Neil Gaiman in Pittsburgh

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Sandman author Neil Gaiman appeared in Pittsburgh to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Stardust and commemorate the story’s new edition.  This was not a stop on a tour, dear reader.  Gaiman chose this as his one and only appearance promoting the new edition of the book!

Stardust, a modern day fairy tale love story, was originally released in a heavily illustrated version across multiple volumes by DC Comics with drawings by A-List artist Charles Vess.  It was subsequently made into a movie starring Claire Danes and released as one volume in paperback.

Now in its first hardcover release, Neil read a passage from Stardust, and spoke about its inception.  The idea for Stardust came to him while he and Vess were accepting the award for Best Short Story in the Fantasy Genre for Sandman #19, the first and only time a comic book won.  It was Vess’ idea to do the story in prose with illustrations rather than in comic book format.

Stardust was also the first time Gaiman used the writing method that he maintains to this day.  Neil writes every story’s first draft longhand with a fountain pen in a notebook.  When Neil first sent his notes to Mr. Vess so that Charles could begin drawing, Vess could not read Gaiman’s writing.  Neil then transcribed the story to a tape recorder so that Vess could listen to the story.

Neil also read a passage from his upcoming book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, to be released in June of next year, which captivated the audience.  He followed by taking questions from the audience which added a personal twist to an already intimate experience.

The first question asked was in regards to the role of women in modern fantasy storytelling.  Gaiman’s response detailed how women are now main characters instead of the traditional damsel in distress.  Rather than being used as a plot device, women are made into heroines.  He reminded the audience that “You could take a machine gun to Lord of the Rings and you wouldn’t hit a female character.”  He cited the reason for the shift being that women are now authors and decided they weren’t going to allow their gender to continue taking a secondary role.

The second question was simply one word, “Kimota?”  Gaiman immediately identified it as a question about Miracleman.  He said that after Marvel Comics’ very public purchase of the rights to the character; they’ve been working behind the scenes for the past few years to make certain that they own Miracleman outright along with the rights to the Moore and Gaiman stories.  Now that the legalities are no longer in question, Neil plans to finish the story that he began all those years ago.

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The third question came from a young girl that inquired about Gaiman’s upcoming Dr. Who episode.  The episode will air in early 2013 and will feature the Cybermen.

Another question asked how Gaiman decides what stories are best suited for children or which are for mature readers as an earlier statement revealed that he sometimes waits until a story is finished to decide.  His answer was that the stories dubbed as children’s books all share the quality that the characters never lose hope, no matter how bleak things appear.

The final question was long-winded about where to find adventure in everyday life.  The show’s moderator had continually directed the audience to keep the questions short and succinct, so the open-ended question elicited a few eye rolls from other audience members.  No one anticipated the thoughtful and insightful answer we heard, which may have been the highlight of the evening.  Gaiman spoke about recently visiting the birthplace of Jules Verne and seeing the original manuscript of Around the World in Eighty Days.  Nearby is a huge workshop in an abandoned ship building facility where craftsmen have assembled a 30 ft. high elephant made of wood and leather that moves and people can ride inside.  Similarly, Neil rode on their 100 ft. high carousel surrounded by giant wooden sea creatures.  Their new project is a tree the size of the concert hall where one can navigate branch to branch on the back of giant insects.  His advice to the audience member, summed up in short, was to go out and find adventure, that he should create it for himself and for other people.