Why You Should Not Fallow Neil Gaiman’s Advice on Writing Parents

Christina Bishop
5 min readJun 9, 2023

Once I was a child who had lofty dreams and goals as every child should, then my realist of a mother and I saw Coraline based on a book by Neil Gaiman. If you lived in a Hole in the Ground, the story is about a young girl with very boring and unengaging parents who move to a new house that is very ugly and deteriorating. After finding a key she discovers another place with people with buttons for eyes who seem nice, zany, and friendly. However, a cat warns Coraline about a dark secret that everything is not like it is. Coraline begins to ask why and keeps asking like most kids, “Why would someone who is kind be a dark or scary person?” until the other parents ask her to give up her eyes for buttons. This made me wonder now as an adult that if Coraline added all the pieces together shouldn’t her parents learn the moral to be more engaging and aware as parents?

Then I came across some advice Neil Gaiman himself gave to future writers of children’s books, “If you want to write for children learn from the parents”. I then thought to myself about authors and comic artists unlike him who have broken his rule time and time again and were successful like Bill Waterson of Calvin and Hobbs. I guess Mr. Gaiman is too much of a snob to read Calvin and Hobbs despite writing his own graphic novel Sandman.

Calvin has a wild imagination and is very thoughtful but do his parents love him for who he is…

No, in some comics they criticize, joke, and backstab him at every turn thus why Hobbs is the most logical, honest, and more engaging in his adventures.

One comic that is readable to many in the ADHD and Autism spectrum has Calvin in an Air Force jet blowing up his school where he is made to sit still, write endless homework, and is unprotected by Hobbs. Only to go to his school with a deep sigh of pain. Both he and Hobbs have become the poster boy and tiger for ADHD and has a message of not forcing children to have adult expectations. Then there’s the man with the Ph.D. in not talking down to children and pure chaos Theodore Geisel or Dr. Seuss.

Many of his protagonists learn through mistakes and utter chaos or even how to cope with the chaos that they experience through a very odd idea. Something that would make Neil Gaiman’s head explode is the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and the tale of Pontaffel Pock which became an after-school special animated by Fritz Freeing of Loony Tunes fame. Some of his parental characters like Bart’s mother Heloise don’t realize something seems good until the situation is ridiculous and even dark. Even Mr. Zabladowski a friend of Bart is just someone doing a job without knowing the consequences or connecting the dots, “I’m just a guy who fixes sinks what can I do?”.

The story of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.T is a story of libertarianism and fascism through the eyes of a child and about how the ideologies no matter how good they sound to adults might sound silly to a child. Dr. Terwillker was even based on a real nightmare he had as a child about an evil teacher with a piano for 5,000 fingers to play on. Even though the film was a flop in the 50s during the Red Scare it’s now a classic that still holds meaning for today’s society. Any instrument or musician other than a piano went into a dungeon with the dungeon keeper sounding like Mc Carthy hearing, “Are you a piano player?”. It also is a metaphor for America’s xenophobia towards immigrants which he experienced as a German American.

When it comes to writing parents as an Asperger’s person, I take into consideration that some kids grow up not having a parent or have each other’s backs because they don’t have parents like in my comic r/Struwwelkinder based on Hinrich Hoffman’s Der Struwwelpeter.

Because he has ODD, Uncomable Hair Syndrome, and loves his long nails Struwwelpeter does not want to have a parental figure like most kids because he hates being told to be prim and proper. It’s also because his Volksmisk group and his choir at the orphanage are his families, he has to be both a good driver and an example for all the boys he teaches.

This is why he gets the first Covid shot at the orphanage even though he hates doctors, so that he and others are safe. When I do write adult characters or parents I consider that parents were children and teens once with many problems and struggles.

I also consider that not all parents are good people like the couple behind Fathering Autism or The Duggars. Some parents exploit or use children as a pedestal or beating post. Even realistic parenting has downfalls in a child feeling depressed or downgrading their emotions and imaginations because they’re not realistic enough for the parent. If you want to learn about how to write for children ask a child how they feel and how they can make the world better.

Originally published at https://www.reddit.com/.

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Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra