Features – BusinessWorld Online

Two from the July 15-16 BusinessWorld (Philipines):

You like me, you really, really like me

It’s quite ironic that the first thing he said to a screaming, clapping wild crowd of 3,000 was “I’m sorry I’m late.” Filipinos are used to apologizing for their infamous tardiness, or not apologizing at all.

But that is Neil Gaiman for you. He admitted to being surprised at arriving in a country — in a middle of a political crisis at that — where he has never been to before yet whose people have givven him the biggest and the best reception of his career.

He wasn’t the only one surprised. In the three days that he was here, the thousands of fans who lined up for his book signings were just as surprised to find out how nice he is. Neil Gaiman, the author whose graphic novel Endless Nights was the first to make it to the New York Times’ Bestseller List, the comic book writer who unarguably changed the way comics are written, read and perceived and whose work, Sandman, is still being printed almost two decades after it first came out, the artist admired by artists and praised by fans all over the world — is simply, unthinkably nice.

British-born Gaiman — tall, with an unruly mop of curly hair, English pale, wearing his trademark black leather jacket over a black shirt paired with black jeans and black boots — much to everyone’s surprise and delight, sat through his first book signing until 1:30 a.m. And he didn’t just hurriedly scribble his signature on every book. He doodled cute things on the books, cheerfully chatted with each person, gamely posed for pictures until his eyes hurt from the flashes, hugged, kissed and shook hands with everyone who wasn’t dumbstruck by the time they got to him.

Most of the fans waited for him at the Rockwell Tent for more than six hours by the time he arrived at around 4 p.m. Some apparently had been there as early as 7 a.m. By lunchtime, all the 700 numbers Fully Booked prepared for the signing had been handed out, still many people weren’t able to get numbers.

The fans got smarter. The next day, they camped out at the branch in Greenhills really early in the morning. The last person got his book signed past 8 p.m.

At Gaiman’s last book signing in Gateway Mall on Monday, the line wound down three floors — from Fully Booked at the 3rd floor down and out to Aurora Blvd. Gaiman finished with the last person well past 10 p.m.

He is no rock star, he said, yet he found “a sort of Beatle-mania early in the morning” for him. Every move, every word he made was met by wild cheering. In his blog he wrote that Filipinos are so noisy when they are happy, they can make the Brazilians look tame and reserved. “You people,” he said to the crowd at Rockwell, “make more noise than even the Brazilians,” after which the applause got more thunderous and the people louder.

In 1989, Neil Gaiman, with a team of the best artists in comics, came out with the monthly comic called Sandman, whose central figure is Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, along with his siblings the Endless.

Mr. Gaiman helped turn comic books from a medium derided as not worthy of being called literary, to a now respected form of literature. Elegantly penned, mostly dark and brooding, but always funny and poignant, Sandman has been said to be the best comic series of its time.

He has since moved on — he concluded the last story arc in 1997 – and has written the highly praised novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, and the soon-to-be released Anansi Boys.Another monthly title is not in his plans, probably ever, because doing Sandmanfor nine years engulfed his life, allowing him to do little else.

But Sandman fans still have something to look forward to: Sandman’s 20th birthday on which Mr. Gaiman promised to answer some big questions such as what really turned Delight into Delirium, though he said one answer usually leads to more questions.

He has also dabbled successfully in books for children, like Wolves in the Wall, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and Coraline.

“I love writing children’s books that adults think faintly disturbing or wrong or dangerous because that way we get these kids, the reluctant readers,” he said during an interview.

As a kid, Mr. Gaiman loved nothing more than reading. He was addicted to it so much that his parents had to frisk him for books before family events because otherwise, he’d shut out the rest of the world and sit under a table reading.

“I was one of those kids who was born to read,” he said. “I wanted to be Tolkien or possibly C.S. Lewis. Those were the people that I wanted to be. I wanted to be somebody writing cool books. So that was so much what I was like as a kid. It was so integral to me.”

He, like every other successful writer, advises the same thing to all aspiring writers. Reading is the key. “Read everything you can and read the stuff that has nothing to do with the stuff that you like to read,” he suggested during the writers forum at the Music Museum sponsored by the British Council on Monday.

“I do have a rule which I would commend to all of you, that when I sit down to write, I’m allowed to do one of two things: I’m allowed not to do anything or I’m allowed to write. That’s a very useful rule. Trust me, sitting there not doing anything gets so boring that in five minutes your ready to write. And you’re not allowed a game of solitaire.”

When asked at the writers forum if he expected the reception he has so far received in the Philippines, Mr. Gaiman said “I was definitely rather taken aback turning up at the Tent and being hit by a wall of noise of several thousand people. But mostly it was just this terrible feeling that a terrible mistake had been made. [That] the [host] would say ’Neil Gaiman’ and somebody would say, ’We thought it was [someone else].’ And they’ll go home.”

No one made a mistake. The hordes of fans who stalked Neil Gaiman knew who they were looking for.

“As a young journalist,” he shared, “I learned very rapidly that most of the people at the top of their profession were incredibly nice, incredibly sweet, incredibly helpful. The ones who weren’t were all second-raters. They were the pains in the ass.

“I said, ’You know what, I think I want to be a first-rater when I grow up because it’s simply so much easier’.”

He decided to be a journalist at 20 after the stories he sent out kept returning to him. He found journalism a useful profession, not so much because it helped pay the bills, but for the invaluable experience it gave him.

“I need to know how the world works. I need to know more.”

He may be read by millions, his position aspired for, his talent praised and envied, yet Mr. Gaiman writes for the pure joy of doing so, to please himself above all others.

“[A]n audience wants what it always wants, which is what he got last time and liked,” he remarked. And perhaps so do editors, one of whom wanted him to make the same storyline to guarantee sales and success.

