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The artist behind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: ‘The images become a doorway into that other realm’

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The Folio Society’s edition of the book has new illustrations from the Sandman cover artist

Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

The TV adaptation of American Gods is coming to Starz next month, but anyone eager to get the story now can always pick up the book. Neil Gaiman’s best-selling fantasy novel is getting a new edition courtesy of The Folio Society, a publisher known for putting out amazing special editions of classic books.

I’ve gushed about The Folio Society’s books in the past, particularly with their edition of I, Robot last year. The publisher’s editions are elegant, and come with additional specially commissioned illustrations and artwork. This new edition of American Gods contains 12 new illustrations by artist Dave McKean, who’s worked closely with Gaiman on the long-running comic Sandman and their movie Mirrormask. McKean also provides a new introduction to the book, alongside Gaiman’s own introduction and afterword.

Despite his long working relationship with Gaiman, McKean told The Verge that their prior work together didn’t figure into this project at all. “The only thing that matters is the specific text, and trying to find the right tone of voice to illustrate it.”

McKean wasn’t a literalist about the artwork. “I don't like simply replicating scenes from the book that are completely covered by the text. I like the images to contribute to the whole experience of the book, to add to it, to comment on it.”

Rather, he said he looks at adapting the text from the mindset of a reader. “I tend to think that we experience the story through [the main character’s] eyes — they are a kind of avatar for us. So I prefer to allow each reader to have their own version of the lead character in their minds.”

For this edition of American Gods in particular, McKean “felt the other-world passages of the book leant themselves to illustration, so the images become a doorway into that other realm. So I left all the 'real world' scenes alone, and concentrated on the distorted, fantastical areas of the story.”

Here’s a selection of the artwork that will be included in the new edition:

Illustration by Dave McKean / The Folio Society
©Dave McKean 2017
Illustration by Dave McKean / The Folio Society
©Dave McKean 2017
Illustration by Dave McKean / The Folio Society
©Dave McKean 2017

Photography by Andrew Liptak / The Verge