Tuesday 17 April 2012

My Chat With Neil

Cerebus #171-174, June-September 1993
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard (after Dave McKean’s covers for Sandman)

exit Sandman: MY CHAT WITH NEIL
by Dave Sim
(from Cerebus #209, August 1996)

"Did you get my fax?" Neil asked.

I had, indeed, gotten Neil's fax which he had sent from England as his BBC television program neared completion. In the fax, written some weeks (if not months) after he had completed Sandman, he observed that he had "just realized that Sandman is done," and went on to say some very kind words about me being the "marathon runner" and that he hoped I had enjoyed the company of someone running alongside for eight of the twenty-six years. A very gracious note and one which motivated me to get a little more serious about tracking down the parts of the Sandman story missing from the studio library and assemble them into a proper stack of reading material.

"I did get your fax, Neil, and thank you. It was very nice having someone running alongside for eight years…"

Comedic pause.

"…I wasn't crazy about the Time-Warner pace car on the other side of you…" Neil's basso profundo chortle rolled through the phone line "...but it was very nice having you running alongside."

...At one point, I explained to Neil what it meant to me to actually read Sandman straight through, the reason that I set two days aside for the task, rather than reading the books where and when I found the time. It was the only opportunity I would have to do so - for the next decade or so. To sit down with a real graphic novel (according to my own definition of the term), knowing that I had the whole thing in front of me. Beginning, middle, and end. As I said to Neil, I read both volumes of Maus in an afternoon. I read A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron in about thirty minutes. In terms of a reading experience, that's very different from a novel - any novel. (Stuck Rubber Baby raised new and interesting structural questions; though Howard Cruse's magnum opus clocks in at a little under three hundred pages, the density of panels and dialogue stretched it into a "most of a day" consumption category.) I remember thinking (I told him) about halfway through Sandman: we shouldn't be allowed to do this. The basso profundo chortle rumbled across the Great Lakes. The quality of immersion - the shoreline you departed from is out of sight behind you and the shoreline of your destination is out of sight ahead of you...

I mentioned the fellow's observation in last issue's Aardvark Comment that the purpose of art is to enable the viewer - however briefly - to see the world through the eyes of the artist. With an extended narrative coupled with pictures and issued in instalment form, what we are doing to people (I grasped for an analogy) swerves into the darker sides of hypnosis.

"We're the only two who have done this," Neil said.

His voice in my ear suddenly seemed way too close and the rest of the world way, way too far away.
"Sandman is two thousand pages." I think he mistook my silence for exclusion. "Cerebus, when it's done..."

"Six thousand pages..."

The 75 issues of Neil Gaiman's Sandman were published by DC Comics between January 1989 and March 1996. You can read the complete My Chat With Neil essay at Cerebus Fan Girl.

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