The thing is that I'm not the only person who wants to wish Neil a happy birthday. On Twitter alone he has over a million people following him. If even one percent of them (and I'll bet a lot more than one percent do) wish him a happy birthday, it would be very easy to miss mine.
Neil is one of my favorite people. And in a very short time he will be HALF A CENTURY OLD. That is far too important a milestone to pass without mention. So, I'm doing it early, before everyone else does, so maybe it won't get lost in the crowd.
Like I said, I've been planning this post in my head for a very long time. When I look at our friendship with Neil I see it as a series of moments. Some of them are important because they were pivotal moments; moments that changed our friendship, that really stand out. Some are important because they define our friendship; they were stories that we've all told over and over and some are just there, all mixed together forming a pattern that's recognizable as "us". When I first started planning this post there were a bunch of things I really wanted to mention. Moments that I wanted to share.
Last week, on Twitter, heyoscarwilde.com linked to this comic that Scott and I wrote about Neil way back in '95.[ETA: As was pointed out in the comments, this was not '95 but '93! I blame Scott for me getting this wrong, sorry. ;-) I'm leaving all other references as originally written, just note that the comic came out in '93 as part of an ashcan in celebration of the Chicago Comic Con's special guest: Neil Gaiman] This had almost all the moments in it that I was going to talk about. (Ok, not all of them because this was written in '95 and leaves out some of the most important moments because they hadn't happened yet, but...)
Now I'm left wondering if those moments were so important that they stood out as being so (even back then) and time has not altered it; or, if the fact that we picked those moments as important cemented them in our brain as such, and hence they are the moments we remember. There's even one in there where it combines things that I had combined in my head when I was planning this post (although, unlike my memory; this one knows when things happened; I was not sure what order some things occurred because enough time had passed). There are also two panels that in my mind I had combined into one event.
The mind is an imperfect repository, and many of my memories I'm sure are skewed from actual fact, but, bearing that in mind, I have decided (and Scott gave his permission) that it is now time to separate fact from fiction. (did I warn you that this is going to be a very long post?)
Here then, I give you:
Seventeen Panels About Neil Gaiman (Nine of Which Are True): the Truth
I'm lame at html things, so you really will have to go to the link to check out the comic. Since I'm going to be referring to it a lot, you might even want to open it in another window and keep it open side by side. Here, let me give you the comic again.
Scott and I wrote this comic as our contribution to a tribute to Neil that some convention was doing. We then brought it with us to a bunch of conventions and anyone who wanted to could guess which panels were true. We even had a pile of quarters people could use to mark their answers. As you can see, it's only a two pager. We had it open on the table and people would read it then place the quarters on the panels they thought were true. The first person who got them all correct would win a copy of Understanding Comics.
No one ever won it. The only person who ever got them all correct was Neil. And that was kinda cheating. On his 40th birthday we framed the original of the comic and gave it to him as a gift (haven't a clue what we could possibly get him this year). At that point he tried again, and was still able to get them all, but it was a bit harder. It was supposed to be hard, that was the idea.
But the time has come. Now you will know all the answers. The contest is over. No more guessing. You will not get a copy of Understanding Comics, sorry. It would be cheating now. Just deal.
I'll do this panel by panel. I'm counting the first panel as the panel after the title.
Panel 1: Totally true. I was going to say that Neil claimed we had met him before he sent us that, but that's in the next panel (which is also very true). The definition went (20 year-old memory here); Zot= From the comic book character; someone who looks out of place, doesn't fit in. "Look at that guy in the corner, he's a real zot". It might have been in Time Out. It was in a sidebar of 'club slang'. It was very cool and Scott and I were walking on air after getting it. And we wondered who this British Neil Guy was that was sending us this. Okay, really, I wondered, since Scott had heard of him. Scott told me that he was this writer guy who people were touting as the next Alan Moore. He had taken over writing Miracleman after Alan had left, and then he was doing for Sandman, an old character that no one remembered anymore, what Alan had done for Swamp Thing: reinventing him. And he was getting very good notices.
Panel 2: As I said, true. And we were both very embarrassed. Kathy Li has a picture of that meeting. Scott will tell you that it's the first time he and Neil met. Neil will tell you that it's not. I just laugh.
Panel 3: (we're going down now, to the one under the title panel; the one with my brother): That one is false. I have no idea if Marcus (who did look exactly like that back then) or Neil had ever been to a Cure concert, I expect they both liked the band, but I'm not sure if they ever even spoke of it. They did meet. I think. It would make sense, we used to hang with Neil at Comic Con (back when he was able to hang out at the con) and my family have all shown up at some point to experience Con with us, so..
Panel 4: True. All of it. We've had that exact conversation many times. It's a running joke. Back when I was planning this post I really was going to mention that we read as many Sandmans as we could find so that we didn't make fools of ourselves when we next hung out.
Panel 5: A lie. All of it.
Panel 6: Okay, that's just plain silly, you didn't believe that for a second did you?
