Meeting Neil Gaiman

Readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of writer Neil Gaiman – from his Sandman in the nineties, which was a huge influence in my decision to try to make the leap into a life in comics, to his Calendar of Tales last Spring, on which I collaborated; and now there’s his new book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, for which he’s making a grand final Signing Tour. Yesterday, he was in a bookstore in Rotterdam, and my husband and I went there to listen to him being interviewed and have our books signed.

(Photo by Snuggly Oranges)

When Neil came in everyone applauded, and interviewer Marcel van Driel started a relaxed, funny & informative conversation with him. Despite the fact that Neil must have told the same things over and over again in the past weeks, he was very involved and attentive and witty. I tried to sketch him, and failed miserably:

Then I tried not to capture him realistically, but get a bit of his posture and demeanor in a more caricaturized drawing, and also failed at that:

So eventually I decided to go full caricature, and came up with this, which did not totally fail, I think – but judge for yourself:

After the interview, the signing started. In the past weeks, Neil has signed for audiences of over a thousand people – fortunately, here were “only” about 200 people. Yiri and I waited until the very last to get our stuff signed (and made jokes about “The Author at the End of the Line”). I was surprised, impressed and delighted that after 2 hours of signing, Neil Gaiman is still able to direct all of his attention to the person in front of him, and be interested, courteous and, well, charming. I hate getting all fan-girly, star-struck and nervous, but Neil makes it really easy to connect with him – in fact, he made me feel like he’s just a human being; well, a human being endowed with awesome superpowers, but a human being nonetheless. I think. (Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s Something Completely Different from Another Dimension either).

I asked Neil to sign my “winning” drawing for the July tale of his Calendar of Tales, and he said some really nice things about it, and I gave him prints of all the calendar-drawings I did and a copy of our new book, Science: A Discovery in Comics.

And then he said: “Do you want a hug?” And I said: “Yes please!”.

I have no photo of that moment. It was a very private and intimate moment between me, Neil Gaiman and my husband Yiri, who was standing aside and had been supporting me all evening and prevented me from nervously running away from this whole encounter a few times.

But I do have this, and the impression that, apart from being a talented writer whose work I find inspiring, Neil Gaiman is also a very nice person – and honestly, people with talent who are also nice make this world a much better place.

 

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A Calendar of Tales revisited

In February, I blogged about the project ‘A Calendar of Tales‘ that writer Neil Gaiman had started in cooperation with the whole wide world – he wrote 12 short stories prompted by tweets on Twitter, and invited everyone to illustrate them.

I spent an enjoyable fortnight making one illustration a day, one for each tale. It was very inspiring and energizing, and made me think outside my own box. The result was 12 drawings that I have posted on my website, together with the stories by Neil and art by others that I liked.

The project was not a contest per se, more an invitation to create. Even so, I was incredibly gratified to have four of my illustrations shortlisted, and one of them even made it as a “runner-up”! It is featured on the official A Calendar Of Tales website, which launched last week and is a beautiful scrolling experience, so check it out.

Accompanying the month of July, you’ll find my drawing:

Philosophical question: since it is all made of words, can it still be called a drawing…? Food for thought.

A Calendar of Tales

Widely beloved author Neil Gaiman has started the project A Calendar of Tales, in which he invites the world to make art with him. Using the tweets of thousands of people as an inspiration, he has written twelve tales, one for each month, and is now inviting artists to illustrate them.

I love this.

Even though I’m busy enough preparing the translation of ‘Science: a Discovery in Comics’ (to be published in September) and the second print of ‘Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics’ (Yay! A second print!) AND the usual assignments and commissions, I’m making time to get into this project, reading and illustrating one tale a day.

Why?

It doesn’t pay anything – and though it may generate some exposure of my work, it’s highly unlikely it will make a big splash amidst the thousands of artworks that are being uploaded.

