Friday night at New York Comic Con 2008, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund presented an evening with Neil Gaiman, and CBR News was on hand to bring you all the details. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein welcomed actor Bill Hader to the podium to introduce the guest of honor.
Growing up, Hader loved horror fiction by the likes of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. He was also a comics fan, and took quickly to Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing.” A friend of his introduced the actor to Neil Gaiman with “Smoke and Mirrors.” “I read it, I was like, ‘Thank you,'” Hader had told his friend. “This is what I’ve been waiting for.” From there, he moved on to the first trade of “Sandman.”
Right after finishing it, Hader got a call from “Will & Grace’s” Megan Mullally, saying she’d talked the actor up to Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels. Hader read another trade, and in the exact same spot he got a call from someone at Lorne’s office who asked if Hader could fly to New York the next day to meet with Michaels. “I looked down and was like, ‘Gaiman!'” Hader said.
On the flight from L.A. to New York, Hader read “American Gods.” Hader had only expected a quick meeting with Michaels, but by the end of their meeting, SNL’s exec producer had invited him to stay for the weekend and watch the taping of the show. “Gaiman!” Hader had said to himself, triumphantly.
And when Michaels eventually asked him to audition for SNL, Hader did his audition with a paperback copy of “Neverwhere” in his back pocket.
Two weeks later on a movie set, Hader met Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on a movie set, and the group got to talking about comics. The three bonded over “Sandman,” and Rogen told Hader he would be perfect for a role in one of the writing team’s upcoming projects. That project turned out to be “Superbad.” Later, Hader asked Rogen why they had hird him. “They honestly said, ‘It’s because you like Neil Gaiman,'” Hader said.
Hader said he’s actually tried in vain to pitch Neil Gaiman sketches at SNL. Vincent Price as Coraline, for one. “Mommy, why do you have buttons for eyes?” Hader said, in his best Vincent Price impression. He’d also pitched Al Pacino as Dream.
Hader said he’d been lucky enough to meet Gaiman one time in a French coffee shop, where the comic book luminary graciously allowed the actor to “geek out for two hours.” Hader said a lot of times your heroes don’t live up to your expectations, but that “Neil is better than what you have in your head.”
With that, Hader welcomed Neil Gaiman to the stage. Gaiman took the podium and made an exclusive announcement: just over an hour earlier, the jury in the Gordon Lee case dropped all charges against the comic store proprietor. Gaiman explained that seven years ago in Rome, Georgia, Lee had been arrested because someone in his employ allegedly gave a comic book to a 9 year old depicting Pablo Picasso painting in the nude. The CBLDF spent years of legal wrangling and over $100,000 defending Lee, and the comics seller was finally vindicated. “It’s thanks to people like you giving money that he’s not in prison,” Gaiman said. “Thank you all.”
Gaiman segued into a reading of his story, “The Day the Saucers Came,” followed by a story called “Orange.” “Orange” was written for a book of short stories called “The Starry Rift,” and Gaiman admitted that he didn’t come up with the story until he was on his way to Australia, ostensibly to turn in the finshed product. Gaiman wrote the story on the first leg of his trip, e-mailed it to the editor on a layover, and his editor had read it by the time he arrived.
After “Orange,” Gaiman read a story called “Being An Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines,” for which he prepared a glass of water as a prop. The author described the story as an analysis of the effects of alcohol on a creative writer, and proceeded to take a sip from his cup in between each segment.
Gaiman then disappeared behind a curtain for 15 minutes to review questions that had been submitted by members of the audience at the beginning of the panel. The first question Gaiman chose to answer was in two parts: (1) Had the author broken his nose, and (2) Is Alan Moore a Wizard? Gaiman said his nose was not in fact broken, and that it was an injury he’d sustained while subjecting his large white German Shepherd to agility training, which consisted of the canine jumping through a hanging tire. Gaiman had overestimated his dog’s leaping ability, and was unluckily enough standing behind the rickety apparatus when the dog collided with the hanging tire. “But my family doctor was driving past on his way to ask a question about his novel,” Gaiman said. “Which is probably because Alan Moore is a Wizard.” Gaiman confirmed that he still loved his dog, and that his pet was blissfully ignorant that he had caused his owner any harm. “Scooby-Dooby-Doo,” Gaiman said.
Another fan asked how Gaiman got into comics. “People say there are people out there who are alcoholics waiting to happen,” Gaiman said. “I was interested in comics before I’d even read a comic.” At the age of seven, Gaiman gained access to seven boxes of American comics. He wiled away an entire summer reading through Marvel and DC comics, including the arrival of the Silver Surfer, and the rest was history.
One fan wanted to know what a young Neil Gaiman had wanted to be when he grew up. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer,” Gaiman said. “But when I was a kid, I didn’t think you could do it by writing.” Gaiman had developed a theory that if he walked around with a copy of “Lord of the Rings” on him at all times, that when he fell into a dimensional rift into a world that was identical to our but that no one had written “Lord of the Rings,” he would have the only copy. “Then I’d have to convince an adult to write it up.”
By the time he was 13, Gaiman’s new plan was to kidnap other writers from across time and space, and force them to work on a giant trilogy of his own devising. But Gaiman eventually figured out that the only way to become a writer was to write.
One fan wanted to know how Gaiman and his wife arrived at the name Madeleine for their daughter. Gaiman said it came about when he was sitting with his incredibly pregnant wife throwing out name suggestions. None of them were sticking, and his frustrated wife told him, “If you say one more name, I am divorcing you.” That’s when Gaiman suggested Madeleine, and his wife said, “Oh, I like that.”
The next question was less a question and more a favor: one smitten fan wrote, “The girl in row six dressed as Delerium is cute, can you get her number for me?” Gaiman played matchmaker, and the girl in row six gladly passed her digits along to the fan in question.
The next question Gaiman tackled asked the author to relate the oddest question he’d ever been asked by a fan. Without missing a beat, Gaiman rattled off the previous question about the girl dressed as Delerium.
One fan asked if Gaiman had a favorite graveyard. The author replied that he in fact had three, including Highgate West in England. Gaiman explained that when he was a boy, his family didn’t have a garden, so the graveyard across the street from their house had to suffice. This was the inspiration for his “Graveyard Book.”
A fan asked Gaiman about his relationship to Clive Barker. Gaiman explained that they’d first met 25 years earlier, when fans would consistently mistake one of them for the other. “Then we hunted each other down and discovered we look nothing at all alike!” Gaiman said.
One fan asked if Lucifer in “Murder Mysteries” was inspired by “Lucifer” in “Sandman.” “Obviously not, because Lucifer in ‘Sandman’ is copyrighted by DC Comics,” Gaiman said, coyly.
As Gaiman prepared for his final reading of the night, he poured himself a glass of water (which he insisted wasn’t a prop). “Jungle Book” is about a small boy whose family is killed and is brought up by jungle creatures,” Gaiman prefaced. “‘The Graveyard Book’ is about small boy who wanders into a graveyard and is brought up by dead people.”
Gaiman explained that each chapter takes place two months after the one preceding it. Since Gaiman had already done public readings of chapters one and two, to round out the panel he treated the audience to the first ever public reading of chapter three, “The Hound of God,” in which a six year old Nobody Owens gets a new guardian.
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