Panel 7: True, true and true. This was the panel that surprised me because it put things together that I was going to put together. It also surprises me because I hadn't realized that that happened so early. I guess you want an explanation, huh? I am nothing if not thorough; I think the debating part is pretty straight forward. This is all before Understanding Comics was written mind you. Scott has always been like this, but at this point in time, Scott was obsessed with how comics work. If you look at a copy of UC, you will see Neil's name near the title page. Neil was one of Scott's kibitzers. Because of Neil there is a chapter there that wouldn't have been (and another that was taken out). The Nancy strip shouldn't surprise anyone who knows us. That's a reference to Five Card Nancy, a game Scott invented that we played quite often in those days. My favorite part of this panel though, is the Defacing people with ice cubes part. We did. It was awwwwwwesome. You need an old Polaroid camera, which are very hard to come by these days, and some ice. You take a polaroid picture, then, before it's developed, you take an ice cube and swirl patterns around on the back. When it develops it looks all cool and swirly, like it was put through a psychedelic filter on Photoshop or something. We had lots of fun.
Panel 8: A lie. It's all a lie.
On to the second page now.
Panel 9: Reminiscent of another call, but this one didn't happen. I'll talk about the one that did wake me up later in the post since it was far more interesting, but this one: not true.
Panel 10: This one is not only true, it is a Pivotal Moment. This is when Scott and I became friends with Neil. Before this, we all really liked each other. We hung out when we could, but we weren't quite friends. It was at the Old Bank where everything changed. The Old Bank was a condo converted from what, I presume, used to be an old bank. There was a sign above the door saying Old Bank. Kevin Eastman (of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame) owned it. Kevin, during this time, had a publishing company called Tundra. He was publishing UC which Scott was then working on. Every now and then he would have comic book people come out, and he would put them up either at the Old Bank, or at the Artist Condo. We lived nearby so when people we knew were staying there, we used to hang out (it's how we later became friends with Dave McKean and his wife Clare). Neil was put up there a few times. There was this one night that stands out. We had gone out to dinner together, and then gone back to the Old Bank to talk. It had gotten late, we had spent a long time together and it was time to leave. The exit of the Old Bank is at the end of a long staircase. We had gotten to the bottom of it and were at the door, when somehow, and I have no idea why any more, we started to tell Neil about all the infertility stuff we'd been going through. At that point, we were years into the process, and I spent much of my time depressed and obsessing over it. Instead of leaving, we wound up sitting on the stairs, talking for another hour or more. There were tears, there were hugs, and when we left, Neil was a friend. A close friend. He's remained one ever since. I think if you ask Neil, he will tell you the same thing. That moment.
(The earplugs were for a concert that I was going to. I don't remember them nearly as much as the rest.)
Panel 11: Very true. We'd look at the Old Bank and sigh. Truly pathetic, actually.
Panel 12: I'm not sure if the part about Neil visiting many more times is true or not. I know he visited multiple times. The ferret named Albert, however, was completely made up. Scott and I had a really good time coming up with these...
Panel 13: This panel might be one of the most memorable nights of my life. There was a signing in Boston. It was a group signing, meaning that Neil and Steve Bissette and Michael Zulli were all there. There might have been others signing as well. The plan had been that after the signing we were all going to go off to dinner together. We walked into the store, there was a huge line, mostly filled with Goth Chicks; the kind all dressed in black with Death make-up on. Neil was at the end of a long table with everyone who was signing.
I snuck behind the tables to where the guys were sitting, got hugs from friends and made my way down to Neil, who—let's face it—most of these girls were really waiting to see. Neil saw that I was there, said, "excuse me" to the Goth Chick next in line and looked at me to say hello. I looked at him, smiled and said, "guess what?" His eyes went to my not-at-all-big-yet stomach then back to me. He said, "yes?!" I nodded emphatically, he jumped up, grabbed me in his arms and swirled me around, put me back down, then went back to signing with a huge grin on his face. No one in line had any idea what had just happened, or who the hell I was. I couldn't stop grinning.
Thing was, when the signing was almost over, Stephen King's kids showed up, identified themselves and asked Neil if he wanted to go back to their hotel room to meet Dad. Neil said that he had all these people he was going to go to dinner with, and the kids said, no problem, bring the gang. So we wound up going to Stephen King's hotel room. In case you didn't catch it from the cryptic description above, I was pregnant. It was not a good idea to have me skip a meal, so after we'd been in the room for awhile, when it looked like dinner was not going to happen, I whined to Scott, someone spoke up, we were told to order something from room service. This was a long time ago, It was a nice hotel and I was not used to this sort of thing. The cheapest thing on the menu was the hamburger, so that's what I ordered. I think everyone had some of my fries 'cause no one was about to admit that they too were hungry. It was funny.