I’m doing this because it’s FUN – with all capital letters – the kind of fun that working aith others in a studio or 24 Hour Comics Day brings me. It’s the pleasure of working without restrictions, combined with the energy generated by a whole bunch of people doing the same thing, riding the same creative wave. Yes, I know I sound like a hippie, but I can really feel this almost tangible energy that surrounds a project like this. It’s crisp, it’s fresh, it’s positive. It’s thousands of people making stuff that did not exist before. It’s miraculous.

I wish the world could be more like this: simply Creative, without worrying about payments or copyrights. I’m so happy with people like Neil Gaiman and his wife Amanda Palmer, who are showing the world the power of connectivity and what it can do for art.

Anyway, here are my illustrations so far:

Even though the tales are only about two pages long, Gaiman manages to conjure up such a wealth of imagery. It’s in my comic artist’s blood to try to get as much of the story into my drawing: the soldiers, the forest, the beach, the couple with the champagne, and of course the Unspeakable Things that lurk behind the seconds… You can read the story here.

 

The February Tale became a tryptich. It’s about an old lady who lost a pendant on a beach – but she doesn’t actually feature directly in the story. So I wanted to draw her, and her reaction to what’s happening, something that’s only speculated about.

I surprised myself with this one. Even though I can often picture in my head what kind of drawing I want, it always turns out different. That’s partly, I think, because I never had any formal education in drawing. I have not tried different styles as much as I would have liked to. In the past years, working on my books, I have stuck closely to my “simple” drawing style. After such a long time of full time drawing, I find that I actually have built some skill, a certain routine, a confidence that I can make a drawing work on a page. And now I can apply that confidence to these drawings in a whole new way and style, and here’s actually a realistic-looking Old Woman, that I didn’t know I could draw until now!

 

The March Tale is about pirates and a Southern porch and when I read it, I immediately saw silhouettes, because that reflects the nostalgia as well as the frilliness of the story. But I’ve never really done silhouettes, so again this was a nice experiment, and again I surprised myself! And lo and behold, it also turned out to be a tryptich:

 

It’s my intention to illustrate all of the twelve stories in the coming week. It gives a nice new impulse to my work rhythm. It’s like pushing myself into new territories – full of discoveries and unexpected vistas.

If you want to get in on this project, you can! You should! Artwork can be submitted until March 11. You can read all about it when you click this link.

Join in!

As Neil Gaiman says: “Sure, the world is full of artists, but none of them is YOU. Don’t withhold the world your unique view on things.”

 

 

Of Cats Past, Part Four

The nicest cat I ever lived with (apart maybe from Siamese Boris) was Bloem, a feisty, sociable, intelligent small black female who had all but literally clawed her way out of the garbage cans of Amsterdam as a kitten to set up home with me, in 1999.

In 2004 I drew her into a comic adventure for my (then) stepdaughter Ellen, on her ninth birthday. I called it The Riddle of Nine and later translated it into English, giving Bloem (which means “flower” in Dutch) the name Daisy.

 

 

You can read the full story when you click here – it is a mix of elements from a number of children’s books, movies and comics I love, all drawn together in a tale of nine riddles and set in Neil Gaiman’s world of Sandman, the Dreaming (post-Morpheus, for those who care, it’s a story featuring the Daniel-Dream). I was delighted when Neil Gaiman himself read the comic online and commented on it in his blog: “As far as Sandman fanfiction tributes that are also excellent kids’ comics go, this is the bees knees.” 

But I was even more delighted that Ellen loved it, and has read and re-read it many times since.

Now, eight years later, it has also become a story of remembrance of Bloem, who sadly died in 2007, only eight years old.

 

Bloem 1999-2007

 

Thoughts about Blogging and Marriage

Since I started this blog, I’m paying more attention to other bloggers and the choices they make. There are promotional blogs, ranting blogs, look-at-our-kids-blogs, look-at-our-cats-blogs. Blogs with endearing content in gruesome, flashy designs, with or without soundtracks. Blogs with superficial content in very slick layouts. And ever since Blogging became all the rage, there is an increasing amount of stranded blogs.

Blogs have lifespans. A blog like this, essentially started to help sell my book, will probably peter out in about a year. Blogs by doting parents on their firstborn usually don’t survive the birth of the second child. Blogging artists get burned out or lose interest after their addiction to “the stats” fades away.

