Category Archives: Neil Gaiman

My Thanks to Outstanding (Good)Readers

GoodreadscoverLike Lord Byron, who woke up one morning and found himself famous, I woke up this morning to countless e-mails and text messages alerting me to the wonderful news that Jim Henson: The Biography had won the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Biography of 2013.


It was great to even be nominated — an old saw, but what can I say? It really is true.  And in the category of Biography/History, I was in great company: Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City. Bill Bryson’s One Summer. Reza Aslan’s Zealot — and that’s just for starters. With a fellowship of biographers and historians like that clustered around you, it really is exciting just to be among the  nominees. But what a genuine thrill it is to learn that readers loved it enough to vote for it — and keep voting for it multiple times, since that’s what it takes to make it through each round.

And so: THANK YOU to each and every one of you. And Goodreads aside, thank you all for the warmth and enthusiasm over these past few months. It’s a rare pleasure to get to document someone’s incredible life — and I’m so glad we could enjoy it all together. I appreciate all of you.

My congratulations, too, to the winners in all the other categories.  This marks probably the only time in my life I will likely be on the same list with Stephen King, Khaled Hosseini, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m marking the day with a white stone, as Lewis Carroll once put it.

Five Months and Counting

Hello there, and Happy 2012! Sorry to be away so long — I hate when this thing sits idle, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks.

I’m still due to deliver the first draft manuscript of Jim Henson to my editor in May (which I choose to define as “by close of business on May 31”) — and looking at my outline, that means five chapters in five months. Even I can do the math on that one.  At the moment, I’m deep into Mystics, Muppet water ballet sequences, and Fraggles — so if you’re a Muppet fan, you can guess how far along that makes me.

I spent the first week in January, in fact, back at the Henson Archives in New York, where archivist Karen Falk once again took extraordinarily good care of me, patiently helping me locate and carry one box after another to the office they’d set aside for my use.  (If you’re interested, here’s an interview with Karen Falk, where she talks about the the actual layout and look of the Henson Archives—which does not resemble the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

We also had the opportunity to oooh and ahhh over her advance copy of the new Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand graphic novel, which is every bit as terrific as it sounds (and I just received an e-mail earlier this week informing me that the copy I had ordered from amazon back in June(!) should be arriving this week).  Jim and his long-time writing partner Jerry Juhl began writing Tale of Sand in the mid-1960s, during an incredibly experimental time in Jim’s career. They continued to tinker with the script on into the early 1970s before finally setting it aside in the midst of Sesame Street fever and the countless other balls Jim was juggling at once. It’s very different from most of the Jim Henson projects you’re familiar with — and yet, it’s also “very Jim,” especially the Jim at that time. Be sure to check it out—it’s not only an intriguing story, but the book itself is also a really nice piece of work.

Let’s see, what else? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be up and down the Eastern Seaboard to take care of some more interviews, each of which should be a lot of fun. I also get to work my way through films like The Great Muppet Caper and call it work.

Finally, I can’t resist passing onto you some New Year’s Words of Wisdom from the Always Remarkable Neil Gaiman — who really hopes you will make mistakes this year.  Click here and read on.

Happy New Year. Make mistakes.

Collecting Collections

I just finished reading the first gorgeous volume of Neil Gaiman’s Absolute Sandman, and got to thinking about my collector’s mentality. I bought every issue of Sandman right off the comics rack in the 1980s and 1990s. I also purchased each of the paperback reprints as they appeared (including the boxed set of the first three) and I’ve been buying the Absolute editions as soon as they’ve been published. That means I’ve got three versions of the same story, in three different formats.

Why? What compels me, and others, to keep shelling out for new versions of stories we already own?

Here was my mentality, at least, going into it (and this is my version of events, mind you — my wife may differ): when the paperbacks came out, I purchased them to have them on hand for those times when I wanted to re-read the stories, but didn’t want to put the wear-and-tear on the original comics because, y’know, you don’t want to ruin your comics from frequent re-reading.

