Monday, July 11, 2005

Meeting Neil Gaiman

Meeting Neil Gaiman

Working in comics since 1992 doesn't change the fact that I'm still pretty much a fanboy, specially towards those creators whose work I appreciate a lot. The prospect of meeting the creators of my favorite comics is always a thrill, and there is really no thrill greater than meeting Neil Gaiman. Well, maybe Alan Moore, but Neil is pretty much right there with him.

I loved (and still love) Neil's work on Sandman, Miracleman, Books of Magic, American Gods, etc. I saw him doing signings during the 1999 San Diego Con, but there were just too many people and there was so much to do and go to. But having Neil right here in the Philippines is a different matter altogether. I was thrilled when I heard he was coming over c/o Fully Booked and the British Council. It was my chance to finally meet him.

I've never worked with Neil so I didn't have that card to play. Additionally, I have no string to pull for a more personal chance to meet him. But even if I did have that string, I probably wouldn't have used it. I'll stand in line, just like almost everyone else. It would be an interesting experience. I just didn't realize just how interesting it would be.

I also heard of this "Writers' Forum" sponsored by the British Council but they said you had to have an invitation for it. I thought, what the heck. I wrote the British Council and asked for invitations for both me and Ilyn. And what do you know? They gave us two. So that was cool!

Being based in San Pablo, it probably wouldn't have been feasible for me and Ilyn to back and forth Manila for a couple of days to attend the forum, meet Neil, and to get my comics signed. So we got a hotel somewhere in Ortigas which would make it easier for us to follow Neil around.

I brought with me my inking work so I could work on them while I was in town. I had planned to attend all three signings so I can get more books signed. We would arrive in Manila on Saturday, the first day of the signing in Rockwell. We would go straight to the venue after we had checked in.

It was on the bus on the way to Manila did we first hear of just what it was we were getting in to. Ilyn received texts reporting that people were lining up at Rockwell as early as 5:30am for a 3:00pm signing! Oh my God!! We both agreed to scratch Saturday and line up early for the Sunday signing in Greenhills Promenade instead.

We went to Greenhills that afternoon to see just where this Greenhills Promenade was. We've heard how different Greenhills was now, but we didn't realize how different. We hardly recognized it! At least now we know where Fully Booked was and we would be able to find the place easily the next day.

We both watched Batman that night. It was AWESOME. *nuff said!* It momentarily took my mind off what we would expect to be a gruelling day the following day.

We arrived at Greenhills at 9:00am to find a formidable line had already formed. We would learn later that there would be 150 people in front of us. And another 300 people would be added in *front* of this line, carried over from the previous day. From #152 in the line, I was suddenly shunted to #452! It would have been a frustration, but Ilyn and I had already agreed the night before that whatever happens that day, we won't get worked up over it. If we get our stuff signed and meet Neil, that would be great, but if we would be unlucky, then que sera sera. It was probably not meant to be, then.

It wasn't as horrible to be in line as I thought, as we saw a lot of friends, and made new ones!

The line forming outside Fully Booked

Me, Ilyn and our friend Chris Layusa

Ilyn's student Christine Basilan, Ilyn, Chris, and my sister-in-law's sister Babes Tiu

Karen Kunawicz, Carlos, Russel Tomas, me

The first half of the day seemed to stretch on and on. Eventually, we got hungry and got some lunch. We had numbers anyway so we won't lose our place in line. But lunch went longer than expected and by the time we got back, Neil was already there reading from his upcoming book, Anansi Boys. There were so much people that I couldn't see him. I had to hold my camera up really high just to snap his picture.

I wish I was there to hear him start his reading. It was so noisy and the sound system wasn't so good that I couldn't follow what he was saying. He read it well though, with a large dose of good humor thrown in.

Neil began signing and we fell back in line.

Komikeros Raipo Toledo and Mylene Panagsagan joined us, but not for long. They arrived too late to guarantee them a place in line, so they just hung out to get a glimpse of Neil. 500 were guaranteed to meet Neil, but it's possible to squeeze more people in later if the line goes relatively fast and Neil says he can still go on.

The line snaked from outside the mall, through the mall entrance, up the stairs, through the 2nd floor of Fully Booked, down the stairs to the ground floor to where Neil was, and then out the door once you're done. The line outside the mall was extraordinarily long, and for a time we were under the mercy of the sun. It was HOT! But I thought it was just like any other ROTC day back when I was in college. It was OK, it was cool... but then there was trouble.

My deodorant was starting to give out. SHIT. Neil might notice and oh man... It's so embarassing. You know, you're pretty desensitized to what you smell like so when you start to smell yourself, well, that's pretty bad. I had to go and buy a roll on at Mercury, rush to a CR and get the business done. Whew! Potential disaster averted. Damned heat!