There’s one blogging author that I’ve followed for a while with great interest now: Neil Gaiman.

He was one of the first to start, in 2001, and has been going steadily ever since. What’s his trick, I wondered, how does he do it? Well, I guess he is first of all a writer who loves to write – be it novels, comics or blog entries. And second of all, there seems to be a transparency and innocence to his writings – he genuinely likes sharing stuff from his life, about his kids, his dogs, his bees, and in recent years about his wife Amanda Palmer, who is equally accessible in all kinds of online accounts of her exciting life as a performer/artist/musician.

 

Fearlessness, is a word that comes to mind.

In an age where warnings about putting personal information on the internet are part of children’s education (& rightly so), some people don’t hesitate to share their intimate thoughts, feelings and experiences with the whole wide world. These are probably the same people who greet strangers in the street. Who exchange pleasantries when you wait with them in line. Who will return your wallet when they find it. Social people.

It touches me and gives me hope for mankind.

(Could I be such a person…? Oh no, I’m way to anti-social – I prefer to hide away in my secret sanctuary, working on secret projects; and then, once in a while, I’ll jump out shouting TA-DAAH! and show the world what I’ve made – before I slink off into the shadows again…)

(It’s a good thing I married someone who is the same way – and now I’ve made a perfect link to the second part of this blog-entry, which contains Thoughts about Marriage:)

 

Yesterday, Neil Gaiman wrote on his blog about how he reads to his wife, and how she often falls asleep when he does.

It seems like a harmless enough thing to mention – yet it struck me with the raw intimacy of such a moment. The image somehow reveals the heart of their marriage: the interest in each other’s work (he is reading her his newest book), the feeling of ease and familiarity (falling asleep to the sound of husband’s voice) and the atmosphere of trust and understanding (evidently the fact that she falls asleep while listening to his work does not invoke a row – “Well thank you for this blunt reaction to my work – if it bores you that much why don’t you just say so!”).

The essence of a marriage captured in one image.

 

I have such an image for my marriage with Yiri, too. It’s this:

Yiri wears clunky, unyielding army boots which he laces up real tight – they give him the necessary support, we walk a lot. Getting them on takes a while, but taking them off, with feet swollen, and often exhausted from whatever adventure we had Outside, can be a regular Ordeal. So I take them off for him. We sit on the bed, his leg on my lap, and I unlace his shoes while we chat a bit.

Of course he could do it himself. Of course I have better things to do (I’m always involved in some all-important project, or so I think). But I go out of my way to make life a little easier for him. To add just that little bit of luxury of being “waited on”. To have a very basic, physical interaction – which to me, to us, has become very intimate.

That is the essence of our marriage for me – at least, my half of it.

(Yiri’s half involves handing me lots of cups of tea and chocolate. Oh, and coloring my books for me, although he says he does not do that for Love but for the World, which he thinks will be a better place with my work in it. See why I love him?)

Marriage is: making your spouse's work look better!

 

Note that I don’t say: Essence of Marriage, but of OUR Marriage – I think the meaning of a marriage is different for everyone. People sometimes seem to think that Marriage is a kind of concept you have to conform to when you tie the knot. My (our) experience is that marriage takes shape over the years – exactly because of little interactions like the one above, which we consciously cultivate.

(I think there should be more kinds of marriage available to people. It’s nice to aspire to a marriage-until-death-do-us-part, but it’s much more practical to focus on clearer goals. There should be Marriage-until-the-children-leave-home, and Marriage-until-the-sex-is-gone, and Marriage-for-just-the-summer. People could get extensions if they both wanted to. This way, they would probably pay more attention to each other in the long run)

(But I digress)

 

So, what I’m trying to say is: Blogging, like Marriage, is a very personal thing and takes shape only according to the rules that we ourselves set by them.

And since my blog started as a promotional tool, I’ll end with the admonition to Go Buy My Book! this September. Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics – it’s funny and thought-provoking and a Labor of Love, conceived, gestated and colored all within the holy bonds of matrimony.