Tag Archives: Charles Vess

Dream Country

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 3

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

A struggling author manages to enslave a muse for his own benefit, inspiring amazing ideas but at what cost? Elsewhere, a stray cat attempts to unite a large enough group of cats to dream the same thing and thus alter reality . . . good luck with that one. Centuries before, Will Shakespeare and his motley band of players perform his Dream for an otherworldly audience. And a woman given transformative powers by the sun-god Ra is cursed to never be truly human again.

I swear, this series just keeps getting better! Dream Country is basically a short-story collection in graphic novel form, featuring four unique stories in which Morpheus is a minor character. All four are strange and unique and kind of wonderful in different ways. Which isn’t to say that they’re all happy and fun; some of them, perhaps even parts of all of them, are dark and pensive. Creative and brilliant, still. My favorite was the one featuring Shakespeare–which incidentally won a World Fantasy Award. The story itself is lovely and strange, and Charles Vess’s artwork is just perfect for it. Actually, Vess’s art is basically ideal for Gaiman’s writing in general, or at least for his fantasy; they mesh ridiculously well. The art for the whole collection is quite nice, although for the last story (the Ra one) I struggled for the first bit to figure out what on earth was actually going on. I think that’s just the story and how strange it is, mostly, though. I would highly recommend Dream Country, both for those who are in the midst of reading The Sandman as a series and for those who are just interested in a collection of independent graphic shorts by Gaiman; I don’t think the previous or future volumes are necessary to enjoy this collection.

Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Charles Vess, Malcolm Jones III, Kelley Jones,  & Colleen Doran/Lettered by Todd Klein

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Blueberry Girl

Author: Neil Gaimanblueberry girl

Illustrator: Charles Vess

My rating: 5 of 5

Blueberry Girl is a prayer (to the fates, I think? Doesn’t really matter here.) for a not-yet-born baby girl. And it is absolutely gorgeous in every way. When I usually think of this sort of book, I think of something dull and stereotypical, wishing for sunshine and ease and, well, nothing really likely or meaningful. This book is something else; it’s a prayer for wisdom, for joy in spite of sorrow, for truth, for a myriad of experiences. It’s a prayer I would love to have prayed over me. I was crying by the time I finished reading it. And the wonder and beauty of the text is emphasized by Charles Vess’ incredible illustrations. It’s neat seeing his work in this sort of context, where there’s no precise story to follow. The pictures are really breathtaking. Highly recommended to all, but I would especially note that Blueberry Girl would be a fantastic gift for expectant parents.

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A Fall of Stardust

By Neil Gaiman & Charles Vessa fall of stardust

My rating: 4.5 of 5

A Fall of Stardust is a unique little collection that I got as part of Gaiman’s recent Humble Bundle. It’s kind of a reader alluding to his (incredible) novel Stardust. Remarkably, it’s only about 14 pages long, including the cover, yet it packs quite the punch. The majority of the volume is a short story (almost more of a vignette) about a girl named Jenny who watches as magpies gather around her, recalling a superstitious poem about them and truly experiencing that one precious moment of her life. It’s a truly beautiful piece. The remainder is a short group of poems that somehow or another connect to the world behind the Wall. My favorite is the last, which is a pantoum–making the repeating lines actually work in context and make sense is somewhat mindblowing to me. And of course, the whole collection is illustrated in Charles Vess’ skillful hand, which I always enjoy seeing paired with Gaiman’s writing; it just fits. So yeah, if you’ve enjoyed Stardust in the past and get a chance to read A Fall of Stardust, I think you’d likely find it enjoyable (plus it’s a quick read).

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Seven Wild Sisters

Author: Charles De Lintseven wild sisters

Illustrator: Charles Vess

My rating: 5 of 5

Sarah Jane loves going up to Aunt Lillian’s place up the mountain, helping her with chores and hearing all her stories about the fairy folk–the Apple Tree man, the Father of Cats, and many others. It’s not as though she entirely believes in these stories, but they’re certainly interesting. Then one day, as she’s going out to gather ginseng for Aunt Lillian, she encounters a tiny man, seemingly made of sticks and bits of debris–a little man shot through with hundreds of tiny arrows. Feeling she has to help him, she carries the wounded fairy back to Aunt Lillian’s . . . little knowing that by doing so she is involving herself and her six sisters in a world–and a war–she knows almost nothing about.

I’ve been a fan of Charles De Lint’s books for quite a while, mostly his amazing urban fantasies like The Painted Boy and Spirits in the Wires. I’ve never really read any of his children’s books, so Seven Wild Sisters was a fun new experience for me. While it is definitely a good read for kids (mostly leaving out stuff like sex and language), it carries through with all the best things that make me love De Lint’s writing: a vivid world, interesting and unusual characters, folk music, animals. And of course, the whole venture into the other world–written in a way that is quite consistent with how he writes it in his other volumes, but with a lot of local Appalachian flavor. I really love how the spirits and fairies are unique to the locality, as well as how the characters themselves are so full of the color of their home and the mountains. Plus, the book is rich with Charles Vess’s gorgeous illustrations; you could seriously read this book just for the pictures! I would highly recommend Seven Wild Sisters, especially to those who love a good fairy tale or urban fantasy.

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The Books of Magic

Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrators: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, & Paul Johnson

Tim Hunter’s just your average nerdy kid . . . with a huge potential for magical ability. When four magic users offer him the chance to see the magical world for himself, well, what’s he got to lose? He can always make the choice to involve himself in this world or not afterwards, right? Each of the four takes him on a different journey, exploring the depths of the past, the present, the future, and even the world of faerie, meeting all sorts of people on the way. While he might not yet realize it, Tim is already making choices that will change his life forever–because he himself is changing on the journey.

The Books of Magic is one of the first comic-style graphic novels I’ve read, and I don’t really feel qualified to comment much. So I’ll limit this to my personal observations. I picked this story up originally because of the author, and I wasn’t disappointed–while being in a very different medium from what I’m accustomed to, the story is still very Neil Gaiman. It works well with the medium as well, introducing story elements that are clearer and more interesting when expressed visually. While I’m not accustomed to American comic-style art (which this volume definitely uses), the art supports the story well and is quite attractive in its own way. It was interesting that each chapter was illustrated by a different artist–each had a distinct flavor, but they all fit together well and provided a consistent visual flow. I think I would recommend The Books of Magic at least to those who are open to trying something different (or to those who already enjoy this style).

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