Graphic Novel: A Game Of You
Written by Neil Gaiman
Pencilled, Inked and Coloured by Shawn McManus, Daniel Vozzo, Todd Klein and Colleen Doran.
When I read this chapter of the Sandman Series, I couldn’t help but notice all of the outsiders that Neil Gaiman has inserted into it. Throughout “A Game Of You”, Gaiman shows how outsiders’ lives enacted in the day-to-day, even as he tells a story of dreams. His tale is that of the facets of identity, which he reflects through the outsiders of Barbie, Foxglove, Hazel and Wanda/Alvin, who are all on the fringes of society and face various levels of acceptance from different people, ranging from the complete acceptance and friendship of of towards them all, tolerance from strangers like Maisie Hill, who is of the opinion that “just because someone’s different doesn’t make them bad”, to complete rejection, as evidenced by Wanda’s mother, who says at his/her death “ This town’s going to remember Alvin as the god-fearing child he should have been.”
First of all, there is Barbie, the heroine of the story – a young woman living in an apartment block in New York who paints different things on her face according to her mood and who uses the Porpentine, a jewel, to access the Land, a dream wherry in which she was princess. Recently divorced from her husband, Ken, Barbie is struggling to find a sense of identity after having a completely dependant relationship, to the point of her husband completing her sentences.
Next is Barbie’s best friend who lives next door, Wanda, a pre-operation transvestite male who was rejected by her family in Kansas. Wanda, who is determined to be seen as a woman, growing her hair out naturally and insisting “my name isn’t Alvin…Alvin’s just the name I was born with…Wanda’s my real name…I’m a woman”. Wanda is haunted by dreams of having surgery to become anatomically female, and struggles to reconcile not being physically female with her complete certainty in being a woman.
Foxglove and Hazel, the lesbian couple across the hall, are outsiders in several respects, the first simply being the homosexual nature of their relationship. However, “Hazel’s a chef”, which further implicates her nature as an outsider, because female culinary experts aren’t common, despite the stereotype of the division of labour meaning that women cook. Meanwhile, Foxglove has redefined herself after experiencing an abusive relationship with a girl named Judy, having used to be called Donna Cavanagh.
All four of these characters search for their identities in similar ways, using their control over material things such as appearance to help them dictate who they are and how they wish to be seen. In two cases, characters have changed their names in order to create a ‘clean slate’ onto which they can project a new personality which fits with their chosen identity and to help define them as other than what they were. By using statements such as “I realise that I’m already forgetting what Wanda looked like. Is identity that fragile?” to link identity with appearance, Gaiman ensures that readers focus on the various identities of the outsiders and try to guess at which transformations they have undergone as they settle into their identity.
Gaiman, who highlights the idea of identity being so intertwined with names and physical appearance, wrote about “A Game Of You”, saying that “it was the story that was filled with the kind of people I knew in London and New York who didn’t seem to get stories of their own…so I put them into MY comics” This clearly comes across in the graphic novel, which is densely populated by outsiders such as mentioned above, portraying them as regular people with conundrums just like everybody else, billet using a dark fantasy backdrop for the storyline. As a reader, I was definitely aware of the message conveyed through Gaiman’s writing, and completely agree with his implied sentiments that there should be more variety in the characters viewed in graphic novels.