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May 22, 2004

Shadow Knows

American GodsYou are American Gods! You are mysterious,
intelligent, and creative. To the rest of the
world you may seem a little standoffish, but
really youre just a quiet person. Youre sort of
bookish and are intrigued by mythology and
fairy tales. You might be Wiccan or Pagan,
either that or youre unreligious. You have a
sarcastic sense of humor and are the kind of
person people like to talk to because youre
such a good listener.

*~Which Neil Gaiman book are you?~*
brought to you by Quizilla If you know Neil Gaiman's works well enough, you can pretty much choose the answers accordingly to yield the result you want. I tried to be honest. Well, as honest as one can be on tests that give you multiple choice answers regarding your innermost emotions.

May 18, 2004

The High Cost of Living

I think the whole world's gone mad.
Uh-Uh. It's always been like this. You probably just don't get out enough.

Sexton and Death in Neil Gaiman's Death: High Cost of Living*]

Death is probably right. But in Sexton's defense, he has never seen the world before with Death as his guide.

Most of us go through life seeing the world only through our own eyes. This is what I see so this must be the way it is. Your only view of the world is your own interpretation of events and surroundings.

Sexton is one lucky guy. Sure, he's a despondent, black-souled, angst ridden teenager, just one crappy lyric short of being Kurt Cobain. But he gets the delicious treat of meeting Death, the perkiest otherwordly being this side of Katie Couric.

Death - spending her one day a year among the mortals - saves Sexton from a rather dubious exit from life and they make their way together through the city, going off on surreal adventures and playing out a modern, mystical version of It's a Wonderful Life.

So Sexton gets to see life through Death's eyes and it turns out that life is pretty magical. Pure irony there, being shown the wonders of life by Death herself, eh?

Imagine if you had a guide; someone who would spend a day walking through cities with you, showing you all the things you didn't know where there. It's not enough to take someone else's eyes and watch what they see, you have to have the mind behind those eyes as well.

Say there are two people laying on the grass, staring up at a cloud. One person sees a fish, another a castle in the same cloud. They can describe what they see so the other person recognizes it as well - see, there's the fish's eye, and the fin....oh, yes! I see it! - but the other person can't see what's behind the vision. Sure, it's just a fish, but in the other person's mind, the fish has already been given a name (Frida) and she's swimming towards something (sunlight) but the evil dark lord (the cloud behind it) is going to snatch up Frida and eat her for lunch before she can get anywhere near that sunlight.

You keep those things to yourself, mostly. Your friend who is laying on the grass with you won't get the real feeling of the story. He won't know why you chose the name Frida or why Frida will never make it to the sun and he certainly won't know that you will proably spend the rest of the day imaging scenarios between Frida and the dark lord.

Sexton, depressed, morose and suicidal as he is, is quite a lucky guy. He gets to see life through someone else's mind. He gets to experience the magic that Death experiences. And by doing that, he is able to see the world outside of his narrow view.

The problem is not that Sexton didn't get out enough; it's that he didn't get out of his own mind enough. Yes, the world has always been mad. It's always been crazy.

Perhaps we can say we do have these guides and they are books and music and all kinds of mass media that let us see into the minds of others, let us travel along their paths and experience their unique experiences.

Yes and no. It is not the same as actually running through the city with Death looking for an old woman's lost heart. Our guided tours are vicarious.

I assume that when Sexton realized he was hanging out with Death he had to figure they were perfectly matched companions. After all here he was, trying to kill himself. And there she was, Death personified.

Turns out they each had a little more life in them than Sexton realized.

Which all begs a question. Do we really want to see the world through the minds of others? It might be a very uncomfortable thing, to take a day's journey with someone quite unlike you. It might even be more uncomfortable to see the world through the mind of someone who thinks exactly like you do. And if we are our own guides, how many of us are really comfortable with that?

When I was a child, I had all kinds of daydreams where I would hang out with magical people and live within their magical lives. I'm a bit more grounded in reality now, but not much. I believe the one stark difference between then and now is I no longer wish to see the world laid bare as it really is. I thought, once upon a time, that it would be infinitely cool to have a magical companion who could show me everything that lies beneath the facade, every bit of myth and lore and fantasy that is hidden by the harsh realities of the world. I just knew that underneath all the dirt and grime and everday boringness of life, there were things happening that only those who possessed a certain magic could see. Things happening right underneath our feet, right in front of our eyes, but we are too wrapped up in the ordinary to see the extraordinary.

The fear is that mixed in with the angels and faeries and exciting, noble creatures of some other realm (where everyone eats chunks of cheese and hunks of bread and golden, crunchy apples, because that is what every hero in every fantasy book eats), there are creatures like devils and ogres and perhaps even grues, waiting to devour you.

I had a dream once, when I was about twelve, that I was being led through a dark passageway by a lighted, winged fairy. Along the walls of the passageway were drawings that would come to life as the fairy's light landed on them. At first, the passage was filled with the sound of my giddy laughter, as I watched all kinds of funny, mystical creatures take wing and fly around me. But as we rounded a corner, the light played upon a creature so hideous that the site of its face knocked the wind out of me. I fell to the ground and as I did so, I caught site of the creature. He was staring at me through hideous eyes. Now that you have seen me, I will never let you forget me, is what he said. And I didn't forget him, which is obvious as I repeat this dream to you now.

