Adventures in Fandom: Neil Gaiman and Chip Kidd talk Sandman, Batman, Shatner, and Death

Earlier this week, I attended a conversation at the 92nd Street Y featuring Neil Gaiman and author/editor/designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd. Kidd, who is currently promoting Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, was there to interview Gaiman on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of The Sandman. Without further ado, here’s the play-by-play in (approximate) real-time:

7:26: I’m running late. I am always running late. I emerge panicking out of the 86th Street stop and sprint up to 92nd Street, running like a rabid goat on fire. I keep imagining Chip Kidd yelling at me. The prospect is terrifying.

A few minutes later, I make it into theater to find Liz Gorinsky calmly holding down the Tor fort. Somewhat miraculously, I haven’t missed anything yet.

7:35: Vertigo’s Karen Berger is on hand to provide some introductory remarks and introduce the evening’s interlocuters. Chip Kidd sidles onstage wearing an amazing striped blazer, velvet-y looking fuschia fuchsia* pants and matching two-tone shoes. Gaiman emerges a minute later, sporting the standard black leather jacket and no discernible fuschia fuchsia. The crowd is already geeking out.

Kidd starts things off, gushing, “I feel like I’ve won some crazy contest—so if I spaz out, that’s why.” I already like him so much. Then the Sandman talk begins in earnest.

7:45: Gaiman is describing how his attempts to write the original Sandman outline (which later became the first eight issues) were nearly thwarted by “the only hurricane England has had in 700 years.” Stuck, stranded without electricity, and going slightly crazy, the power finally came on in time for him to type it up and get it to Karen Berger. Things seem to have worked out from there…

7: 58: Kidd and Gaiman discuss A Game of You—apparently, Gaiman had originally planned to expand Barbie’s story after The Doll’s House, then nixed the idea after reading Jonathan Carroll’s Bones of the Moon, thinking that the stories were too similar; or as Gaiman puts it, “You nicked my story, you bastard!” (accompanied by mock fist-shaking). Later, Gaiman and Carroll met and became friends, and Gaiman credits Carroll with encouraging him to tell the story in his own way. Interesting…

8:12: Talking artists now. Kidd asks how much the individual artists impacted the material; apparently quite a lot—Gaiman insists that A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest would never have happened without Charles Vess, who he’d tracked down at Comic Con.

Kidd asks for a wish list of people Gaiman would’ve liked to work with on Sandman but never got to. Gaiman mentions Barry Windsor-Smith and also Mike Mignola, who apparently never worked out for scheduling reasons.The crowd is audibly wistful.

8:20: Still discussing artists; Sam Kieth (and his dubious pseudonym, “The Meat”), then Mike Dringenberg (“Mike and deadlines were things that did not exist in the same universe”). Gaiman is extremely complimentary about both. The conversation then turns to “the monthly grind” of churning out a comic. Gaiman claims that in the beginning, the writing usually took up two weeks per month; by the end “it was more like five weeks a month.”

8:25: Kidd, who is taking suggestions for discussion topics from submissions on his website, claims that he has been directed to ask “any question that will get him to do his Harlan Ellison® or William Shatner impressions.” Gaiman laughs, then actually obliges, telling an anecdote about meeting Shatner at a conference in Buenos Aires. Apparently, Shatner had been informed that “Neil Diamond” was also a guest. Turns out Captain Kirk is quite the Neil Diamond fan. Long story short, hilarity ensues—Gaiman’s Shatner is, in fact, excellent.

Next up, Ellison, of whom NG is clearly very fond. Gaiman seems to consider him most amusing when he’s “really, really, psychotically angry”—Chip Kidd chimes in, “Okay, which is like, EVERY MINUTE of the DAY!!!” Gaiman describes phone messages beginning, “Gaiman! It’s Ellison. You’re dead. You’re a dead man. Call me.” Also, Harlan Ellison® apparently enjoys calling up, telling a particularly hilarious new obscene joke, and then hanging up immediately after the punch line. Once again, Gaiman’s impression is dead on.

8:35: Chip Kidd is on a roll. Snarky, hilarious—he is definitely Center Square material. I would probably have a nerd-crush on him if I were not already embroiled in a torrid love triangle with his delightful pants and shoes. He wants to know about the strangest gift Gaiman’s ever received from a fan, or (better yet) his “most appalling confrontation.” Unfailingly polite, Gaiman insists that his fans are all relatively normal, lovely people (compared to Clive Barker and Stephen King’s fans, at least. Well…duh. That’s no fun.) There’s some mention made of bad, giant fan art and lots of gifts involving sand (“it gets EVERYwhere”), but nothing too crazy.

