Friday, July 12, 2013

Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman and crew

Cover by John Bolton
In the late 80’s and the early 90’s there was a trend in the business to create sophisticated “adult” books. There were those in the business that wanted it to grow up fast. As a result many fully painted mini series and graphic novels produced by a group of “mature” writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman and illustrated by the best artists of that time.

Elektra Assassin
Arkham Asylum

Kid Eternity
 One of my favorites was Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman. It was a four part mini series about Timothy Hunter, a 12 year old boy with the potential to be the greatest magician of his time, who was being educated about magic by four practitioners; The Phantom Stranger; John Constantine; Dr. Occult; and Mister E; jokingly dubbed the Trench Coat Brigade.

In each book a different practitioner would show Timothy a different aspect of magic and each book would be illustrated by a different artist.

The first book was illustrated by John Bolton and featured the Phantom Stranger who took Timothy on a tour of the past and the origins of the Universe.

John Bolton is famous for his hyper detailed and realistic work. 
Marada the She-Wolf by Chris Claremont and John Bolton

Here Bolton mixes up the medium with which he is working, sometimes painting it and sometimes leaving it pencil.

He also meets various magi of different times like a sorceress from Atlantis and Merlin the magician.

The next book is illustrated by Scott Hampton and is John Constantine’s turn to take Timothy on a tour of the modern day magicians both white and black.

Till this time Scott Hampton had done a Frazetta-esque painted look. Here he uses watercolor to very good ends.

They meet people like The Spectre, Madam Xanadu and Deadman.

Boston Brand, Deadman shows up at various times in one body or another.
He is also taken to a night club where many practitioners of the dark arts hang out.

The best chapter of the bunch is the third one illustrated by Charles Vess. It has Dr. Occult’s taking Timothy on a tour of the Fairy Realm. Here’s where Gaiman really shines. Here he has little tidbits of information that are just fascinating.

Vess is a perfect choice to do this chapter as he has perfected a kind of fantasy style rich with humongous twisting trees and fairies riding giant Clydesdales.

At the beginning of this tale (and yes, while the other chapters are more of a survey of the past and present magicians, this chapter is more like a tale) Dr. Occult gives some ground rules to Timothy about the Fairy realm. Of coarse these rules will play a big role in the tale we are about to read.

We get to see Gaiman’s rich imagination at play here in all the crazy laws the fairies have and the amazing artifacts that he invents (I think. At least I’ve never heard of them).

Timothy and Occult spend the majority of the book trying to avoid the snares that the inhabitants of the land lay for them.

It’s a wild ride and worth the price of admission.

The final chapter is also interesting but in a different way. Here we have Mister E who doesn’t like Timothy show him the Timothy of the future where he has become evil and is fighting an epic battle against the heroes of the time.

They then go on to the end of time where they meet some familiar and not so familiar faces.

Mister E is not a sympathetic character and is suspected of taking Timothy to his death.

Though this work is not wholly outside the world of popular super heroes, it still is something new and relatively mature. Unlike the heroes, this book doesn't rely on action or heroics to entertain it's audience. Instead it takes from many literary sources and reconfigures them in interesting ways.
It’s a great romp that I highly recommend but I don’t want to spoil for you.

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