Richard Isanove...this series took an alternative look at what the classic Marvel pantheon would be like if they had existed in the 17th century."
^Cowsill, Alan "2000s" in Dolan, p. 337: "Writer Neil Gaiman and art legend Andy Kubert teamed up to present a touching imaginary tale of a wake for the dead Batman...A love song to the Dark Knight's long history...it went on to win SFX's Best Comic award in 2010."
^Sunu, Steve (March 21, 2013). "Gaiman Returns to Marvel, Brings Spawn's Angela". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on March 23, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013. "Later this year, writer Neil Gaiman makes his return to Marvel Comics...Perhaps even more intriguing is the announcement that Gaiman plans to introduce Angela to the Marvel U."
^See Judge Shabaz's ruling for the legal reasoning: "As a co-owner, McFarlane was not violating the Copyright Act by unilaterally publishing the jointly owned work, but, as in any other case of conversion or misappropriation, he would have to account to the other joint owner for the latter's share of the profits."
^See Judge Shabaz's ruling: "A tentative agreement was reached that... Gaiman would exchange his rights in Medieval Spawn and Cogliostro for McFarlane's rights in another comic book character, Miracleman."
^Judge Shabaz, Official ruling, as per "Schiller & Schmidt, Inc. v. Nordisco Corp., 969 F.2d 410, 413 (7th Cir. 1992)"