Pretty soon we would be in the mall where it was airconditioned. Once we were in, it was such a relief. Fully Booked had hired some bouncers to keep things in order, but I didn't appreciate how some of them barked at us like we were grade school kids. Who the fuck did they think they were talking to? A bunch of stupid kids? Bastards.

Still, I've got to hand it to Fully Booked. They were taken by surprise by the kind of reception Neil has had and it is to their credit that they were able to run things relatively well, inspite of hiccups here and there.

By 6:45 in the evening we were at the top of the stairs and at last we could see Neil downstairs signing away. We had been instructed to just have one item signed, because Neil wanted to accommodate as many people as he can. He was surprised, as much as I was, to see just how many fans he had in the Philippines. 3000 people turned up at the Rockwell signing the day before, and 700 had their stuff signed. Today he could only sign 500. Even though people beyond 500 had already been told that they couldn't be accommodated, they still hung around, waiting and hoping.

I had brought 2 things for Neil to sign, which was Sandman #51 and Miracleman: The Golden Age. Sandman #51 with art by Alec Stevens, means a lot to me because it is probably the one Sandman story which came closest to the atmosphere and feel of my own dreams. It's a very haunting story and it still stirs something in me everytime I look at it.

As for Miracleman, I brought it so I can look cool. he.he. It's beautifully written though.

I decided to have just Sandman #51 signed because really, it's the one that means most to me.

In front of Neil, I probably lost all sense and reduced to well, stupidity because well, I felt stupid all of a sudden. It was like I was in a sort of haze. Like a dream, strangely and appropriately enough. Like I wasn't really there. I vaguely recall myself talking, but all I remember saying were stupid things that don't deserve sharing here. My deodorant disaster earlier was embarassing enough as it is.

But Neil did spot my Miracleman book as I turned to go and volunteered to sign it. And that was awesome! I remember saying "Thank you very much!" which is probably the only thing that made sense of what I said to him.

And in an instant, it was all over. We were in line for almost 10 hours. And it was over. All of a sudden I just wanted to collapse. What an experience. Inspite of the long hours in line, I can say for certain that it was a GREAT experience. Apart from my momentary lapse into stupidity, that is. In front of Neil Gaiman, of all places.

But it is just so cool to have met him. It's something I'll remember for all time. What an amazingly patient, nice guy. And as if to prove it, once the 500 people are done, he let 100 more people in. When they realized that they didn't hang around for nothing, they became hysterical with delight. That man's endurance and consideration is beyond belief.

But it wasn't finished. The following day I would see him again at the Writers' Forum at the Music Museum.

The forum started with Ramon De Veyra talking about comics. All of a sudden he talks about Wasted, taking me by surprise. He talked to me earlier about the book, but I didn't know he was gonna talk about it in the forum. It was great. One or two guys actually cheered when the Wasted cover was flashed on the wall. Fantastic! Your check's in the mail guys. :)

Camy Francisco asked Neil about what he thought about Filipino artists like me and Leinil and Arnold and wondered if he would be open to working with Filipinos in the future. Bless you, Camy!

Neil talked about Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala and Alex Niño and his appreciation for their work. He went on to heap praise after praise at those guys and oh man... it was probably the greatest moment in my entire Gaiman experience. To hear him talk so glowingly about our great masters is incredibly touching. Ilyn told me later that it literally brought her to tears. I gotta admit, me too!

Here is a transcript of what Neil said (thanks Charles!)...

Neil: ... What was weird for me is growing up, of course. There were all these great Filipino artists drawing for DC. So, you know the first one I knew was Nestor Redondo.

Crowd: (applauds)

Neil: And Alfredo Alcala. These guys were like, the giants. These were the greats. And so, growing up, by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I knew the Philippines was the place where the really cool artists came from.

Crowd: (applauds)

Neil: God you’re easily satisfied.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: But it’s true. I mean these guys with these wonderful lying work, was Alex Niño one of yours?

Ramon: Yes.

Neil: It’s beautiful. Maybe you didn’t know was who was actually from the Philippines because unfortunately they don’t identify themselves and you picked it up as you went. But just really, elegant lines, a sense of beauty, a sense of proportion.

Ramon: I think Neal Adams mentioned the great Filipino artists were inspiration for the kind of, magic-realism, which when he went on to Batman, became inspirational as well.

Neil: They took comic art to a different place, and they added a sense of quirkiness, a sense of beauty. When I was a kid, you sort of, there was this really weird look especially reading Swamp Thing where Berni Wrightson was the best and then they got on with it and half of me is going, no dammit, you shouldn’t have let it die. You should have just kidnapped Berni and mix the main and keep it going. Part of this is really pretty. It really was.

For a full transcript, visit Charles' Blog.

I can only wish that because of what Neil said, people would be inspired to check out the work of our artists, and I'm quite sure that they will not be disappointed. Thanks Neil! And thanks Camy for asking the question! And thanks to Azrael for thinking up the question! :)

What a great few days. Very exhausting, but it was all worth it. :)