When Neil Gaiman on Sandman was announced as part of the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival, I was adamant that my girlfriend and I needed to get tickets the second they went on sale. A wise choice, as it turned out, since all of his appearances at the festival sold out pretty quick.
The idea behind the event was very straightforward. In the build-up to his new series The Sandman: Overture, Neil Gaiman is interviewed onstage by friend and author Hannah Berry, specifically about his work on Sandman. If you are a Gaiman or a Sandman fan, then yes, this is every bit as awesome as it sounds. He has been on tour doing various talks and signings for a few weeks now, but he was genuinely excited to talk about Sandman, as it was one of the very few things his other events had not covered.
Berry started off by asking how Gaiman broke into writing comics to begin with, and he entertained the room with a story about how he pestered Alan Moore with scripts after reading Saga of the Swamp Thing on a whim (note: Neil Gaiman does a pretty convincing Alan Moore impersonation!).
The two then talked about the fairly unprecedented success of Sandman, with Gaiman noting that some people see Sandman as a groundbreaking piece of work, but he claims the title wasn’t unlike others that had gone before it, it just happened to be more popular than other titles that were doing similar things.
Over the course of the hour-long talk, Gaiman amusedly explained how the Sandman collected editions happened completely by accident because DC/Vertigo needed something to fill free advertising space in an issue of Rolling Stone magazine, and how he once deliberately remarked in an interview that he would never work for DC again if they let someone else write the character when he finished his initial 75-issue run, sneakily securing his own little comics niche in the process.
Talking about his new series The Sandman: Overture, Gaiman seemed excited to be working with the character again, explaining that there were always stories that just didn’t work at the time, or ideas that were never quite fully formed. He simply wasn’t finished with the character, and felt like it was the right time to come back and play around some more with Morpheus.
Having never really seen him speak before, my first impression was that to listen to Neil Gaiman talk is actually a bit like reading a very well written book. Every sentence from the guy’s mouth is thought out and formed as if it is being written onto a page, and his use of language in conversation is every bit as engaging as his written work. This was most evident when he fielded questions from the audience, and one member asked about his depiction of the character Death. In a way that only Neil Gaiman could, he explained how, when he slips off of his mortal coil, he wants the one who meets him on the other side to be the most beautiful, nicest thing he can imagine, and in his mind, that just happens to a really pretty Goth girl.
The only downside to the event is that it was only an hour long. I experienced the same thing last year when I saw Grant Morrison in conversation at the Book Festival. When these guys answer a question, there is rarely a short answer. Obviously that’s great, because you’re there to hear them talk, but such a short running time usually leaves you wanting more, and often leaves little time for audience questions. Nevertheless, this was a tenner well spent. I could have listened to Neil Gaiman talk for hours.
Alan Shields (Al)
You can also find Al on Facebook