8:42: Gaiman announces some Breaking News: The Complete Death collection, which was going to be released in a Deluxe edition, has been cancelled. Instead, it will be coming out later in the year in Absolute format. The crowd is very pleased.

Still dwelling on Death, Gaiman refers to the Death: The High Cost of Living movie as being in “development heck,” which is like development hell, but more encouraging. Apparently there is new hope and new rumblings afoot, which is exciting. Gaiman thinks he’d like to direct; talks about shadowing Guillermo del Toro all over Budapest during the filming of Hellboy II.

8:55: As most good conversations do, this one turns to Batman. “As a huuuuge Batman geek” Chip Kidd wants to know about the upcoming collaboration with Andy Kubert, but Gaiman remains secretive, assuring us only that “it’s really odd. It’s really, REALLY odd.” After a few minutes of playing cat and mouse (bat and mouse?), Kidd gives up and asks Gaiman’s opinion of the latest Batman movie. Both sing the praises of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but found the movie to be “over-stuffed.” Gaiman hopes aloud that “maybe in the next film, they will be able to afford throat lozenges;” Kidd loudly laments the costuming—“he looks like a giant cockroach!”

9:02: A question about Sandman stories Gaiman never got to write. NG recalls a “fetal dream story,” in which an unborn child would have dreamed of what it was going to become; it was going to be a rather emotional issue—a tearjerker, “a five-tissue story”—but Gaiman scrapped it because he feared it could be misused as anti-abortion propaganda. He also mentions a Delirium miniseries (again, the crowd makes sad-puppy noises), and a prequel he thinks of as “Sandman Zero,” which would have fleshed out Dream’s activites immediately before being captured and imprisoned by Roderick Burgess in the first issue.

After a brief discussion of the difficulties encountered in trying to use characters from the DC universe in the Sandman comics, it’s time for Q & A.

First up, a question about whether writing Sandman changed Gaiman’s personal dreamscapes. The answer is a vehement yes. Prone to nightmares in his early twenties, Gaiman says that after he started writing the comic, instead of waking up screaming, he would wake up and think, “Oh, that’s cool—I can USE that!” After awhile, they stopped altogether, leaving NG to conclude that “whoever was doing the nightmares was just deeply disheartened.”

A few more random questions, and then a final one about the influence of mythology on his work. Gaiman talks about Roger Lancelyn Green (which he initially was drawn to via Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor comics, making for a nice, neat circle of influence). Also C.S. Lewis and (my personal favorite) the crazy apocryphal infancy narratives of Christ, where Lil’ Jesus goes around zapping people with his magical god-powers and bringing folks back from the dead all willy-nilly. Good times. Chip Kidd ends the conversation by lauding Gaiman for his amazing work, concluding “keep doing it forever, and…uh—don’t die!” Gaiman cracks up; time for the signing.

The line is substantial, but not out of control. After about twenty minutes, I’ve made it into the room in which Gaiman and Kidd are signing. That’s when I realize that the walls are covered with materials about the Holocaust. It seems that the 92nd Street Y is currently hosting an exhibit called “No Child’s Play: Children in the Holocaust—Creativity and Play.” Huh.

Okay…How do I say this? It’s like going to your first Rolling Stones concert and having Shoah playing up on the JumboTron. Somehow, nothing harshes a buzz quite like photos of children in concentration camps. It’s kind of off-putting, to say the least—not exactly the venue I’d pick to meet one of my idols if I’d had my druthers, but I decided to focus instead on Chip Kidd’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Pants for awhile (they were even better close up.)

Finally, I’m one person away from Gaiman’s table, when suddenly he calls one of the Y organizers over. He seems pretty exhausted; it’s the last night of a lengthy book tour, and the line has turned out to be much longer than anticipated. He is utterly polite, but suddenly I feel like apologizing and running away. Obviously, I don’t, but I abandon all plans to attempt witty banter. I am a total wuss.

My turn. Luckily, my limited edition copy of “Snow, Glass, Apples” gets his attention, and when I tell him that someone at Tor gave it to me (thanks again, Fritz!), he actually asks me if I wrote The Graveyard Book review for I introduce myself and we shake hands and Neil Gaiman spends several minutes saying extremely nice things to me about the review as I stammer and say “thank you” approximately several hundred times. And he signs my book at some point (bonus!), although I’d ceased paying attention; another handshake, I wish him happy birthday, and wander out onto Lexington Avenue in total geek-rapture…and, for a brief shining moment, the world seems as rose-colored and dazzling as Chip Kidd’s fabulous pants.

*Many thanks to Neil Gaiman for his handy advice on the proper spelling of “fuchsia”—once again, my ignorance of German botanists has come back to haunt me :) Also, another review of the event—with pictures!—for those who’d like to see the pants in action.

[Photo from the 92nd St. Y.]


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