Raise your hand if you love Neil Gaiman‘s work.
I first fell in love with it when he was writing The Sandman for DC Comics. The first time Death appeared I thought she was me. (I thought she was I? Grammar police, help!) I was the first person to send him a photo of myself dressed as Death. I don’t know what significance that has, but it’s true.
I became pen pals with him in the early ’90s after I sent him a quote about dreams from the preface to The Search for Omm Sety (which tells you something of my interests at the time). He loved the quote and wanted the attribution. I sent him loooong letters; he sent postcards in reply.
I can only cringe when I think of what those letters must have contained. I was chronically depressed in those days and maybe even as self-involved as I am now. I listened to The Cure. A lot. That should sum it up. But Neil was always kind to me, if brief. I had never known someone so unfailingly polite (well, except for Aunt Clara and Grandma, but they belonged to The Polite Generation, so that doesn’t count in this context).
He put Bast into Sandman for me. That’s a small claim to fame I have. I loved the way they did her lettering. Very angular—almost runic in appearance. Gave a great sense of how her voice must have sounded to mortal and immortal ears.
I was in England in ’92 for my internship (or “work experience”; “internship” means a medical practice in The Queen’s English). He gave me his phone number (this was when he was still living in England) and I rang him up. Trembling and sweating from nervousness, I might add. I had something of a crush on him, or rather on the idea of him, since all I really had of him were postcards. But when his small daughter climbed onto his lap and asked him a question as we talked on the phone, the crush dissipated in an instant. It was lovely to be free.
I took the train down to London to meet him at a book signing that he and Dave McKean were doing. I remember Dave as being very quiet but also very nice. I hung around watching the fanboys get autographs until it was time to leave. Off we went to a comic book shop where he checked out a few titles, and then to a pub where I met his agent. He loved introducing me as, “my friend Cairril, whom I’ve never met.”
After that we went to a graveyard and took pictures of each other. (It is an eternal regret that the camera was broken so I have no memento of that day.)
By this time I was really annoyed. I couldn’t articulate what was wrong with me. What was I so angry about?? Here I was, having a day a Neil Gaiman fan would die for, and all I could do was get pissy. I sulked all the way home on the train.
When I got back stateside we still corresponded, though less than we had previously. His career was taking off and my irritation wasn’t receding. I can’t remember what I sent him—perhaps a letter, perhaps a dream pillow I’d made—but in return he sent me an autographed copy of Being An Account Of The Life And Death Of The Emperor Heliogabolus. It’s a limited edition (number 576 of 2500) twenty-four hour comic he wrote and drew himself. I, of course, was furious.
It finally became clear to me what The Problem (okay, let’s be honest: My Problem) was: I wanted to have an Authentic Friendship Relationship Full Of Quality Time and instead I felt like I was treated like a fanboy. I wasn’t a fanboy, as much as I loved his work. I have never been into autographs and that whole scene. I wanted much more.
Now that I look back on it, almost 20 years ago (gulp!), I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself. Neil gave what he had to give. When I think of the situation now, I am struck by his generosity. I only wish I had been capable of recognizing it at the time.
A few months ago (?), I happened across his blog, which makes for very pleasant reading. I try to read all his books and revel in his well-deserved success (seeing Coraline on the big screen was a big thrill).
Why am I even writing about this? I recently finished Anansi Boys (again—makes great plane reading) and The Graveyard Book and that sent me down memory lane. I guess I wish I could apologize for anything I may have done or wrote that was unfair to him. I guess what I really wish is to re-write the past so I can be much more sophisticated and SANE than I was.
He’s a good guy. Go buy his books.