When you're editing illustrated books, the production lives of the books that you work on can vary dramatically. Some books fly by seemingly in the blink of an eye: the author starts work, they deliver the material, it gets checked/edited/designed/proofread etc. and the book goes off to print, all in the space of a couple of months (I'm looking at you, Jake Spicer's Draw Cats in 15 Minutes). Other books have a slightly more sensible production life – typically about about a year in illustrated book circles, from when the book is green-lit to when it hits the warehouse. Still others require a longer lead time – books like Gary Spencer Millidge's Alan Moore: Storyteller, say, or Helen McCarthy's The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga – books where the amount of research required, not just in terms of the text but in sourcing images as well, necessitates a schedule longer than twelve months.
And then there's Hayley Campbell's The Art of Neil Gaiman.
The original idea for Hayley's book, which is just about to publish in the UK (it's been out in the States from Harper Design for a month or so), dates back to 2010. Ilex had published the aforementioned The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga in 2009, and Alan Moore: Storyteller was heading for publication in 2011, and we were pondering which other creators of a similar stature and with a similar background in comics – but who had like Tezuka and Moore made an indelible mark on the wider cultural stage – we could biographise in a similarly visual manner. Naturally Neil Gaiman was at the top of our list. How Hayley came on board as author Hayley herself reveals in this interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid, and erstwhile Ilex commissioning editor (and British comics legend) Tim Pilcher details the origins of the book over at his blog, so there's little point in my going over the same ground here. Suffice it to say that The Art of Neil Gaiman was eventually green-lit as a project in spring 2011.
Three years later, it finally exists as a printed book.
I must admit I struggle to think of another book that I've edited in my ten-plus years in book publishing that's taken quite the length of time that The Art of Neil Gaiman has. (Matter of fact, it's taken longer than the entire lives of some of the magazines I edited in my prior ten-plus years in magazine publishing.) The reasons for that are many and varied, but a good many of them were to do with the number of people involved. There was Hayley, obviously, and her agent; Neil and his agent; a variety of folk at HarperCollins in the US, including Neil's editor over there; DC Comics and sundry other image rights-holders; Ilex's executive publisher, Roly Allen; and on the creative team copyeditor Jennifer Eiss, editors Ellie Wilson and Rachel Silverlight, art director Julie Weir and designers Amazing15. Add in Ilex's repro and production departments and our press and publicity officer Emily Owen and you have quite the cast list.
Editing books is never plain sailing, but with that number of hands on deck the waters around The Art of Neil Gaiman were bound to be choppier than normal (if I can mix my nautical metaphors). Before Hayley could even start writing the contract with both her and Neil had to be agreed. Then Hayley had to pin Neil down – never a simple task; he's forever flying round the world – in order to interview him extensively and raid his attic for visuals (and oh, the stuff she found up there...). Then once she'd delivered her manuscript the fun really started. There were discussions and deliberations about the first draft of the manuscript; further discussions and deliberations about the second draft of the manuscript; yet more discussions and deliberations over the copyedit of the manuscript; and another round of discussions and deliberations over the second copyedit of the manuscript. Then the book went to design, and there were even more discussions and deliberations.
Tempers frayed at various junctures. There were differences of opinion, disagreements, miscommunications, misinterpretations. Each of us at one time or another was frustrated or exasperated. I myself had an epic email meltdown towards the end of 2013 (one which I rather regret now – sorry everyone). But there was also excitement and anticipation: we all knew we had something special on our hands, and we all wanted it to be the best it could be. It was just how to achieve that that we didn't always see eye to eye (to eye to eye) on.
I'd be lying if I said it was an entirely joyous experience. But what all of the above speaks to, I think, is the passion that all concerned had – have – for the book. We all cared. Throughout the many ups and downs over those three or four years, while in the background governments fell and coalitions rose and economies crumbled and began to rebuild (and on a personal note I became a dad and learned to drive), we never lost sight of the fact that The Art of Neil Gaiman had the potential to be a brilliant book. That it has turned out to be just that is testament to the hard work that everyone put into it – not least Hayley, who has crafted and curated a remarkable document, a funny, moving, visually arresting insight into Neil's creative life. But more than that, I believe our collective passion for the project is reflected in the finished article. You can see it on every lovingly designed page, read it in Hayley's finely honed text; hell, I reckon you can even smell it if you hold the book up to your nose, although that might simply be the sweet, sweet smell of printer's ink.
In total The Art of Neil Gaiman ate up something like a tenth of my life (to date). In Hayley's case it was more like a seventh. Others involved in the process have lived with it for almost as long. Measured simply in those terms, our commitment to the book is self-evident.
Hayley will doubtless go on to write other books – The Art of Neil Gaiman was her first as author, but it won't be her last – but I'm fairly confident she'll never experience anything quite like this one again.
I'm not sure I will either.
London's Gosh! Comics will be hosting the launch party for The Art of Neil Gaiman tonight, Friday 11 July, at 7pm. Hayley will be there signing books, and I'll be lurking in a corner somewhere. Perhaps I'll see you there.