Since I live in Jersey Country — aka the part of New Jersey that still has farms and Tractor Supply Company stores (there’s still a big mall 20 minutes away, of course) — I don’t get into New York much. So I missed Neil Gaiman’s ballyhooed appearance at Carnegie Hall. Imagine my surprise when I saw he was going to be speaking at Fairleigh Dickinson University. For free.
Neil Gaiman, as in “Sandman,” the game-changing comic book that’s still my favorite. As in “Mr. Punch” (brutal) and “Stardust” (way better than the movie). As in “Coraline” and “American Gods” and “Neverwhere” and “Fortunately, the Milk” (which I read to my kids, and they found it as hilarious as I did). As in, one of my favorite writers ever.
Side note: I’m amused and a little fascinated at how he switched from fare like “Sandman” — which is not even remotely for kids — to, say, “The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish” or “The Graveyard Book,” which are for kids. Or a particular sort of kid, at any rate.
He was appearing as part of WAMfest, aka Words and Music Fest, which FDU puts on annually, and features various writers and musicians talking about their craft. So kudos to FDU. Especially the free part. (Although I did buy books. Because I did not yet own “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” or “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains.”)
Gaiman was of course utterly charming and looked thoroughly delighted to be addressing a crowd of mainly college students (several dressed in all-black). In a panel discussion with Wesley Stace, he talked about his early inspirations (Will Eisner’s “The Spirit,” Alan Moore’s run on “Swamp Thing”), his lifelong desire to write comics even though there was no clear career path to get there at the time, “Doctor Who” and his works-in-progress (his take on “Hansel and Gretel,” for instance). Sadly no information about the “Sandman” film.
The whole thing was “live-drawn” by Michael Arthur, meaning as soon as Gaiman brought up a topic, Arthur would draw it. He mentioned “The Spirit,” Arthur drew The Spirit. He mentioned “Sandman,” Arthur drew Morpheus. That sort of thing. Watching the drawing take shape was about as fun as listening to the discussion.
Gaiman had some useful advice to give. For one: If you want to write a certain genre, don’t just read books in that genre. Read as much as you can and broaden your knowledge base. His expertise in world mythology, for instance, was due to a lifetime’s worth of being interested in it.
For another: He doesn’t really distinguish between his books as being adult or children’s works, unless an adult book contains a bit too much adult content. Otherwise, he sees them as more universal. Which is interesting, because he has a distinct, recognizable voice in his work no matter which book it is or who is meant to read it. That mindset seems like something to strive toward.
At any rate, a good conversation overall and I’m delighted I went. I wonder if the kids are old enough for “Coraline” …