And that is my fear. That taking a ride through life through someone else's vision would reveal hideous ogres that should have been left unseen.

I suppose that one can't get to see the knights and good witches without seeing the trolls as well. What I would give to run through the city with Death as my companion, living Death's adventures. What I would give to be Sexton, to have someone shake me and say, look at all the things you didn't know existed.

Still, would I do that if a fleeting glance in a glass building revealed myself to be a monster?

Continue reading "The High Cost of Living" »

January 07, 2004

my fanboy moment

D is one of those people that you can have a friendship in absentia with. I think itís been two months since I last chatted with him and today I get an email and we sort of just picked up the conversation from the last time. No, where have you been, why havenít you written.

Heís a good friend, D. Such a good friend that when he went to a Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean signing, he made sure to get a book signed for me. And this is what ensued:

We're the last in line before they let a whole slew more of people over to the signing table, the agent hands one copy of Coraline to Dave and one to Neil. Dave asks if we want a dedication. I say "yes, to Michele, with one L please" so they *both* scribbled it in both copies. Neil realized what he'd just done and changed his copy to "not for Michele, definitely not for Michele, for Dave and Ann instead" and then added his sig and a scribble to the one Dave had signed.

I was watching Dave McKean intently to make sure he didn't screw it up and he paused after the first "L" and I could see he was thinking about it for a fraction of a second, so I said "please, just one L, or she'll shout at me" and that just made him grin even wider.

Iíve had this goal to someday meet both McKean and Gaiman at a signing. And now, my reputation precedes me. Yea, I know, they wonít remember a second of that exchange. But I will. And Iíll grin like a dope when I ask them to sign my book to Michele with one L.

And now, to help me repay D for his kindness, you can all go over and nominate him for Best British Blog. Pretty please?

D, I edited your silly British spellings

August 10, 2003

sunday morning review: wolves in the walls

Wolves in the Walls: Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

Lucy heard noises. The noises were coming from inside the walls. They were hustling noises and bustling noises. They were crinkling noises and crackling noises. They were sneaking, creeping, crumpling noises.


Wolves is simple story, really. Lucy hears noises in the walls of her house and assumes the obvious; there are wolves in the walls. Her parents and brother don't believe her, or don't want to believe her, because everyone knows that when the wolves come out of all the walls, it's all over. Of course, the wolves do come out and mayhem ensues.

They wear the family's clothing, eat the mother's homemade jam and make a general mess of things. Lucy and her family - who have been sleeping outside - must use their wit (truthfully, Lucy's wit) to get the wolves to leave the house so they can go back in.

Continue reading "sunday morning review: wolves in the walls" »

June 27, 2003

Gaiman v. Rowling

It's an interesting juxtaposition reading both the new Harry Potter and The Kindly Ones at the same time.

gaiman_sandman_kindly.gifWhen I was younger I wrote many stories of other worlds; worlds we can't see but yet have an impact on our world. In some of my stories, characters flitted back and forth between both worlds, much like Harry Potter. In some stories, the other world consisted of beings that controlled part of our lives, as in The Kindly Ones.

I prefer the writing of Gaiman to the writing of Rowling. Gaiman writes with a flourish and with a style that bespeaks of the world in which his charaters live. Rowling, at least in the latest book, writes almost as if in a hurry - basic use of style that exists just to move the story on.

The quaintness of the first book has all but vanished; it slowly diminished with each successive title. That's not to say I'm not enjoying the book, I am. Not because it is a great literary read, no. My enjoyment has more to do with the expectations and anticipation that comes from reading the four books before this one, from just wanting to know where the characters end up.

With Gaiman's dream world, I am taken to a place that makes me feel the pull of the magic; I want to be there. I want to eavesdrop on Death or Destiny or visit that great library. With Potter, that feeling has diminished. I no longer feel the pull of the Great Hall or a Quidditch match. I am reading as a means to an end, to find out what happens. In the world of Gaiman v. Rowling, it's storytelling v. plot mechanisms.

They both deal with extraordinary powers and the supernatural and I suppose that's where the similarities end. Yet I find myself ultimately comparing the two, and I come up with the end result that Gaiman can, in just a few panels, tell a far more fascinating, complex and moving story than Rowling can in over 500 pages. Gaiman is story teller. Rowling is a story mover.

When all is said and done and I finally read the last word of Potter, I'm sure I will be satisfied that the hours I spent reading the book were hours well spent. After reading four books before it, you have the desire to plunge on through the new pages to find out what happens to your friends - and of course they are your friends if you've followed along this far. However, it's not re-readable. I'll put it on the shelf when I'm done, with the four that came before it, but I won't just pick it up again some day to start over again.

I'd read The Kindly Ones, and anything by Gaiman for that matter (and especially Stardust) again and again because so much lies underneath the words, as if there are stories buried under the stories. Gaiman's words are at once beautiful and frightening and that's what separates him from those who have not learned that the crafts of story telliing and writing are two entirely different things.

