Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Marvelous Mr. Gaiman

There are delightful moments in your life when people completely meet (and indeed, exceed) your expectations. I'm going to tell you about one of them.

A bit of background first.

Until the very moment I was in the midst of it, the process of bookmaking was completely foreign to me. I had no idea what any of the lingo meant, and I had never heard, for example, the term advance reading copy. For those of you playing along at home, an advance reading copy, or ARC, as they call it, is a paperback version of your book that is sent out to book reviewers, like Kirkus or Publisher's Weekly, for them to read, and hopefully review, in the months and weeks leading up to the final publication of your book to give you a bit of advance buzz. The ARC is by no means final -- you can still work out kinks, make edits, change the cover, and so on -- but it marks the first time you've put on your new suit to see if it fits and make an appearance in public. It gives you a feel for what your book might look like when it's finally ready for production, and for an author, it's an exciting, if nervewracking, moment. And when I got mine, I was so thrilled to have that thing in my hands that I just had to show it off. And in an enormous fit of . . . I dunno, insanity, or something, I decided that one of the people I wanted to show it to was someone I admired immensely, and whose work meant a lot to me: Neil Gaiman.

Now, I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman's since waaaay back. Even before he was Mister New York Times Bestselling Novelist Guy, we comic nerds had already laid claims to him as One Of Ours -- and, yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, we were loathe at first to share him with the rest of you. But we got over it. Anyway, I even had a front row seat, of sorts, to his rise from comic book icon (it's generally agreed that if there's a comics Mount Rushmore, Gaiman's face is on it, along with Alan Moore's, Frank Miller's and, I would argue, Harvey Kurtzman's. No, wait -- Will Eisner's. No, wait . . . ) to world phenom.

As I've mentioned before, I worked in a comic book store in the late 1980s. And while I often rolled my eyes at the tastes of the store's manager (who was more interested in hoarding boxes of G.I. Joe, and exploiting the booming sports card trade), to his credit, he did allow those of us behind the counter to order all sorts of obscure titles, including British comics and magazines, like 2000 A.D. I had initially started picking up 2000 A.D. because I knew Alan Moore had been a contributor -- but even after Moore had abandoned its pages for Saga of the Swamp Thing and other projects on this side of the pond, I still regularly flipped through it each week. So I had seen Neil Gaiman's name on a few stories (if I remember correctly, he usually wrote for the EC-ish "Future Shocks!") and -- even better -- I had heard he was a friend of Alan Moore's. So I was already keeping an eye on this upstart when he began his assault on American comics with Black Orchid (yes, that was first) and then Sandman. And you probably know the rest.

That's a roundabout way of saying I've been a fan since just about forever. What's more, I've read just about every article about or interview with him that I could find, and he always struck me as a genuinely nice guy -- so nice, in fact, that I'm quite certain he has plenty of punks like me making demands on his time and patience, simply because he seems so approachable.

So approachable, in fact, that in late September 2007, I e-mailed him through his website and, trying hard not to geek out too much, asked if I could send him one of my ARCs just because ... well, y'know, I really like him. Several days later, I had an e-mail from him. "Sounds great! Thank you!" he wrote, and provided me with a mailing address where I could send it. Nice.

Off the package went, with yet another gushy note, and I thought no more of it, happy just knowing that it was sitting somewhere in the Gaiman Emporium of Stuff.

Two weeks later, I found in my mailbox an eggshell-colored envelope addressed to me in a thick blue cursive, with its stamps cancelled, but no return address. I opened it, and eased out the correspondence card inside -- one of those classy cards of a weighty stock that are almost heavy in your hand. The name NEIL GAIMAN was inscribed across the top in all caps. The same blue cursive continued on the card inside:

Dear Brian:

Thanks SO much for the Washington Irving biography. I'm looking forward to reading it. Probably by the time I do, it will have won many awards and graced all sorts of best seller lists.

Good luck!

Neil Gaiman

Now, how neat is that? Neil (if I may call him that) didn't know me from Adam. Further, I knew from reading his blog that he'd been incredibly busy over the past few weeks, traveling extensively and putting the finishing touches on Odd and the Frost Giants. And yet, he had taken a moment to write a few kind lines to an admirer. He didn't have to do anything at all, but he did--because Neil Gaiman was--is--a true gentleman.

I've got his card framed and hanging in my office as a constant reminder of how decent people can be. Not, when it comes to Neil Gaiman, that I really need reminding. He was everything I expected.