When I was eleven or twelve, I was staying up too late one night and stumbled on the weirdest show I’ve ever seen. Some guy was sitting in a sort of hardwired highback chair with a keyboard on his arm talking about creativity, or imagination or aliens. He’d talk for a bit and then ‘call’ noted scifi, fantasy and comic book authors to get their opinions.
On the particular episode I was watching that night, one of the people interviewed was a shaggy haired Brit in a leather jacket and a musical accent that soothed like waves on the shore. He was saying something about dreams and how you can always tell when you’re in a dream if you go to take out the garbage and aren’t surprised by the swimming pool you unexpectedly find in the middle of your kitchen.
I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen. That show was Prisoners of Gravity, his name was Neil Gaiman, and Monday night I got to meet him at a reading and signing he did as part of the Luminato Festival in Toronto.
The event sold out in three minutes, we were told, so the Lady and I had no problem with our second row from the back seats, we were just happy to be there. After a brief introduction from Space Channel producer [and Prisoners of Gravity creator, nice bit of full circle, that] Mark Askwith, Gaiman came out to the expected round of thunderous applause from the city he once called “my first girlfriend”. The evening started with Gaiman reading a chapter from his Newbery Award-winning “The Graveyard Book,” followed by a 45-minute interview with Askwith, covering topics like why he prefers to write longhand [he thinks computers make writers less prone to edit or give thought to sentence construction] to his newest works, the recently finished collaborative work “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” and his in progress reworking of China’s Monkey King myth.
Following Askwith’s casually professional interview was the audience Q&A, which was as mixed a bag as I expected. In the signing line afterward, it was mentioned that previous readings had audience questions picked out of a hat, a system that would have been preferred on Monday night. To his credit, after 20-plus years, Gaiman clearly knows who his audience is, and is well aware that some of them are socially inept science fiction and fantasy fans prone to silly questions. He had no problem giving them a little stiff arm while still providing captivating answers.
When one audience member asked Gaiman what he thought of the passing of Hitchhiker’s Guide author Douglas Adams, Gaiman reminded the gentleman that he may want to ask a question next time, adding, “I didn’t think it was good!” But that brief awkward moment was followed by a touching story about the day he learned Adams had died, featuring the limitations of the early internet, a BBC World reporter from China, and Lou Reed.
The audience portion was mercifully ended after five or six questions, and was followed by a reading of one of Gaiman’s pieces from the Amanda Palmer book, and his recent children’s book “Blueberry Girl,” much to my Lady’s delight.
Getting through the signing line took about an hour and a half, made bearable by making friends with people around us [Denise, you were awesome, but you left without saying goodbye! I hope your research works out], and when I finally got to the front, I told him about a 12-year-old boy who saw him on tv and thought he was the coolest guy ever, so the boy read Good Omens even though he didn’t get the jokes, and he bought Sandman #1 at the Motor City Comic Con [going nowhere but up! said the vendor], and the boy was now a 31-year-old man who was very happy that Gaiman was writing children’s books, so that if the man has a 12-year-old of his own, the boy can discover for himself how cool the man with the shaggy hair and the leather jacket is.
Gaiman smiled genuinely, closed my book, slid it back to me and shook my hand. I was so elated and focused on watching the Lady get her copy of Blueberry Girl signed I didn’t even check what he’d written until after we’d walked onto the street.
Under a simple drawing of a cracked heart, Sweet dreams, Jordan — Neil Gaiman.
Thanks to Neil for being so gracious to all his fans, and for inspiring me for the last 20 years.