It turned out for the best that Mr. Gaiman stuck out with what he wanted to do because ultimately, everyone — he, the fans, even the critics — was pleased.

“I think I have my dream life,” he told the crowd that assembled for him at Rockwell. “I was having a bad night, I was 19 or 20 and I was lying there at five o’clock in the morning and I suddenly thought, ’You know, I want to be a writer’ and I tell myself I am a writer. If I don’t do anything about it, one day I’ll be 80 years old, I will be lying there on my deathbed and I will thinking, ’I could have been a writer.’

“It was that terrible idea not to have tried to go for it, not
to have tried to live the dream…. It’s pretty glorious. I make things up. I write them down. People like it. It’s so simple. I’m so lucky.”
–Josefa Labaya Cagoco


Waiting for Gaiman

The fear, really, was that of sticking out like a sore thumb.

After all, having two kids, worrying about the soaring cost of living, and working for a business paper do not immediately lend themselves to lining up to see a man best known for writing comic books and fantasy novels.

But being an avid SF&F fan since childhood (blame Gabi ng Lagim and Tom Swift), Neil Gaiman has since become one of my few must-read authors. Having been blown away by a borrowed copy of Season of Mists in the early ’90s, his Sandman series is one of the only two comic book titles I collect, the other being Dr. Strange (who, by the way, gets the Gaiman treatment in 1602).

Gaiman was also a sure-fire way of getting girls interested; his Sandman – violent, puzzling, and weird – went well with the eclectic (OK, peculiar) image I fancied myself to be cultivating back then. To this day, it is also only one of two things I have managed to get my then girlfriend (now wife)hooked on; the other was Resident Evil 1.

So there I was, with wife in tow, cautiously sizing up the midmorning, near-panic buying at Fully Booked in Rockwell for some indication of how Gaiman’s much-touted RP visit was to proceed. We would have been there later in the afternoon had it not been for some timely advice: signing passes were to be issued way ahead of time (something the press releases conveniently failed to mention).

We found ourselves, at 10:45 a.m., stamped on the arm and gaping at #580 and #582, way down the 700-limit order. Being newbies to book signings, we figured a 7 p.m. exit following a 3 p.m. start was feasible, time enough for dinner with my visiting parents.

Fans were easy to spot: mostly teenage and obviously recent converts, clutching their crisp Fully Booked bags, and a few (oh joy) nearer our age, nursing graphic novels in protective cases, much-read paperbacks, and even comics that had been kept in those Filbar’s plastic bags all these years.

Not that I’m disparaging the youth who turned up: Gaiman’s stuff is remarkably age-accessible. And, given today’s short attention spans, who wouldn’t be cheered by teenagers taking the time to read? (How’s this for reversals: I’m now going through Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, targetted for young readers).

Had an early lunch, went back to the tent and few colleagues showed up (in the surrounding sea of youth, being called “sir” was cringe-inducing). Three p.m. and no Gaiman, some punk band began playing. Predictably, most of the older folks – us included – moved outside (but a surprisingly good reworking of “My Favorite Things” stuck to mind).

A roar announced Gaiman’s arrival around four. Pinoy enthusiasm, he declared, surpassed Brazilian noise levels, but Manila shouldn’t have been a surprise as he had just come from staid Singapore. A reading from the upcoming Anansi Boys, a Mirrormask trailer, and a short Q&A quickly followed, then the main event.

Gaiman, however, apparently had no idea that the organizers had okayed 700 people lining up. Given a maximum of four books that could be signed per person (depending on how many Fully Booked purchases were made), he was looking at 2,800 max. Compromise: those with four items could only get one with a personal dedication (the rest just a signature), and no posing for photos (staff were on hand to take quick snaps).

Settling down for the wait, it was now time to scrutinize the crowd. Young, as mentioned, but surprisingly very few in full goth gear. Black, however, was the color du jour. Of those who showed up in punk mode, one girl sporting a spiked dog collar which was chained to her boyfriend’s wrist was subjected to the wife’s parent-mode critique.

A few “Death” wannabes were present, but families (and even a few babies – more on them later) were also around. The little girl on her father’s shoulders beside me was even declaring: “That’s ’Dream,’ that’s ’Destiny,’ that’s ’Desire’” Had daddy started her on Sandman that early? Students caught up with teachers, and I was particularly struck by this fiftyish gentleman clutching a paperback copy of American Gods and a pass that, by its color, marked him as past #300.

Seven p.m. came and went, and the end of the line hadn’t touched #150. Had to cancel the dinner with the parents. My wife, the bureaucrat, was getting antsy, what with the previous day’s Cabinet resignations and my annoyance at constant government text message propaganda denouncing Cory and the 10 “traitors.”

Left for dinner, debated whether we could squeeze in a movie to pass the time. Decided against it. Nearing 10 p.m. and #300 nowhere near being called, Gaiman requested that those with kids and pregnant women skip to the front. Mentally kicked myself for not having brought our grade schooler – hey, since we two could only have one item signed each, I had considered dragging even the toddler and househelp along.

It was also argument time, with the wife insisting on watching a movie, any movie, just to move the wait forward. Stubbornness had also kicked in past the six-hour mark and there was no way I was going home empty-handed. Had no choice but War of the Worlds, which, surprisingly, was marred only by the presence of Tom Cruise.

Movie over at midnight, and back to a tent still packing about a hundred people anesthetized by the wait. A couple in long black capes and chalk-white makeup were in line – I have no idea who or what they were channeling – and the count had just breached #500. Many, however, had simply given up and gone home, so at 12:45 a.m. – 14 hours since setting foot in Rockwell – I was grinning like a fool at seeing Gaiman’s signature gracing Season of Mists and The Wake.

“Sleep safely,” he wrote. I slept exhausted.
–Arnold Belleza