Review of a Neil Gaiman Reading

This file courtesy of Aron Wallaker – wallaker@vnet.ibm.com

August 23/94

The Beguiling presented Neil Gaiman at the Bathurst Street Theatre in an even to raise funds for The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Representatives were on hand from both the Canadian and US branches of the CBLDF distributing information and selling CBLDF merchandise. The evening was split into two segments; in the first Neil read from among his prose works, in the second he answered questions submitted by the audience.

The first half of the evening went something like this :

1) “Nicholas Was…” – a very short story, reprinted in “Angels & Visitations” Neil started out by describing the hand-created Christmas cards his artist friends send him each year, including the year Dave McKean created angels for each of his friends. Neil decided to create his own Christmas cards for his friends, but being a writer he decided to write a very short story, which could fit on the cover of a card. Neil had the cards calligraphed by Dave McKean and sent them out to his friends. He then went on to read the story the card story, which dealt with St. Nick (of course).

2) “Chivalry” – a short story printed in “Angels & Visitations” wherein an elderly lady buys the Holy Grail at the local Oxfam store.

3) “Being an Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines” – an article originally printed in the short-lived British magazine 20/20, reprinted in “Angels & Visitations”. In this essay Neil examines the effect of alcohol on a creative writer.

4) “Snow Glass Apples” – a, thus-far, unpublished short story. Here Neil revisits the classic tale of Snow White, from a somewhat different angle.

Highlights of the Q & A Session

Questions were submitted from the audience before the reading began. Neil sifted through a large stack of question sheets and tried to address as many as possible. What follows are a few of the more memorable Q&A’s.

Q) I heard that early in your career you wrote a biography. For who ?
A) Neil mentions that he was contracted to write a biography of a musical group. He was given three choices : Def Leppard, an older male singer whose name escapes me, and the band he eventually chose, whose name he did not reveal. He said his rational was to pick the artist with the fewest recordings and therefore the shortest bio. He finished the writing in three weeks and realized at the end that he had just written a book he never ever wanted to read, and vowed he would never do that again.

Q) Were you actually in attendance at the Chicago Comicon this year ?
A) Yes, for about two hours. (I have no idea as to the significance of this question, but I thought there would be people out there who would)

Q) What question would you ask yourself ?
A) Hmmmm….what question would I ask myself ?

Q) Do you hold to any philosophies or schools of thought ?
A) Yes. (Neil deadpanned this answer, then went on to the next question.)

Q) Tori Amos has mentioned in interviews being a big fan of yours; when did you meet Tori, and please describe your relationship with her. (Or something like that, I don’t remember exactly)
A) Neil mentions meeting Tori and discusses her interest in his works. He then mentions that many people think Delirium is based on Tori; he states this is not true, that Delirium existed long before he met Tori. However he has noticed that “Tori often says things that Delirium says later”. He also mentions that Tori much prefers Death to Delirium and is somewhat surprised that everyone, Neil included, thinks she is like Delirium.

Q) Who was your favorite monarch?
A) William the Conqueror – Neil then went on to tell a story of William’s death in a rural French village while on a crusade. WtC was apparently a huge obese man, and injured himself falling off his horse in this small village; unfortunately they had no way to get him back on his horse. (!) After staying in the village for a couple of days he grew sick and died; his entourage then set about creating a stone coffin to place William in, which took 3 days to complete. By this point, however, William had begun to swell in the heat and no longer fit in the coffin. They placed him in anyway and attempted to force the coffin lid closed over him, at which point William apparently burst. The resulting smell drove his staff from the building for 3 days, on their return they discovered that thieve, obviously with no sense of smell, had snuck in and stolen the crown jewels.

A Closing Piece

After concluding the Q&A segment, Neil closed the evening with a final reading. This was, in his own words, “A pornographic film treatment in iambic pentameter”. Apparently this work was created in response to a request from the editor of the “Alien Sex II” compilation that he submit something. (I don’t exactly remember if Neil stated whether it will be included in that collection or not). This was, as a rough description, from the detective genre with sexual content, overtones of horror, and references to pornographic film style. This only vaguely describes what Neil read, but it’s as close as I can come without trying to repeat the story (in which I would damage it beyond repair 🙂 ).

Misc. notes

I am not such a fashion victim that I would worry about what Neil wore on stage, but I thought there were two things of note:

  1. He did NOT wear sunglasses. 🙂
  2. His T-shirt, “Join a proud minority – read books.”

The Bathurst Street Theatre was not completely sold out, but I would estimate the attendance at somewhere around the 300 mark. (My ticket was #215, and I bought it two weeks in advance). Given my skill at guessing crowds, it was probably higher.

Although the evening did not feature a signing – which there was not time for – Neil did sign over 100 copies of “Angels & Visitations” in advance, which were on sale at The Beguiling’s table. FYI : they did have a handful of signed copies left over when I was at the store the next day, if you live in Toronto and you’re REALLY lucky there might be one left if you read this on Monday. Also on sale were the T-shirts they had made up for the event : on the front a B&W image of Neil, flanked by “A Beguiling Reading by Neil Gaiman” & the date; on the back “SUPPORT THE FREEDOM OF FICTION”. The Beguiling table also featured copies of many recent issues of Sandman, as well as Sandman TB’s, TB’s of Signal-To-Noise and Miracleman and the issue of CBJ with Neil on the cover.

The CBLDF table featured informational pamphlets, “A Short History of Comics Censorship”, pins, “I Read Banned Comics” and CBLDF T-shirts, the Groo “Thought Patrol” design and “Fight Censorship” by Chester Brown. Susan (whose last name I seem to have lost) was there from the CBLDF US, and Paul Stockton represented the Canadian branch. For anyone looking for more info on the CBLDF, the address of the US organization is : CBLDF, PO Box 693, Northampton, MA, 01061, or call 1-800-99-CBLDF. (The 1-800 number may be more oriented towards buying merchandise, I’m not exactly sure).

Finally, thanks to Leslie (whose last name I also forgot) for helping me take notes during the evening.