April 22, 2005

Fan praises Gaiman but rues missed opportunities

Comics are definitely making an impact on the world of literature these days. Last year, the university sponsored a talk with Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, two monumental comic artists, and now Neil Gaiman has been selected as a Presidential Fellow in the Arts. However, it isn't fair to describe Gaiman's interests as exclusively comic-related. He is an unusually well-rounded writer who has completed a handful of novels, transcribed anime for American audiences (Princess Mononoke), and written screenplays for both big and small screens.

Gretchen Helfrich was chosen to interview Gaiman, and despite showing what may have passed as good manners of journalism, she came off as uninformed. Her questions, while they addressed important issues from subject matter to the style of storytelling for which Gaiman is known, left Gaiman little room to respond. A golden opportunity to explore the interaction of the various media forms that Gaiman works in was lost by a poorly formed opening question. She even stated that what themes she could garnish about his work were all from articles she had read about him beforehand.

Recently, Gaiman has been trying his hand at writing novels again and has just completed his latest work, Anansi Boys. And by "just," I do mean "just." He sent in the master copy to his publisher just this Tuesday morning before the lecture. Anansi Boys is an exploration in family relations, as most of Gaiman's work seems to be. As anyone who has read his highly successful Sandman comics can tell you, Gaiman excels at making characters, as fantastic as they may seem, human enough to empathize with. This is a very rare trait for a fantasy writer. This could have to do with the fact that he has realistic expectations for his characters and does not expect them to be heroes all the time. When on tour in the U.S., Gaiman recalled that people would tell him the he was writing about a dysfunctional family. As he related to the audience: "And then I'd ask, ‘what's that?' and they'd explain the concept to me. I think a dysfunctional family is what we [in Britain] would call a family."

Some upcoming projects Gaiman has planned include a screen version of Beowulf. Many weary literature students and most of us Philistines know the epic tale, and Gaiman managed to pull it off with a PG rating. But don't worry, it's still the gory mess we've all come to love in Early English literature: "The MPAA says that red blood gets you an R rating, but hacking an arm off won't. Well okay then, Grendel bleeds green!" Labyrinth fans should also keep a lookout for MirrorMask, a tale done in collaboration with Jim Henson Studios. It's the tale of a girl who wishes to run away from the life she knows and ends up in a fantastical wonderland in which she must find out what matters in life. Now all we need is David Bowie and a musical number, and we're set!

Anyone as fan-boyish as I am should be comforted to know that Gaiman is currently in talks with Marvel Comics regarding new issues of MiracleMan. For those of you not in the know, a lot of drama ensued over the copyrights to this series, involving everyone from Todd McFarlane to Alan Moore.

A sore point of the night for me was knowing there were many people who wanted to go to this event and had to miss the opportunity. "Everyone here seems slightly baffled and a little amazed that so many people wanted to come and that the tickets sold out so fast. My apologies to the hundreds of people who have written to me and wailed grievously," Gaiman wrote in his blog at I would say that more than half of the audience did not look as if they were affiliated with the University. Next time the University wants to bring a bestselling author, innovative screenwriter, and revolutionary comic writer to campus, they should arrange for more than just 250 seats.