I doubt Stephen King remembers Scott and me at all. Oh, he's likely to remember the night, and Neil, and the artists that were there, they all did horror comics and he knew their work. Scott, on the other hand, was still working on Understanding Comics (it came out two weeks after Sky did, so it was still months away from being out, and years away from being well known) and lets face it, there is no reason that Stephen King would have ever read Zot! despite the fact that it's a really good book, so Scott and I let the others do most of the talking.
One of the only other females in the room that night was a friend of Neil's who was a DJ at the local NPR affiliate. I really liked her, and though we only talked that one time, so many years ago, when she recently contacted me and asked if I remembered her, I was thrilled, because, Yes! I remembered her; she was awesome. The day after she contacted, a friend was writing on her blog about her favorite books and one of them was by the same woman who I had met those many years ago! Her name is Ellen Kushner and I just finished reading the book my friend had been talking about. I loved it. It's a wonderful book called Swordspoint and I highly recommend it. I had no idea she wrote books. How cool that not only does she write, she writes so very well! Meeting Ellen might have been the best part of that story-rife night for me.
Panel 14: This panel (which is very true) is referring to our trip to Chicago and Minneapolis. We did something in Chicago that had something to do with UC, since both the book and Sky were now out. Neil was doing whatever it was as well (convention, probably?), then Neil and his then-wife Mary drove us many hours to their amazing home, where we stayed for a night or two. While we were there, Scott and I borrowed Mary's Previa (I wanted one so badly; that was the first time I got to drive one) and drove to a store signing for Scott at a not-quite-local store. Neil and Mary watched Sky while we were gone. I have the best blackmail picture from when we came home. Someday when we're all old, maybe I'll share it. Sky was tiny and sweet and wonderful, and nine months after our visit, Maddy was born. I'm not imagining the correlation here.
Mary and I did indeed both love jigsaw puzzles, have the same favorite book, and eventually we would both own the same car. (Fun fact: Neil and Mary had two daughters, one has the same name as my sister, the other has the same name as our dog had. Our other dog shared a name with one of Neil's cats, and our second daughter has the same name as a child in a controversial comic that Neil wrote. None of this was done on purpose. We all had no clue.)
Panel 15: This is all true. The key here, and we worked so hard to make it sound wrong, was that it only makes sense if you know one of our favorite comic books stores in Massachusetts was The Million Year Picnic, where Neil was doing a signing. It was snowing, he got there late, we were supposed to eat, we had lunch with his publicist. In my mind, I had gotten this one confused with the Stephen King appearance. If it hadn't have been for the comic I might have thought that it was snowing during the King adventure, but it wasn't.
Panel 16: When this comic was made, Neil never went out without his dark glasses on. That is no longer true, and there are pictures of him all over the place without them. We thought it was funny that you never got to see his eyes. We did. All the time. He never wore the glasses as much as people thought he did. It was just a joke. I was always amused when people picked this one as being true. I'm sure none of you believed it for a moment.
Panel 17: If you've been doing the math then you know we've already had our nine true panels, so this would have to be false. Actually, the fact that it goes with the one before it, which is also false, should be a dead giveaway.
Scott and I worked hard to make the true panels preposterous and the false ones sound reasonable, but now you know which are which.
There are other moments in my Neil Memory folder; There's the call that I mentioned earlier; I was asleep. I was either still pregnant, or Sky was a baby, but at the time, sleep was precious and hard to come by. Scott (who is conscientious and dear) answered the phone so that I could sleep. It was Neil, but he wanted to talk to me. I was now awake and took the call. Neil had just finished writing a book, and since it was a children's book, he thought of me, and asked if I'd like to hear it. The book was The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. I think I was the second person to hear it. I've gotten to read every kids' book he's written in advance since then; many times, reading them to the girls to see how they react or enjoy them.
There's Winter's birth, with Neil keeping me sane on the drive to the birthing center, and then him and our friend Krystal singing selections of Sweeney Todd to Sky as her sister was being born in the next room.
There's our other blackmail picture of Neil on the water when we all went canoeing for Michael's (21st?) birthday.
There's the drive-in.
I could go on and on. I keep coming up with more memories. As I was writing this, it's occurred to me that you can't put 20 years of memories into one post. There are too many stories. Too many moments. Life and friendship are like that.
When we were first hanging around with Neil, he used to tell me that he loved the fact that I could get excited about things that he couldn't. He was already getting jaded. I, on the other hand still get excited every time I'm able to pay for something by touching my bank card to a reader (It's been a year, and I still squeal every time). That's who I am. When Neil meets cool people and calls to tell me, I will be impressed. Because of him, I have met many many cool people myself. The fact that my job is to always be the audience, while a bit ignominious, is cool. I do it well. I like being there. Or hearing about it when I'm not.
Soon, Neil will be 50 years old. It's probably been 20 years since we first met. We all barely resemble the people we were then. The one thing that remains the same is that we're still friends. Fifty years old. Wow. I have a little over a month during which I can make all sorts of "you all are sooo old" kind of jokes, until the end of next month when I catch up to the gang.
Neil. Happy birthday. I'm honored to count you as our friend.