Calling this book Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is perhaps a little misleading: yes, it’s his story, but he doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with this adaptation, written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Glenn Fabry. If you want the Neil Gaiman version, the best thing to do would be to buy the novel (US/UK). However, even this is an adaptation of sorts, of Gaiman’s original TV script, produced on a micro-budget by the BBC and also available on DVD (US/UK). That’s not to detract from this graphic novel version though – we actually think this, which collects the nine issue comic series, is better than its predecessors.
To be fair, you don’t have to go a long way to outclass the made-for-television version, which despite being made in 1996, is deeply reminiscent of the wobbly set syndrome that plagued series like Doctor Who for so many years. Gaiman’s vision is far better suited to media less constrained by budgets, and his novelisation portrays his grand vision more vividly. However, Neverwhere remains a deeply visual story and Fabry has realised this vision to near perfection, breathing life into the characters and giving them a dimension they haven’t had before.
Carey’s recreation of the script is equally sympathetic, giving the narration to one of the main characters instead of a third-party, but leaving the spirit of Gaiman’s original story entirely intact. We haven’t taken the time to go through and compare the versions – there’s little point. All that really matters is that Carey and Fabry have done a great job with an already good story.
If you’re new to Neverwhere, you’ll want to know what it’s about. Richard Mayhew is a normal, London-based office worker, with a dull life and a dull future ahead of him. Until, that is, he rescues a girl he finds collapsed on the street. She’s actually from an alternate reality London, called London Below, where mythical beasts and strange subterranean people live. The characters he meets and places he visits are literal representations of some of London’s more outlandishly named landmarks and locations – Blackfriars is a monastery of darkly clad clerics, Islington really is an angel – you get the idea. Mayhew is forced to follow his new friend into London Below to find a way back to his real life, but what he doesn’t realise is quite how much trouble she’s in.
The story isn’t perfect but it’s a wonderfully imagined and coherently strange vision of an alternate reality, though fans of Gaiman’s Sandman may find it comparatively unsophisticated. It’s a lot of fun though, featuring some truly horrible characters, even if some of them are necessarily two-dimensional, restricted by their natures.
If you’re a Neverwhere fan we think you’ll like this – it feels definitive, with nothing of the disappointment of the TV series and an obvious visual edge that the novel didn’t capture. And if you haven’t come across Neverwhere before, this is a very good place to start.