Neil in Helsinki

What follows is a Finncon report from Pekka, who acted as one of Neil’s guides during the convention.

On Wednesday we (my wife Christina and I) picked him from the Helsinki airport. He recognised us immediately (not that hard with me wearing the original Sandman T-shirt) and said that he was warned by Otto (a friend of us who got us the Neil-escorting jobs) that we would be his guides. We were a bit concerned if he would turn right back and head home when he saw us (since we had been following him the last time he was in Finland two years ago). We took him to his hotel and then took him to meet the other guests of honour of Finncon, Ken MacLeod and Stephen Baxter (and his wife). Ken and the Baxters were extremely nice, only if we had had more time to be with them. In that meeting Neil learned about the proposed schedule and that he was a guest of honour to two cons (Finncon which is a SF con and Comics Festival). After that we went to have some tex mex dinner with Neil, Ken and some members of the Finncon committee.

On Thursday morning we took Neil to the opening of both cons at the
Ateneum (part of Finnish National Gallery of Art). There was a press session there and then some interviews. We also had a tour in the Ateneum (first time Christina and I were there). In the evening we took Neil to have dinner with the Finncon committee.

On Friday guests of honour had a breakfast with the US Ambassador of Finland (who is a big SF fan, really!), so we took Neil to the US Embassy. Then Neil had a lunch with his Finnish publisher (Otava). After that there was a meeting with a graduate making her graduate work on Sandman, and a meeting with a guy making a play of Neil short story Snow, Glass and Apples. When they were done we and a friend of Neil’s (and ours) took Neil to a specialised sauna shop (Neil built a genuine Finnish sauna in his home) where he bought lots of Loyly (smells to be added to the water thrown on the hot stones), and some other sauna stuff. We popped into a candy store and Neil bought lots of salmiakki and some xylitol chewing gum. Then we went to Academic
bookstore where Neil bought books of Finnish mythology and some Moomin books. In the evening (half an hour after shopping books) we took Neil to have sushi with friends of his (and ours) in a japanese restaurant Kabuki which owner/cook is a big comic book and Star Wars fan (every single day Christina was wearing a different Star Wars T-shirt and I was wearing a different Sandman related T-shirt). The food was excellent, Neil said that it was very good, and the green tea ice cream was the best he had ever had. We were supposed to go see the championship competition of fireworks after dinner but all the
roads were packed because of people trying to get to go to see the
competition, so we called it a night.

On Saturday Neil had two speeches to the public and two signings (one of each in both conventions, signings lasted 90 and 80 minutes, over 200 people got autographs and dedications, and some of them got the small drawings he does in certain comics and books). We herded the signing sessions. Christina and I were totally pooped after that and Neil even more so. We staggered to Kiasma (Museum of Modern Finnish Art) after the second signing session (because Neil hoped that some good art would bring life to him) and were majorly disappointed with the exhibition. Only the theremin and a room that was shaped as a upper half of a sphere were cool. After Kiasma and dinner we escorted Neil back to the hotel.

On Sunday we started by picking up Neil and then Gary Groth (founder of Fantagraphics, editor of Comics Journal and a really nice guy). He was an unannounced guest of the comics festival, and had met Neil during the signing session on Saturday. We went to Good Fellows comics store (as was agreed with Jari Laitinen, owner of Good Fellows on sushi dinner on Friday). Neil and Gary bought a lot of stuff there and I took plenty of pictures of which I will give copies to Jari.
Then we took Neil to a panel discussion which was followed by an
interview and a reading session. Then Neil arranged a surprise (even to us 🙂 signing session that lasted 10 minutes. With the official programme finished we took Neil by a ferry to Suomenlinna (Sveaborg, the Finnish Castle in Finnish, the Swedish Castle in Swedish) where we had dinner with a bunch of friends (again both Neil’s and ours). In the evening we took Neil to Dead Dog Party which was arranged to honour the organisers of Finncon. While in there he checked from his own papers at what time his plane was leaving on Monday. Ours said that that time for departure was 1:35 pm, his said it was 7:15 am!
Because his tickets also said 7:15 am, we decided to believe that
unless his assistant would say otherwise. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to reach his assistant, and it was getting late. So Neil visited every table in the party and everyone got their chance to talk with him and then we took him back to his hotel.

On Monday morning Christina and I got up at 4:00 am, we phoned Neil at 5:00 am, and arrived at his hotel room at 5:25 am. I wore the Wake T-shirt, it was a nice touch although it was far too early to appreciate the many meanings of it. We arrived at the airport at 6:00 am. Neil checked in and then it was time for goodbyes (I will not share them). We made sure that he got in the international part of the waiting lounge and waved him goodbye.

Now that I think back of Neil, Finncon, Comics Festival and the fans, I am surprised that there weren’t any stalkers. Well, apart from Christina and I, but this year, we had gone pro.