Neil Gaiman Takes on a Different Perspective

Readers of Gaiman's blog or Twitter feed know his schedule is always full of interesting projects. Here's proof that he's just as busy, and interesting, on the nonfiction side.

The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction

Publisher: William Morrow
Length: 544 pages
Author: Neil Gaiman
Price: $26.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-05

Neil Gaiman has long enjoyed a reputation as one of speculative fiction's finest and most successful writers. From his groundbreaking work on The Sandman comic series to his award-winning fiction and screenwriting to the upcoming American Gods series on the STARZ network, Gaiman has built a long and varied career. Eight novels, three short story collections, Doctor Who scripts, children's books, you name it: he's come a long way since his days of conning his way (by his own account) into early freelance writing jobs.

What often gets less attention is his assorted and plentiful nonfiction work. The View From the Cheap Seats aims to gather the best of that output -- essays, speeches, introductions, eulogies, and more -- under one cover.

That's not to say that his nonfiction hasn't made waves of its own in the past. His prescient "Good Comics and Tulips" leads off the book's "On Comics and Some of the People Who Make Them" section, and should be required reading for anyone wanting to understand the speculator mentality that drives various investing bubbles. Using the Dutch tulip craze of the 1600s as a jumping-off point, Gaiman neatly ties that frenzy to the investment / speculation mania that gripped comics in the mid '90s. In short, he says, "any organization or store that pushes comics as investment items is at best shortsighted and foolish, and at worst, immoral and dumb". The speech, given at a Diamond Comics retail seminar, is more concerned with championing quality comics via a list of what Gaiman considers good practices (including, as a creator, saying "no", which he knew even back then he had a problem with), but the tulip analogy gained a lot of traction as a fitting autopsy of the comics bubble.

His 2012 commencement speech, "Make Good Art", receives even more of a spotlight, receiving its own one-item section here. Gaiman notes that it's one of the most popular things he's ever done, going viral on the Internet and birthing a niche cottage industry of inspirational "sloganed" items. The speech finds Gaiman touching on some of his core beliefs, including the need to make art and keep moving forward no matter what, with practical advice that he's learned along the way, such as the three qualities you need (and really, he says, you can get away with any combination of two) to succeed as a freelancer (as well as many other trades). In the speech, he's quick to recount past mistakes and hold himself up as a model of what not to do, using that mantra of "make good art" as an ever-focusing rallying cry to find his own way in his career.

It's that deep-rooted sense of what Gaiman believes -- even after you get past the book's first section appropriately titled "Some Things I Believe" -- that informs nearly every piece in The View From the Cheap Seats. His defenses of libraries, reading, and literature come from a strict aversion to the idea of education as a quantifiable product or commodity, but rather something that makes the reader and, by extension, society greater.

Likewise, Gaiman's expertise and authority on books goes without saying. In addition to the years spent learning his own craft, he grew up as a voracious reader. Consequently, his appraisals of books are often about their contributions to the field, but also what they meant -- and continue to mean -- to him as a reader, as well as what he feels they mean in the bigger picture. His friendship with many writing luminaries also gives him a unique perspective on them as people rather than rarified birds in some literary cage.

In the days following Terry Pratchett's death, for example, many writers properly eulogized him and expressed their admiration for Pratchett's Discworld series, his Good Omens collaboration with Gaiman, and other projects. Gaiman, however, (in an introduction to Pratchett's A Slip of the Keyboard nonfiction collection published while Pratchett was ailing but still alive) offered the skeleton key to understanding why Pratchett's humor hit as hard as it did. Like Monty Python and so many other gifted comedians, Pratchett's humor blossomed from his anger at the injustices of the world. As with "Make Good Art", Gaiman takes a lesson from that anger: take your own anger, your own rage, and write. It's surely no accident that Gaiman's harrowing 2014 report from a Syrian refugee camp precedes his exploration of Pratchett's righteous fury to close out the book.

At 500+ pages, The View From the Cheap Seats reads remarkably quickly. Credit Gaiman's clear and concise voice, honed by his beginning years as a journalist, for that. Whether he's talking about They Might Be Giants, David Bowie, Jack Kirby, fairy tales, the importance of art, or political horrors, Gaiman has a unique ability to put you in the cheap seats alongside him, making this a welcome addition to all of those other creations for which he's known.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.