Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Neil Gaiman: Starving Journalist

Savoy Hotel, 1986: Sim & Gaiman First Meeting
Backcover, Cerebus 146 (May 1991)
(from The Long, Strange History of Phase II, 2004)
...I've gotten into trouble with journalists who have asked me about being interviewed by Neil because I always tell them, "It was pretty clear that he wasn't going to be a journalist, because the questions he asked were too good." I actually don't mean any offense against journalism in saying that -- journalism is what it is -- what I'm trying to indicate is that, from the questions Neil was asking, he was as much (if not more!) trying to figure out if writing comic books was something he would want to do for a living (maybe I'm not a starving journalist at all, maybe I'm a starving comic-book writer) as he was trying to figure out why I was writing them so that he could explain my reasoning to the readers of his magazine piece.
"I remember asking him what he'd do if there was something he wanted to write about, something he had to say that didn’t fit into Cerebus. "I’d use a big hammer," he grinned.  "I’d get it in somehow."
See, that's not a journalist question, that's a comic-book writer wannabe question.  What Neil was actually asking was, "I have a lot of ideas for different kinds of stories.  That's why I wouldn't want to do one story for twenty-six years.  Why doesn’t it bother you that you can't tell different stories because you're telling this one big one?"  It wasn't a "lock" that that was "where he was coming from" -- he could just have been an "extreme empathy journalist".  The "extreme empathy journalist" tries to imagine being you and then asks himself the most obvious question that comes to mind while he's play-acting being you (which is really kind of intrusive although the extent to which that's intrusive isn't apparent unless you've been on the receiving end of it, which I assume Neil himself has been many times by now and I assume he has found it as intrusive as I had). So, on the one hand, I was answering the "writer wannabe" question if that was what he turned out to be. (i.e. "The scope of a three-hundred issue story allows for a greater range of ideas than you're picturing, as a result, tangential but relevant stories can be made to fit in direct proportion to the extreme length") while also scaring the "extreme empathy journalist" if that was  what he turned out to be (i.e. "You don't strike me as someone who likes the idea of big hammers.") in the same way that a pitcher will intimidate a hitter who is "crowding the plate" by throwing a 95 mph fastball "inside" (it's euphemistically known in baseball as "chin music"). It seemed to have worked on both counts.  Sandman is the second-longest sustained narrative in human history and Neil developed a lot of interesting ideas in the seventy-five issue story that didn't, in any conventional literary sense, fit the core of the narrative -- Dream Of A Thousand Cats being a good example -- but which in no way diminished the core of the narrative (quite the contrary: many of the seemingly unrelated diversions are some of the Sandman narrative's greatest strengths) -- and as for scaring the "extreme empathy journalist," two pages later in 300 Reasons… Neil writes
Dave Sim is the conscience of comics. It's a lousy, thankless job, and if he wasn’t doing it we wouldn’t have to invent him.  We'd probably just be pleased he wasn't around to bug us. Remember: Jiminy Cricket was squished by a wooden hammer by the end of chapter four in the original Collodi novel of Pinocchio. Were there a wooden hammer large enough, and did he not live out in Kitchener, and were there no fear of societal retribution, Dave would probably have been squished long since.

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