Friday, August 7, 2009

Neil Gaiman chats it up

I saw Neil Gaiman speak yesterday. Given that he is one of my top three favorite authors, hearing him answer questions and tell stories was pretty damn exciting. He had a wonderful charisma and a very soothing, inclusive manner. I think I could listen to him talk all day.

Gaiman is truly a modern myth maker. Not only can he come up with astounding speculative fiction, but when so doing, he manages to retain that magical and slightly twisted element that you find in so much ancient mythology. Cause-and-effect make a different sort of sense in his works. He eschews the leap of logic for blind gut-feelings, he's full of the surreal surprises and plot turns that you would never expect but that still seem to make complete and universal sense. For those interested specifically in mythology, your first place to look would be Gaiman's American Gods (about what happens when Europeans bring their Old Gods to the New Country) and his Sandman graphic novels, which retell the story of Sleep, aka Morpheus.

And of course, for the classicists out there, be sad that you missed a really fantastic APA paper a few years back in a panel on Comics and Classics. It was entitled "A Dream of Augustus: Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Comic Mythology." Apparently when Anise Strong wrote to Gaiman to tell him she was writing an academic paper on his portrayal of the Emperor Augustus, he replied by sending her the original manuscript notes - a complete and utter shock for someone used to dealing with epigraphy, dead languages and rampant speculation about Vergil's 'intent.' Read the abstract here - although be warned, Comics fans, there are a few digs in there at your low-brow medium.

During his talk yesterday, Gaiman's stories were equal parts touching and funny. Sometimes they were groan-worthy. One such tale involved DC Comics. Now, I don't really read comics, but I've heard a lot about DC from Valarie D'Orazio's blog Occasional Superheroine, in which DC often is used as evidence for the problems in pop-culture and comics (with respect to gender and violence). I have to admit that I find many of DC's failings, which Valerie points out, to be pretty damn appalling. And then Gaiman told his story, which really seemed to show that DC was not just stupid, but The Man.

This is all old news to fanboys, but for me it was new: apparently for the 20th Anniversary of the Sandman series, Gaiman offered to write 6 new issues of the comic that explained what happened right before the series started - a prequel of sorts (what led Morpheus to the point of exhaustion on the fateful night that the story began?). DC was really excited about the prospect and supportive, but only if Neil Gaiman, a hugely famous/popular/beloved author (see: Coraline), would do it under the same contract that he first signed with DC when he was a starving artist in the 1980s.

DC was not willing to budge. Even a little. And so Gaiman walked away in shock, and those potentially legendary issues of Sandman were never born.

Besides the baffling action of DC, Gaiman told a whole ton of awesome stories, but one that I really liked was about his recent appearance on the Colbert Report.

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