Today I met two luminaries of a sub-culture of which I am only marginally a participant.

It was Saturday, and, as I am gainfully employed this summer, I have made it a part of my Saturday ritual to venture into the Uptown area to visit my favorite gaming nook and comic shop, which happen to be across the street from each other.

Entering Phoenix Games, I was mostly sure that I wouldn't be buying anything, since I'll be travelling to GenCon, America's biggest gaming convention, in a matter of weeks, and I'll probably be dropping a small pile of my hard-earned cash on a shiney new pile of booty. After knocking about for a few minutes and seeing nothing of particular interest, I stepped back into the muggy mid-day and crossed the street, bound for Dream Haven Books and Comics. I was surprised to discover that international man of mystery, Neil Gaiman was doing a book signing today to publicize his new children's novel, Coraline.

My initial reaction was, "Oh, that's nice." The only one of Gaiman's novels that I have read to date is a worn old hardcover of Good Omens, co-authored with Terry Pratchett. I had just started reading The Sandman, after four years of putting it off, and I had come to Dream Haven with the idea of picking up the second volume in mind. I did so, and was asked if I was planning to stay for the signing.

I said, "No... I'm not really a collector, and if I start to become one, then I'll have to be a collector for the rest of my life, you know?"

On my way back to my home in the suburbs, I mulled over the situation in my mind. I really liked Good Omens, and I am liking The Sandman, and sure, by paying money for these things, I'm supporting the artist... but let's think about this for a minute...

The money I spent on his books supports him much like buying a CD supports an artist working for a RIAA. The best way to support a musician is to go to a concert and have a good time. Here on e2, I can upvote somebody; I can even C! them, but the best way to appreciate somebody's node is with a /msg, I think we can all agree on that. So it was that I decided that since I liked Neil Gaiman's work, and I did take some inspiration from him as a storyteller (that is, after all, what I'm bending over backwards and taking out monster loans to set my self up for professionally). So it was that I rationalized that I should finish driving home, pick up my battered old copy of Good Omens, drive all the way back, and take a number.

So, while I was hanging out for 3 hours in a book and comic store waiting for my turn, I chatted with the employees and the other people hanging out, and wound up meeting Scott McCloud, and his wife. Perhaps not quite as famous as Mr. Gaiman, Scott McCloud is a comic-maker in his own right, and author of the books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. I got to talking to him about how his books are on the reading list for the Masters program I'll be entering in the fall. He was in town doing 2 one-week seminars at the College of Art and Design, and wondered aloud if maybe my school would be interested in having him do a seminar for them.

To help kill a little time, I decided to listen to liminal's reccommended reading list and pick up The Watchmen, which I am about half way through, and has been quite enjoyable. I'd suggest it to any mature reader. Having never read it before, reading it now, with it's bits about Afghanistan and nuclear threats, where the faceless bad guys are the Russians instead of terrorists, put some interesting thoughts in my head. I read it with the radio on in my room tonight, and as I finished chapter 7 a radio piece came on talking about the stupidity of nuclear devices... how we built so many and could have used not only the money, but the scientific brain power for better purposes, and now it's wasted, and all we can do is make amends for our mistakes and move on... It was as though The Watchmen's writers were wrong: there is a sentient force guiding the universe, and it has a heavy-handed sense of moral delivery. Coincidences be damned. I'm still the Romantic they told me I was in high school, I guess.

Having 3 hours to stand around, I spent a lot of time listening to the small talk and anecdotes that Neil shared with people when he signed their books. I thought about whether I had any intelligent questions to ask him. I had 3 hours to come up with something, and I had some things I wanted to say, but I couldn't think of an intelligent way to say them in the approximately 30 seconds it would take for him to sign my book. I thought and thought and thought and then it was my turn.

"My name is Ben... With a 'B' an 'E' and an 'N.' "

He had mentioned earlier that he always asked for spellings because once a guy told him his name was "Dave," and after he had written the name, the guy said, "Actually, I spell it D-A-E-V," so now he always asks, because every once in a while he meets a new Bohb or Byl.

He wrote "Ben--- Bum this Book!"(1) and drew a winged hourglass.

What I wanted to say was, "I just wanted to let you know that you're one of the people who made me decide that I really could tell stories for a living." That was the core. There were other things I had thought of that might make good tangents off of that, depending on how he reacted to it. That was what I wanted to say.

See, I couldn't think of a good lead in. It's hard to start cold, when you're coming in at the end of the line to see this very nice English gentleman in a black t-shirt to think of a good way to break the ice as he stares down into a book he wrote back before he had email and draws an hourglass. So I stood there, respectfully mute, and then managed to say, "Thank you very much, sir."

Afterwards, on the way home, I kept thinking of Haruki Murakami's short story from The Elephant Vanishes, "The 100% Perfect Girl," where Murakami suffers a similar spell of cat-gotten-tongue. I am considering, in another Murakami-esque act, writing a letter to Neil Gaiman explaining these inane details to him, feeling justified because the central message would be thanking someone for being an inspiration.

Of course, I am not one of Murakami's characters, so I will not write said letter unless, several days from now, it still feels like a good idea, which it probably will not. It will feel pathetic, or rude, or simply unimportant, and the whole concept of the letter will leave me and float around until somebody else decides to write Neil Gaiman a letter.

And that will be enough.

(1) Or possibly "Burn this Book!" It's hard to tell, really.