I went to the Neil Gaiman reading & signing at Barnes & Noble here in New York City tonight. Even though I knew he’s about as much of a rock star as a writer can get, I naively didn’t get in line until after he finished speaking. Neil heroically pledged to stay as long as it took; B&N likewise promised to stay open (would they do that for, say Salman Rushdie?). A slow realization set in that I would have to hunker down for several hours to get my book signed. Turns out I had the whole night free (which is a subject for another time), so I thought what the heck? I have to sit somewhere to read the book, why not here and now?
And so the first hour passes. The Farts & Ignoble carpeting is somewhat less than plush and my rear is a bit sore. But salvation! An employee offers us wristbands freeing us to leave and return at will. Well, at will until 8:45, that is. So I go have an enormous burger and fries (a craving, what can I say?) and come back.
Neil (he of the superhuman wrist) has already signed a hundred or so copies; I could simply buy one and call it a night. So the whole time I’m thinking, why am I doing this? I’m 31 years old! Not an 18-year-old goth chick or a ponytailed middle-aged book dealer looking to make a killing on eBay. I don’t even have anything clever to say or ask him!
Turns out I’m saved any awkwardness around Neil by the woman in front of me. She had a whole spiel prepared, thanking him for turning her on to several other writers. On one hand, I’m privately embarrassed for not having read a thing by any of those mentioned, but on the other, it frees me from the pressure of striking any kind of rapport with him myself. So as he signed my book and a first-edition Sandman hardcover I had brought along (I’m such a nerd), I simply thanked him for sticking it out. He replied that it’s quite easy when everybody is so nice. Poor fellow looked exhausted, standing just to keep his circulation moving, but he remained pleasant to the end.
I’m inspired to recount a few other signings I’ve attended here in New York:
I have a little bit of a crush on Sarah Vowell. Brains and wit (preferably snarky and tart) always turn me on, and it must be said she looked a bit sexy that evening. At the post-reading signing, I asked for it to be inscribed to “Chad.” She looked a bit curious and asked me to repeat it. So I did and managed to say something about how she had resisted the opportunity to make a dimpled or hanging chad joke. I can’t remember what she said in reply, because she looked me straight in the eye and held it for a moment or two, smiling her little curlicue smile. Whew! Maybe she simply didn’t hear my name the first time, but I’ll certainly remember that look and will continue to entertain the fantasy that she doesn’t look at everybody like that.
Dave Sim & Gerhard
The writer/artists of the comic book Cerebus. This was maybe 1998 or so, and I think I had already stopped reading Cerebus; no matter how brilliant a comics writer/artist Sim may be, I couldn’t deal with his sexual politics (in short, he started using Cerebus to explicate his increasingly paranoid and hostile feelings towards women – yes, all women. Personally, I like women a lot). But I found out he was going to be showing some original art and signing at a gallery in Tribeca, and decided to go. The organizers really laid down the law: Mr. Sim and Mr. Gerhard will sign only, and not do any sketches. Nevertheless, people were being quite rude and demanding multiple sketches on their stacks of Cerebus books anyway, and I recall the general atmosphere being a bit negative. So when I came up, all I had was a single slim issue of Cerebus and didn’t ask for anything. And he sketched a Cerebus head by his name. How about that? The tetchy misogynist drew me a cute little cartoon!
This is a good story. Bradbury is quite a character; imagine a huge red-nosed stone-deaf Santa Claus out of uniform and you’ll get the general idea. Amusingly, an assistant stood by loudly repeating in his ear everything people said to him. A film student at the time, I asked him if he had ever considered publishing his Moby Dick screenplay. After a brief delay as my question was relayed to him at greater volume and proximity, he rose up and bellowed (theatrically outraged) “OF COURSE NOT!!! When I was a BOY in ILLINOIS, I peeked behind the CURTAINS at the CARNIVAL and had my INNOCENCE SULLIED! Movies are MAGIC, and reading a screenplay is like learning how a MAGICIAN does his TRICKS!” (etc… I’m paraphrasing) I stammered something about how I was a screenwriting student and I only wanted to read it. His assistant mercifully repeated me, and then Bradbury just as abruptly changed tack: “OH! That’s DIFFERENT!” and proceeded to say something about how a writer can learn a lot by reading as much as possible. So I can proudly state I’ve been publicly and loudly dressed down by no less than Ray Bradbury, but nonetheless managed to save face.