And stuff.

*wrings hands*

Anyway, that’s all very well, then, so why purchase the Absolute editions? Well, because each volume has all sorts of New and Improved Great Stuff in it, like Gaiman’s original pitch to DC Comics (see? Even Neil Gaiman had to pitch an editor!), and copies of some of his scripts and rough pencils from great stories like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Plus, the books themselves are just plain nice, with black leather covers, cloth bookmarks, and shiny slipcases. It’s the sort of book that a bibliophile just has to touch, turn over, weigh in the hands, and, yes, read. You can’t help it.

I know. That’s exactly the mentality that the Powers That Be at DC are hoping for. “We’ll dangle just enough new stuff in front of you,” they cackle as they count their shekels, “that you’ll keep right on buying different editions of the same thing!” You laugh, but be honest: how many times have you bought a favorite DVD multiple times, just because the studio released the first version in 2002, then a remastered letterboxed version in 2004, and finally a special 2-disc “Anniversary Edition!” in 2007?

Still, I’ve made some progress lately in shaking my Collector Mentality. For the first time ever, I gave away the original paperback reprints, shipping them off to my brother in Montana.

Er, except for the boxed set of the first three. Because you can’t go completely cold turkey, you know.

Catching Up with the Pope of Prose and the Wizard of Northampton

First, there’s this news straight outta San Diego: Neil Gaiman is writing a two-issue Batman arc — running through Batman and Detective Comics — for 2009. Pardon me while I say Zoinks! You can read about it here and here and here.

And then there’s this interview with Alan Moore, over on L’Essaim Victorieux des Mouches D’Eau. Moore discusses writing, working, and politics — and when the Wizard of Northampton talks, it’s always worth a listen. I mean, where else are you gonna get advice like this:

“If I ever write a book on writing it will probably be called Real Men Don’t Use Thesauri, because no, don’t touch ‘em, I think they’re cheating. What’s wrong with having an enormous vocabulary? What’s wrong with thinking, ‘Oh, there should be a word that means this or that, could it be this, could it be…,’ then making up a word and checking in the dictionary and seeing if there is such a word, and if it meant what you thought it did. That’s better, and all right, you can waste an hour trying to get the exact right word that’s got the right kind of sound, the right flavour, the right colour…that fits just perfectly….

“The thing I’d grab if there was a fire is my Random House Dictionary, which is an etymological dictionary which tells you where the words come from so you actually know what you’re talking about. If you use a word like ‘fascism’ you can actually have a look and see: ‘now where does that word come from, what does it actually mean?’ That’ll save you a lot of embarrassment. It’s also got a great Encyclopaedia function . . . it’s a biographical dictionary, it’s got all famous names and obscure names and dates . . . it’s fantastic. And that is my best Grimoire if you like, my best magic book, because it’s got all the words in the English language and where they come from and what they mean.

“If you’re gonna be a writer, you’ll cover all this territory, from the broadest categories down to, like I say, the sub-atomic detail of words and syllables.”

Read it. Learn it. Live it.


Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman, at this year’s Book Expo America.

No, I wasn’t there — but you can read all about it on Neil Gaiman’s wonderful journal at, where he also has a somewhat blurry pic of him with another supercool icon, Berke Breathed. Go read it. Right now.

And if you’re not a regular reader of Neil Gaiman’s journal . . . for shame, doc, for shame. Read it. Know it. Live it.

Photo courtesy of

The Marvelous Mr. Gaiman

There are delightful moments in your life when people completely meet (and indeed, exceed) your expectations. I’m going to tell you about one of them.

A bit of background first.

