March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Neil Gaiman Chats with SLJ About His Reimagined “Hansel and Gretel” | Up Close

Photo by Kimberly Butler

Photo by Kimberly Butler

This had been a prolific year for Neil Gaiman—across several mediums. Among the works he has published in 2014 are a picture book (Chu’s First Day) illustrated by Adam Rex, a graphic novel edition of his 2009 Newbery Award-winning The Graveyard Book (all HarperCollins) adapted by P. Craig Russell, and even a digital game, Wayward Manor. One of the first graphic novels for older readers from Toon Books, Hansel and Gretel is a retelling of the classic fairy tale first published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. This new version pairs Gaiman’s wit with Italian painter Lorenzo Mattotti’s dark and gloomy art, making for a spine-tingling tale.

Lorenzo Mattotti first created the art for Hansel and Gretel for an exhibit celebrating the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of the classic story. How did your partnership in this project come about?
I was at the apartment of Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman and was shown these amazing set of paintings. At first glance, they just looked like wild splashes of ink, and then, in that one you see the children, and you realize they’re lost in the forest. And Françoise said, would I like to write my own “Hansel and Gretel?” And it was one of those glorious moments. I could actually say: Yes, I have been waiting all my life for somebody to say, “Will you write ‘Hansel and Gretel’?”

SLJ1409w-Gaiman-cvHanselGretelThis story has a long tradition of interpretations—it was being retold long before the Brothers Grimm published their famous version. What about this tale inspired you to write this particular edition?
I first heard it on the radio when I was about five years old in the garden of my grandmother’s house. It was a radio program where they had a few songs from the English translation of the [Engelbert] Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel opera. And I found it absolutely terrifying. It was the first time it had occurred to me that humans ate other humans and that I was potentially food. The discovery was so shocking and so dark. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids. And in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten—that you have power.

Why do you think this story is so timeless?
For a good fairy tale to last—to be told and retold—it has [to have] gone through a Darwinian process. The stories that don’t last, we don’t hear them. The glory of a story like “Hansel and Gretel” is that it was told in the days of old transmission. If you tell people a story and they don’t think it’s a good story, they won’t tell it to other people. If they like it, they’ll tell it with their own little changes and they’ll make it local, and suddenly you’ve got a story.


Many of your works have a strong connection between text and images, and might even be considered examples of transmedia. What are your thoughts on the interaction between words and pictures?
Dave McKean, with whom I did comics from the word go, was my first collaborator. I was 26 and he was 23 and one of Dave’s heroes was Lorenzo Mattotti. He would show me Mattottian art and I loved that like Dave, Mattotti seemed to have no style that he imposed upon the material. He seemed to be an artist who just wanted to find the way to draw the thing that he was drawing.

What was really fun for me is that I’d seen the illustrations before I wrote my Hansel and Gretel. But having sat and looked at them, and just been haunted by them, they were in the back of my head. I knew that I had this darkness, these things that looked like mad ink splotches that suddenly reveal themselves if you look at them to be people, trees, axes, knives, and food, and become simpler as you go on.

I cannot think of anything that I’ve done that I would not want illustrated.

Below is an SLJ exclusive behind-the-scenes video about Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s Hansel and Gretel graphic novel.

A sneak peek at Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti from TOON Books on Vimeo.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz ( is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.