I had been at my comic book store, The Comic Book Box in Rohnert Park, when all of a sudden, the owner, Kathy Bottarini, very nonchalantly informed me that Neil Gaiman was going to be in San Francisco in about a week.
For a comic book reader, this can be one of the biggest deals. Gaiman has been on the scene since the 80s, when his seminal comic work, “The Sandman” hitting the stands in 1989. “The Sandman” and his work in other books have firmly established Gaiman as one of the top writers in the business, on par with legend Alan Moore. I have been somewhat of a fan since 10th grade, when my English teacher, Mr. P, opened my eyes to this book. I have since reawakened my love of Gaiman by introducing my friends to his work. In a smart move, the Sonoma State Library has all ten of the “Sandman” trade paperbacks.
When I heard about this appearance, I got a huge nerd rush, but that was almost immediately crushed as Kathy informed me that there would only be 100 people let in. I was certain that there was no way that I was going to get in. But, either as an act of faith or my hidden love of being immensely let down, I asked for the web info on the event from Kathy. I followed up and called the store, asking, in vain as I was assumed it would be, if there were more spots available. To my great shock, there were “plenty.” I silently celebrated. The ticket was pre-ordering the most recent Gaiman collection “Whatever Happened to the Caper Crusader?,” which is about the recent death/disappearance of Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Even though I already had the single issues of this story, this is Neil Gaiman we’re talking about. I could deal with owning two copies. I also informed two of my friends of Gaiman making his way to San Francisco and they too had garnered admission.
The night before going was like the night before Christmas. Since I had also managed to get my boss at the Press Democrat to let me cover this, I was all sorts of nervous. I placed all the things I would need (wallet, id, audio recorder, index cards for notes, several pencils, and a note reminding me to get batteries for the audio recorder) on the table with the utmost care. I paced my apartment several times, obsessively looking anything I may have missed (notice how that list did not include camera). But I calmed down and eventually went to sleep.
After traversing the epic hills of San Francisco, I arrived at Comix Experience and was 29th in line. I would’ve been 28, but my friend Mike DiGrande hopped in front of me when he showed up. Since I still got to meet Gaiman, I don’t hold it against him. The wait in line, wasn’t too bad. Almost immediately, I got to talking to the guy next to me. I jumped into the conversation he was having about Todd McFarlane that just turned into bad-mouthing Todd McFarlane’s work and morally questionable actions. What followed was about an hour of discussing Gaiman, Batman, and comics in general. We almost missed our first glimpse of Gaiman, who calmly walked passed the growing line as if he were walking to get some grapes at the market next-door. I had to double-take and ask Mike if that actually was Neil Gaiman.
We were let into the store and before Gaiman was even out, I was in heaven as I usually am with comic book stores. I began to think of what I would be buying. The owner, Brian Hibbs, quickly established himself as a nice guy in my mind. He had been pacing the line to make sure everyone knew what was going on and he had been really receptive of me when I had asked about covering it for the Press Democrat. He even had a small amount of coffee and donuts for everyone. He welcomed Gaiman out to the applause of the 100 people now crammed in the store.
I immediately thought “Neil Gaiman is so cool.” On top of my idolization of him, he just had this air of confidence about him. Even surrounded by people who knew far more about him than he knew about them, Gaiman commanded the room with his calm, almost indifferent British voice. He explained his history with the store that involved Hibbs “demanding” Gaiman sign in his store in 1989 and Hibbs furthering his image as a nice guy by giving potentially valuable comic books for free because he cared more about the comics than the money.
After being in the industry for as long as he has, Gaiman joked that he had still not figured out how to read a comic aloud, so he did a half hour reading of the new book, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” that features pictures his girlfriend, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, in various scenes of death. Gaiman contributed pieces of prose and poetry to the book.
The first was a contemporary retelling of an old fairy tale inspired by a photo of the dead Amanda Palmer with jewels flowing from her open mouth. The story featured Gaiman’s odd expository prose that was only punctuated by the way Gaiman read it. He followed it up with a short poem of a man eating dinner every night with the corpse of his love sitting on the other side of the table. The eyelids of the love have had eye painted on them, to give the appearance of life. “I painted the eyes on myself,” Gaiman stated. The next piece was a love letter to a 1950s Palmer who committed suicide in a gas oven. Gaiman also read story of a man and woman who floated around the world while the man wrote his novel on an old typewriter. The man and woman begin to argue and the man drops the typewriter over the edge of the balloon. When it descends to the earth, it killed Amanda Palmer. He finished with the opening piece that reveals the massive culture that has been built around Palmer’s death. She has become Elvis, but to such a higher degree. Children wrote rhymes about her, killing her with the last line. There are sub-cultures of Amanda Palmer. Amanda Palmer drag queens roam the streets. But it doesn’t change the fact that Amanda Palmer is dead.
Following the reading, we were led back out while the store was put back together. We were also informed that Gaiman would only sign two things, three if you were one of the lucky few who bought a copy of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” I was not one of the lucky few, but as we got closer to being let back in for the signing, I had a wonderful idea. I took one of my index cards and folded it in half and drew on one side, effectively turning it into a home-made copy of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?” When I had Gaiman sign my two things (My copy of “Caped Crusader” for me and an index card for my friend, Kelli), I also asked if he would sign my copy of “Amanda Palmer.” Without a moment’s hesitation and the laughs of the staff around us, he politely obliged, giving me three copies of his signature.
I can count the amount of famous people I’ve met. A few comic artists, Joel McHale a few months back, and I saw Danny Glover at a Giants game (which has another story to it). But none compare to Gaiman. On top of being so unbelievably talented, he is just the nicest guy around. And for someone who has written some dark stuff, he seems so filled with light. Neil Gaiman is just an all-around good guy and if you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing him at a signing or a reading. But remember one thing: it was not he who killed Amanda Palmer.
Photos are courtesy of Michael DiGrande