Until the very moment I was in the midst of it, the process of bookmaking was completely foreign to me. I had no idea what any of the lingo meant, and I had never heard, for example, the term advance reading copy. For those of you playing along at home, an advance reading copy, or ARC, as they call it, is a paperback version of your book that is sent out to book reviewers, like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly, for them to read, and hopefully review, in the months and weeks leading up to the final publication of your book to give you a bit of advance buzz. The ARC is by no means final — you can still work out kinks, make edits, change the cover, and so on — but it marks the first time you’ve put on your new suit to see if it fits and make an appearance in public. It gives you a feel for what your book might look like when it’s finally ready for production, and for an author, it’s an exciting, if nervewracking, moment. And when I got mine, I was so thrilled to have that thing in my hands that I just had to show it off. And in an enormous fit of . . . I dunno, insanity, or something, I decided that one of the people I wanted to show it to was someone I admired immensely, and whose work meant a lot to me: Neil Gaiman.

Now, I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s since waaaay back. Even before he was Mister New York Times Bestselling Novelist Guy, we comic nerds had already laid claims to him as One Of Ours — and, yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, we were loathe at first to share him with the rest of you. But we got over it. Anyway, I even had a front row seat, of sorts, to his rise from comic book icon (it’s generally agreed that if there’s a comics Mount Rushmore, Gaiman’s face is on it, along with Alan Moore‘s, Frank Miller‘s and, I would argue, Harvey Kurtzman‘s. No, wait — Will Eisner‘s. No, wait . . . ) to world phenom.

As I’ve mentioned before, I worked in a comic book store in the late 1980s. And while I often rolled my eyes at the tastes of the store’s manager (who was more interested in hoarding boxes of G.I. Joe, and exploiting the booming sports card trade), to his credit, he did allow those of us behind the counter to order all sorts of obscure titles, including British comics and magazines, like 2000 A.D. I had initially started picking up 2000 A.D. because I knew Alan Moore had been a contributor — but even after Moore had abandoned its pages for Saga of the Swamp Thing and other projects on this side of the pond, I still regularly flipped through it each week. So I had seen Neil Gaiman’s name on a few stories (if I remember correctly, he usually wrote for the EC-ish “Future Shocks!”) and — even better — I had heard he was a friend of Alan Moore’s. So I was already keeping an eye on this upstart when he began his assault on American comics with Black Orchid (yes, that was first) and then Sandman. And you probably know the rest.

That’s a roundabout way of saying I’ve been a fan since just about forever. What’s more, I’ve read just about every article about or interview with him that I could find, and he always struck me as a genuinely nice guy — so nice, in fact, that I’m quite certain he has plenty of punks like me making demands on his time and patience, simply because he seems so approachable.

So approachable, in fact, that in late September 2007, I e-mailed him through his website and, trying hard not to geek out too much, asked if I could send him one of my ARCs just because … well, y’know, I really like him. Several days later, I had an e-mail from him. “Sounds great! Thank you!” he wrote, and provided me with a mailing address where I could send it. Nice.

Off the package went, with yet another gushy note, and I thought no more of it, happy just knowing that it was sitting somewhere in the Gaiman Emporium of Stuff.

Two weeks later, I found in my mailbox an eggshell-colored envelope addressed to me in a thick blue cursive, with its stamps cancelled, but no return address. I opened it, and eased out the correspondence card inside — one of those classy cards of a weighty stock that are almost heavy in your hand. The name NEIL GAIMAN was inscribed across the top in all caps. The same blue cursive continued on the card inside:

Dear Brian:

Thanks SO much for the Washington Irving biography. I’m looking forward to reading it. Probably by the time I do, it will have won many awards and graced all sorts of best seller lists.

Good luck!

Neil Gaiman

Now, how neat is that? Neil (if I may call him that) didn’t know me from Adam. Further, I knew from reading his blog that he’d been incredibly busy over the past few weeks, traveling extensively and putting the finishing touches on Odd and the Frost Giants. And yet, he had taken a moment to write a few kind lines to an admirer. He didn’t have to do anything at all, but he did–because Neil Gaiman was–is–a true gentleman.

I’ve got his card framed and hanging in my office as a constant reminder of how decent people can be. Not, when it comes to Neil Gaiman, that I really need reminding. He was everything I expected.