June 04, 2003

death, destiny and vertigo comics

[also posted at blogcritics]

Vertigo Comics is celebrating their tenth anniversary.

Whenever I go to comic shows (not conventions, I mean the small ones at your local K of C ), I immediately head for the vendor who has the boxes sitting on the floor, labeled in black Sharpie "Back Issues, 50 cents each," because he will invariably have a ton of Vertigo titles stashed away in those boxes.

The thing that originally drew me to Vertigo (besides Neil Gaiman) was the covers of their comics. The art was always dark, mysterious and sometimes frightening. You could tell a Vertigo title a mile away. My favorites are the Dave McKean covers, and that's usually what I would be rummaging through the boxes for.

Some of the titles were just mediocre. I would still buy them for the art, using the covers to inspire me when I was hitting a writer's block.

I've read a bit of just about everything Vertigo has put out, and the whole series of quite a few titles.

I started with Sandman, quite a few years ago, reading the few issues I found at a comic show one day. I now own the whole collection and became a bona fide Neil Gaiman addict.

I collected Preacher by single issues and the collected editions, reading all of them from front to back and then again. I miss Jesse and his exploits.

I've read 100 Bullets, Hellblazer and The Invisbles.

I just bought the Transmetropolitan collecteds and am in the midst of reading them. I've developed a deep, disturbing crush on Spider Jerusalem.

I've spent a good portion of the past few years submerging myself in the world of dreams, staring wide-eyed at the subculture of politics and media and riding out to the Alamo wtih a vampire.

Through Vertigo, I have met Delerium, Destiny and Death. I hung out with Jesse and Tulip and learned to despise Cassidy. I've seen what's in Spider's bag of tricks.

I also discovered the art of Dave McKean, which has inspired me more than anything I've come across artistically in my life.

Happy anniversary, Vertigo. Here's to many more.

January 16, 2003

here there be neverwhere

Neil Gaiman - he of the no permalinks - had this post yesterday:

My name is Pamela Kipnes and I am the Marketing Manager for A&E Home Video/New Video. Through our deal with the BBC, A&E Home Video will release Neverwhere on DVD in a 2 pack set in June 2003. We are all very excited about this project, and I was hoping that you might want to be involved. If you were interested, I'd love to hear your thoughts on potential DVD bonus features, plus any other marketing or promotional ideas you might have.

Gaiman is talking to them about it.

I just about wet my pants when I read this. I have a VHS version of Neverwhere, but it is a really crappy copy and I have yet to watch five minutes in a row without getting a headache from the lines on the screen. This is the best news I've heard all day.

September 06, 2002

Coraline: A Review

Neil Gaiman is a master story teller. He has woven his craft in many forms; graphic novels and comic books, short stories and full length novels and even children's books. Gaiman's first foray into kiddie lit came in the form of The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish. The similarities between this and his new children's novel, Coraline, are too many to not take notice. Bored children, distracted parents, surreal surroundings and extraordinary circumstances prevail in both stories. And they are both, in essence, morality tales - the moral being, be grateful for what you have, for what you get in exchange might not be any better. The grass is not always greener, kiddies. Our heroine, Coraline - not Caroline! - has just moved into a new apartment house with her parents. She becomes bored and lonely almost immediately. She fancies herself an explorer and goes out to discover what else lies around the house, in the garden, in the apartments of the strange people that share the multi-family dwelling with her family. During her exploration, Coraline discovers a door that leads only to a brick wall. Coraline, being an explorer and an adventurer and a bored little girl (and hearing strange scurrying noises in the dark of night) thinks there is more to it. The next time she opens the door, the brick wall is gone. There is a dark hallway. And thus her adventure down the proverbial rabbit hole begins. On the other side of that hallway is Coraline's "other" mother and father. They look like her parents, they almost act like her parents. It would seem they were her parents if not for the buttons that lay where their eyes should. And they seem to pay much more attention to her than her real parents do. Coraline lingers in this strange world, torn between liking the attention her other parents are giving her and fearing it. Soon the other parents start to look less like her own. The imposter mother becomes more frightening and threatening. Once Coraline escapes from the mother's clutches, she realizes her real parents are missing. It is now her job to save them from the monsters on the other side of the hallway. Along the way, Coraline meets up with comic-book like characters; the man upstairs who trains circus mice to play music, two old women, former actresses both, who read Coraline's tea leaves and offer her protection in the form of a stone, and a mysterious, infuriating cat, reminiscent of the Chesire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. The story moves like a maze, twisting and turning and you never know what lurks around each turn. What Gaiman does in this book is magnificent; he tells a skeleton of a story, leaving the reader to use his or her imagination to fill in the flesh and bones. While the novel is recommended for children 8 and up, it is parents that the morality tale may be intended for. Coraline is a wonderful read-aloud book to enjoy with younger children (especially if you are one of those delightful grownups who likes to act out all the noises and voices in a story), and a perfect reading-with-a-nightlight-under-the-covers book for older kids. Like Goldfish, Coraline is brilliantly illustrated by Dave McKean, whose black and white sketches bring haunting reality to the cast of characters.