American Gods Vol 1 is Not Quite A Melting Pot

american gods

American Gods Volume 1: Shadows

Neil Gaiman (Story and Words), P. Craig Russell (Script and Layouts), Scott Hampton, Walt Simonson, Colleen Doran, Glenn Fabry (Art), Lovern Kindzierski, Laura Martin, Colleen Doran, Adam Brown (Colorists), Rick Parker (Letterer)
Dark Horsem
February 28, 2018

The American Gods comics adaptation is both beautiful and well-paced. P. Craig Russell deftly uses novelist Neil Gaiman’s own words, housed in Scott Hampton’s versatile art. This graphic novel makes it clear how much of the adaptation into a different form is a process of editing, and how much storytelling can be achieved by the layout of a comics page, when handled by an adept artist. When I finished Volume 1, I was actually frustrated that more volumes weren’t available; I look forward to more. That said, there is a weird blind spot in the roster of contributors that influences how I read the series, and means that I will be looking for a corrective in future volumes.

american gods

In Volume 1, we meet Shadow, a convict who is established as being ethnically ambiguous in his first few scenes. As he gets out of prison, he is manipulated by various forces that Shadow and the reader together learn are gods, brought to America by their believers, over immigration waves from all around the world over hundreds of years. Anansi and Odin have evolved (devolved?) into calling themselves Mr. Nancy and Mr. Wednesday in this modern era, for instance.

Shadow is warned repeatedly that a storm is coming, one that will have huge implications for America. Shadow’s storyline is intercut with stories of gods as they eke out their existence today, “somewhere in America,” and those first believers who brought the gods to America when they arrived, “coming to America.”

A long list of creators contributes to the narrative, with different artists such as Walt Simonson and Colleen Doran taking the lead for intercut scenes. This is not the “melting pot” metaphor for American waves of immigration, but rather the “salad bowl” metaphor: different parts retain their distinct flavor, but are given a dressing common to all that improves the taste of the parts in combination.

The novel American Gods is a book about American diversity, written by a white British man. It is specifically about cultural and ethnic diversity, but also racial diversity. And one of the benefits of doing a comics series like this, with a sprawling list of artistic contributors, is to get a lot of different kinds of voices and styles and perspectives into the mix, to make it cohere into a whole greater than the sum of its disparate parts, just as, in the content of the novel, it is made clear that America is enriched by the disparate beliefs of its people, personified and made tangible. Why, then, is the roster of contributors for this adaptation so white and so male?

The novel it is based on, originally published in 2001, has aged extremely well and been popular as a television series adaptation. While the original novel was one white man’s idea, there is no reason that a comics adaptation published almost two decades later, that intentionally brings in a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, needs to be.

For those familiar with Gaiman’s novel, Volume 1: Shadows takes us predictably all the way through Part One: Shadows of the novel, up to the point when Shadow is leaving Ibis and Jacquel’s funeral parlor to continue his journey and employment with Mr. Wednesday. That’s a little bit past the one-third mark in terms of page count. There’s a lot of room for future contributors, and I have high hopes that the excellent adaptation will continue, and that the next volumes will have a more diverse range of perspectives from contributors.

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.