Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Man in Black

Writers & Readers Series - Neil Gaiman
04 October 2009: Lake Shore Facility Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio

A week and a half after my author visit as a part of the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University, where I presented Deus ex Comica to an audience of 50 or so people with a couple of prepared readings and a fun Q&A session, I got to see how it’s really done when Neil Gaiman visited the Cleveland Public Library for their Writers & Readers Series. It was an amazing opportunity that took me by surprise!

Our friends Chad and Heather came in town from Fort Wayne to visit with us and to have the opportunity to hear Gaiman speak and meet him. We made it up to the Lake Shore Facility Auditorium right around 12.45 for the 2pm talk. Doors opened at 1pm and, although there was a long-ish line of people already queued up in front of us, we were able to get right in and find great seats.

After going to the overflow room to greet those folks in person (they would be viewing the talk on closed-circuit TV), Gaiman returned to the main hall and began his talk. He read from both his new book, Odd and the Frost Giants, and his current bestseller, The Graveyard Book. Although there wasn’t time for too many questions to be asked, Gaiman provided lengthy and thoughtful answers for the appreciative crowd, leaving us feeling like we’d had a glimpse into his personality outside of the written page.

After the talk and Q&A was over, we queued up to meet the author and have the books we’d brought with us signed by him. This was the one place where the event organizers dropped the ball: They really should have given attendees numbered tickets when we entered the building initially, and used that as the queuing order for the signing session. Regardless, the crowd was very easy-going about things, and everyone in our party
felt the time passed very quickly and didn’t feel nearly as long as it actually was.

cy and I have only recently discovered Gaiman’s work, but are thoroughly enjoying it! Tracy loves The Graveyard Book and Coraline, and while waiting for our turn to meet Gaiman, she read half of The Eternals hardcover we’d brought for him to sign. I fell in love with Marvel 1602, so much so that I included my thoughts on it in Deus ex Comica. I was on the fence about giving a copy of my book to Gaiman (unsure how receptive he might be to it), but after hearing his talk, I felt completely at ease with the idea.

Chad and Heather went first, having their daughter’s copy of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish inscribed with a request from Gaiman to not swap her little brother, and their gorgeous Dave Wachter-drawn image of the Gaiman character Destiny signed. Gaiman asked who drew the commission and was kind enough to pose with it for us. Then Tracy had him sign her copy of The Graveyard Book, and we all got a kick out of him putting her name on a tombstone for the inscription.

When it was my turn, I handed him the copy of The Eternals, and while he was signing it I set the copy of my book on the table next to him and explained that I was comic fan in the ‘80s who drifted from the hobby and had recently rediscovered the culture and wrote a book about the experience. He stopped midway through signing The Eternals, picked up the copy of Deus ex Comica and flipped quickly through it, and gave me an “Awesome!” (And a couple of the folks around him – handlers or librarians, I’m not sure which – agreed and chimed in with encouragement.) When I explained that I wanted to give him the copy, he wanted to make sure that I had signed it for him! It was an unexpected experience that made me feel incredible, if only because the courteous and genuinely appreciative way he accepted the copy of the book.

I had no idea what to expect from Gaiman with regards to the talk and meeting him, but he was charming, self-deprecating, friendly, and gracious. And that encounter has solidified me as a fan of both the man and his work.


Mark Sample said...

What an excellent experience! Of the three towering luminaries from the eighties (Gaiman, Miller, Moore), Gaiman is the one whose more recent work resonates with me most, and whose work crosses the broadest divide. My 5-year-old can read "Wolves in the Wall" while I attack "American Gods" -- and we're both the better for it.

gawainn said...

Having the honor of heading to this signing with Adam, I can tell you, he was not only nervous about giving Neil his book, he was waffling up until the last moment...but that's getting ahead of myself.

The morning started with a wonderful brunch created by Tracy and Adam...A goat cheese, mushroom, and spinach frittata, bacon, and macerated fruit...along with heapings of coffee. After the demolition of the delicious was defenestrated, we all gathered ‘round the warm glow of Adam’s computer to look up the current position of The Graveyard Book on the New York Times bestseller list for children’s books. You see, Neil (as those of us close to him like to call him), promised pie to everyone if his book was on the list for 52 straight weeks. The day of the speaking engagement was exactly 52 weeks. I had high hopes that pie, preferably rhubarb, was in our future.
After piling into Tracy’s new ride (and quickly piling out once...still a tad embarrassed about that) we dropped off a rambunctious kiddo and headed to the lakeside library location. The ride was enjoyable, so much so that Adam missed our turn with one of my favorite lines of the weekend, “Sorry, I was busy missing our turn.” Although, when written out, it just doesn’t have the same power, does it?
The queuing (just not used to people using this term, Heather and I thought it lovely) has been aptly described by Adam. Once the actual speaking began, Neil read prodigiously, prancing through his phlegmy issues without a problem. He then took questions. After answering what he is working on (a non-fiction book about China...it has been twenty-two(?) years after all since he has written non-fiction...) he called for another question. And, whether it was the bright red, retro Minnesota Twins (GO TWINS!) hat I was sporting, or the overly large guy sitting in an underly large chair, he chose me.
Through the nerves, I managed to put on, as Heather calls it, my “radio voice” and asked, “Given the latest bestseller lists, I was wondering if I could expect some pie?” Neil, allowing the knowing in the audience a chance to giggle, did a nice double take and responded with a simple, “Um, no.” He then regaled us with the tale of how the pie situation was started. It was a lovely bit of inside baseball knowledge that he shared in the way that he can, and I won’t try and repeat it here.
Adam gave a wonderful description of the rest of his speech, but did leave out my personal favorite moments of the day...our snark-fest as we waited to get our items signed. Don’t get me wrong, none of us really minded waiting, it was simply the boredom of sitting, waiting, wishing, that brought out the snark-demons. Whether it was questioning the sexuality of a fellow waiter or admiring the sheer audacity of boldness and ballsiness of wearing day-glo/flower print Hammer pants (I still wish I’d taken a better picture of those!), we just started having fun at the expense of those we were sharing the day with. Those sitting near us started to join in, and it became a sort of game to see how many giggles we could extract from all those around us. Good times were had by all...except Hammer-pants, he just looked gloomy.
The rest of the day was spent acquiring minutiae about Cleveland and Akron as Adam gave us a tour (he knows his history of the area folks...), eating burgers the size of a young Chihuahua, and saying our good-byes. The graciousness of Adam and Tracy was glorious and we felt at home the whole time we were there. We look forward to being able to share our home with them sometime!

Anonymous said...

What a great experience! I'm bummed I missed Gaiman but I'm glad you got your book in front of him.

Steve (raker) Andreski said...

That sounded like a great day, topped off with a really nice moment of connection that wasn't ruled by space or time....an infinite, if not intimate moment...cool!