A note on Neil Gaiman's politics

The Sandman author answers some questions we didn't have time for on Monday: is his work political, and where do his personal allegiances lie?

At Monday's live Royal Society of Literature appearance by Neil Gaiman, we tried to put as many of your questions to the author of The Sandman, American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane as possible. But there was one good question we didn't have time for – this one from crazyfatguy: "I'm not sure if Neil Gaiman would want to answer this but I'm curious as to how he would describe himself politically and whether he feels any of his works can be read as political allegories or if he prefers that they are read as apolitical narratives."

We put this to Neil after the event was over, and he was keen to answer. He said: "When I was doing comics in the late 80s and early 90s, I used to get flak from all of the other British comics writers – well, not from the writers but from the press – for being the one that was obviously not political at all in any way. Because that was the point where you had comics like Revolver going on and everybody was doing big, heart-on-their-sleeves, 'wasn't Maggie Thatcher a bad thing and we hate her' comics at the time.

"And I was writing Sandman. And 10 years later, in 2003, during the American invasion of Iraq, there were articles being printed and reprinted around the world with panels from a 1993 Sandman that I wrote called Ramadan, about the relationship between a mythical version of Baghdad and the city under war and the city under siege. It was written during the first Iraq war but it was suddenly being read and commented on."

Similar, Gaiman said, was the Sandman story A Game of You, which featured the first transsexual character in mainstream comics, and still today gets "praised and criticised" and argued over. "And I feel like my personal feeling at the time when I was writing it, which is that the personal is political, seems to have proved out."

He added: "Nobody's really talking about the comics that were meant to be overtly political, but they are still talking about the comics that I was doing in which the personal was political."

I asked him if he had ever felt he should bow to the pressure to write something along the lines of Alan Moore's hugely influential dystopian series V for Vendetta, which features a rebellion against a fascist government in a future Britain.

"No," he said. "I've never actually got up and gone, 'I want to do something like V for Vendetta – but then that may be because Alan Moore had already done V for Vendetta and done it better than anybody else could possibly do it … Alan Moore has had no urge to do that since either."

Gaiman added that he felt From Hell, Moore's "dissection of Victorian culture from highest to lowest through the medium of Jack the Ripper", was much more political than Vendetta: "That is taking apart how things worked, what was wrong, and what needed to change."

He concluded, "I still don't think of myself as a hugely political writer," but explained a bit about his personal politics, saying that "in British terms, I am somewhere in the fuzzy middle, of 'why can't we all be nice to each other?', and 'I really don't like people exploiting other people" – yet in American terms, he said, "that puts me so far to the left of any political party that my politics out there are considered irrelevant".


Paul Owen

The GuardianTramp

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