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  • Writer's pictureRobert Martel

neil gaiman's free country: A TALE OF the CHILDREN'S CRUSADE

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

One of my favourite pieces of Neil Gaiman's writing is the 1993 Vertigo crossover, The Children's Crusade. I read issues 1 and 2 of The Children's Crusade (the bookends of this collaborative story co-written with Alisa Kwitney and Jamie Delano) when they were first released, along with the individual annuals that form the story arc (Black Orchid Annual #1, Animal Man Annual #1, Swamp Thing Annual #7, Doom Patrol Annual #2, Arcana Annual #1). Although The Children's Crusade had somewhat of an unfinished flavour to it, and the contributing annuals seemed to lie at the peripheries of the plot, I found the crossover to be magical, touching, and inspiring.

In 2015, issues 1 and 2 of The Children's Crusade were collected in a single volume along with a new middle chapter written by Toby Litt and drawn by Peter Gross. In the collected edition's Introduction, Neil Gaiman writes affectionately about the challenges of executing a Vertigo crossover, and shares his excitement over finally seeing The Children's Crusade completed through the addition Toby Litt and Peter Gross's newest chapter.

Wraparound cover to the 2015 collected edition. Art by Mark Buckingham.

I did not encountered this completed collection until 2018 when my wife and children brought the hardcover home from the public library. I spent a few weeks reading and rereading it. In the evening I would sit at the dinner table and sketch and doodle the crossover's main characters using the fantastic illustrations of Chris Bachalo & Mike Barreiro, Peter Snejberg, and Peter Gross.

The sketches above and to the left are of Timothy Hunter, the boy destined to be the world's greatest magician. If you haven't read Neil Gaiman's four issue miniseries, The Books of Magic (1990), then please seek it out. Timothy's appearance in The Children's Crusade story-line was to be his introduction as a complicated but fun character in the Vertigo universe. The sketches to the above right are of the no-nonsense Avril Mitchell. It is Avril who kicks the story off by engaging the services of Dead Boy Detectives, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine.

Below are sketches of the Dead Boy Detectives, and dear Watt, some of my favourite characters from this unlikely but truly wonderful crossover. If you're interested in reading more on the history of Vertigo's The Children's Crusade, as well as the historical events that underpin it's story, I highly recommend reading Robert A. Emmons, Jr.'s 2005 web-article "DC / Vertigo's The Children's Crusade: Child Culture and Reflexivity, Suggested For Mature Readers."

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