GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Get Gaiman?: PolyMorpheus Perversity in Works by and about Neil Gaiman by Clay Smith

Or, how Neil Gaiman is a myth: 

‘While the criticism that I cited at the beginning of my essay promotes Gaiman over the gaming that occurs in/with/through texts, it does provide us with an effective means for observing how polyMorpheus perversity maintains Gaiman’s author(ity). As indicated above, one of the primary causes of this perversity is the attribution by critics of the works produced under the name “Neil Gaiman” to a single [and singular] authorial source. Often these critics illustrate their claims about Gaiman’s author(ity) by including panels from his graphic novels (most often from the Sandman series). In doing so, these critics deny the existence of the authors/others (e.g. inkers, colorists, editors) involved in the production of those panels and the series in which they appear; instead these critics promote the textuality that they see in these panels as a product of Gaiman’s author(ity), thereby further obscuring Gaiman’s authors/others and promoting polyMorpheus perversity.

Attention to these authors/others within Gaiman’s work(s) reveals the extensive promotion and production of Gaiman’s exclusive author(ity). Interviews with artists like Kelley Jones describe how Gaiman’s storylines enable his own creativity in ways that he would not realize otherwise. To illustrate his claims, Jones notes how he added intricate details to his visual designs of Hell’s Gate and other referential images (e.g., dreams attributed to historical persons like El Cid and Columbus) to his work on the Sandman series (Bender 102). He also notes that he adopted previous artistic styles (e.g., those characterizing 19th c. Japanese woodcuts and Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings as well as the works of Audrey Beardsley and August Doré) to accentuate the diversity of cultural references in his work for Seasons of Mist. While none of these visual elements or styles appear explicitly in Gaiman’s verbal narrative for this series, they do coexist with(in) the published version of these Sandman stories through Jones’s illustrations. However, they do so only because Gaiman author(ize)s them: initially by sketching the plotline which they illustrate, then by placing his authorial approval on them – essentially (re)authoring them as part of his own incorporative production. In other words, Jones’s elements remain invisible until readers are told that they may see them and even that they exist. The work of authors/others within the body of Gaiman’s work(s) exist only after they have been (re)articulated by Gaiman…

This processing of authors/others into an author(ized/ing) product illustrates a central aspect of Gaiman’s strategy to promote his author(ity). Here the process reveals its complexity by first having Gaiman (re)articulate the product, then by having Jones echo that reauthorization in his interview, then by having Bender (re)authorize it (visually within a grayed text box thereby formally separating it from the main-text/interview body) so that readers can see that the inspirational intersection of Gaiman’s and Jones’s articulations of the Sandman story is actually engendered exclusively through Gaiman’s author(ity). Gaiman’s approval of the storyboards did not include such detail or stylistics; such detail and stylistics emerged only after/through Gaiman’s approval within the space that he had originally created and actively controls. In other words, Jones would not have been able to create the visual analogs of (re)articulation and referentiality in his panels without Gaiman’s originary and continuous (re)authorization. As this example illustrates, Jones’s (re)articulation is actually an iteration of Gaiman’s author(ity). Such foreclosure of textuality defines a key aspect of polyMorpheus perversity by revealing how the apparent openings for/of textual free play are foreclosed by Gaiman’s author(ity). Readers come to see textuality only by forgetting the authors/others for the pleasure of knowing Gaiman’s author(ity).

…Again, Gaiman appears as the controlling nexus from which artistic creativity and familial fulfillment can and do emerge – a mythic empowerment of Gaiman’s author(ity). According to these testaments, Gaiman’s guiding hand is everywhere, whether we see it or not. And if we do see it, we see yet another example of the polyMorpheus perversity that we must come to know through such openings.

Further examples of the extent of Gaiman’s authority occur in the anthology The Sandman: Book of Dreams (1996). There various authors intersect, invoke, and interject Gaiman’s Sandman storyline within their own works, but only under Gaiman’s literal and figurative author(ity). Because Gaiman occupies a paratextual role in this collection, The Sandman: Book of Dreams illustrates how pervasive his author(ity) is: while he appears only as a nominal identity within this collection, his author(ity) manifests itself throughout the entire work in implicit and explicit ways; in doing so, Gaiman appears as a virtually anonymous author(ity) validating each of the anthology’s authors and her/his work.

While Gaiman’s name appears in only four places, those places serve to (re)author those works that appear in this collection: his name appears (1) on the cover as the editor (along with an otherwise silent Ed Kramer), (2) at the anthology’s end as part of advertising for his other works, (3) a brief bio note, and (4) at the anthology’s beginning as one of the creators of Sandman characters (Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg are also listed). This last appearance informs his author(ity) in this anthology: the formal declaration of genesis follows the legal declaration of DC Comics’ trademark ownership of the “Sandman and all related characters, slogans, and indicia” and precedes the statement: “The Authors assert the moral right to be identified as the authors in this work.” Yet this disclosure of textuality appears virtually invisible: buried so that only a very few readers may ever find it. However, Gaiman’s nominal primacy overshadows the presence of any authors/others.

While such manipulation remains relatively hidden, the hand of Gaiman’s author(ity) appears more explicitly throughout much of his work in the form of citations, commentary, paratextuality – in short, though his attributive incorporation of the bodies of other works within the body of his work(s). Throughout his work(s), Gaiman utilizes a constant rhetorical strategy that explicitly and implicitly cites/sites citationality within his works not as textual free play but as textual foreclosure. Most often these references appear in the form of direct and indirect quotes embedded within the body of his work, but they also assume other forms of reference to other authors and cultural events. Despite its presence in seemingly different formats (graphic novels, interviews, and webpages), this referentiality (re)articulates the same message: Gaiman is the vortex (one of his recurrent images) from which his unique narrativity exudes and from which most readers cannot (do not want to) escape.

While such promotion may not seem surprising given the commercialism of such sites, its blurring of the lines between product and producer(s) reflects Gaiman’s larger rhetorical strategy designed to privilege him as the author(ity) of all of his works. Moreover, those readers who get Gaiman’s gaming with such sites (the dimensions of his [and Wolfe’s] parodic walking tour book and its virtual presence) seem to approximate an intimacy with Gaiman’s manipulation (and thereby approximate an intimacy with Gaiman). However, such approximations are integral parts of Gaiman’s strategy as we have seen: they render those who believe in them as appendages for Gaiman to control. Again, the peripherals emerge only in relation to the center: the auteur over the authors/others.

Such exclusivity and denial of the text’s hybridity in favor of hierarchy and stasis run counter to the apparent inclusivity and alterity that Gaiman claims to promote in his texts and life as well as for which he is often celebrated. We can see how Gaiman manipulates that apparent textuality to achieve this delusion only if we keep our own relationship with textuality: we must maintain the polysemic over the author(ized); if we do otherwise, we too will become subject to Gaiman’s author(ity), and thereby become subject to its polyMorpheus perversity.’


[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellowB&N | Amazon | Etc.


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