“Icky Speech”

Neil Gaiman expounds quite clearly on why even “icky” speech needs to be protected. This is in response to a comment regarding the Handley case, where a Manga collector is being prosecuted for owning obscene materials. Something I would add to the dialogue personally is a favorite H.L. Mencken quote:

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all. (H.L. Mencken)

On Seattle

Thursday night, Jessica and I packed our bags and wandered up to Seattle. It’d been a while since we’d taken a trip, and we had a great excuse to go: Neil Gaiman was going to be doing a reading for his new book, The Graveyard Book up there, but wasn’t going to be visiting Portland at all for this tour. So we made a trip of it, and stayed with my friend Anna for two nights, which was good.

Friday was spent being tourists in Seattle — we ate at Julia’s on Wallingford, swung by the Apple Store and the University Bookstore (the folks hosting the reading, so as to pick up the vouchers for the reading), and then went and checked out the Anachrotechnofetishism exhibit at 826 National chapter, the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. Definitely a nifty little store with lots of stuff to play with and geek out over. Despite wanting my very own raygun, I went with a more practical option this time around and picked up a t-shirt. I am incredibly jealous that programs like this exist and wish they’d been around (and nearby!) when I was growing up.

After dropping off Anna (and playing with Gabe, who is Anna’s rockin’ jack russel/chihuahua puppy), we hung out with Jessica’s friend Ira for a little bit, and then wandered over to the reading.

I’ve got to say, Neil is a hell of a charming guy. He read chapter four of The Graveyard Book to the audience (around 850 people all told), shifting his voice appropriately for different characters in all the right ways and spots to make it a really engaging reading — it’s like the entire audience was 5 again, and he was reading to us before bed. Afterward, we had a brief intermission to get up and stretch, and then he showed us footage from the upcoming Coraline movie (comes out this February), though he did make us promise not to put any video of the footage up til at least after the tour is over next week, as a favor to him (did I mention that he’s a hell of a charming guy?). It’s looking fantastic, and the folks at Laika should be damned proud of the project.

After the preview footage, there was a Q&A session with Neil that ran for about 45 minutes to an hour, so the reading in total took about 2.5 hours. One of the questions actually was about the “new” format compared to the old autograph lines… the short answer is that the old system involved maybe thirty minutes to an hour reading AND Q&A, followed by 3-6 hours of standing in line to shuffle past Neil and get a signature. It is a bit more impersonal, perhaps, to not get that individual face to face time, but in the end it makes for a happier overall experience to do it in this new format. Neil’s also got a great excuse, since his finger is broken and this way he could do all the signing at his own pace. Definitely well worth the time and effort to head up to Seattle for. (As an aside, it’s sort of telling that when I looked around the audience of folks who would ostensibly be “my kind of people”, I didn’t recognize a single person, despite having lived in Seattle for three years, whereas I’ve been in Portland for 6 months and already often randomly run into people all over the place. Portland FTW!)

After the talk, we grabbed Anna and headed over to 13 Coins, which is a local chain of 5 star 24 hour restaurants… huge, tall leather bound booths, and one of the best filet mignon’s I’ve had — it just sort of dissolved upon hitting my tongue. SO good.

Got up this morning, whereupon Anna made us breakfast, we played with Gabe a bit more, and then we took off for parts south — it would have been nice to make it a longer trip, but Jessica is volunteering for Fright Town, and had to get back for that. Definitely a nice trip, and for those of you in Seattle that I didn’t get to see, hopefully I’ll make it back up sometime soon!


Allow me to preface this post by stating that I have dreams with people I haven’t actually MET but know through other means pretty regularly, usually when I’ve been doing a lot with them. A prime (pardon the pun) example would be dreaming that the Decepticons were spying on our apartment after watching the entirety of seasons one and two on DVD, followed by reading up on the full Transformers Metaverse history. What makes the dream in this post a bit more unique is that I HADN’T done any overload prior. In fact it had been quite some time since I’d even read his blog, let alone any of his work.

So, about a week ago, I had a particularly vivid dream. I was travelling with Mickey, and we were in a grocery store somewhere in the northern midwest (I’d say either Minnesota, Wisconsin, or possibly the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), and while leaving the store, ran into Neil Gaiman. Mickey had run back inside to get something, and so I struck up a conversation with Neil in order to stall him, because I knew that Mickey would want a chance to talk to him as well.

The conversation continues, and one or two other people join in (talking about the nature of dreams and the impact they have on reality), until finally Neil simply has to get back to his office, which is in the shopping plaza across the street, in a converted storefront. He invites me to swing by later to finish the conversation, and to bring my wife (since Mickey had still not come out of the store).
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Annotation: The Dream Hunters

Everyone has someone that they look up to. Someone who so excels in a given field that you can’t help but wish there was a machine that could transfer talent like an infusion of blood. As far as I’m concerned, in the field of drawing and illustration, that person would be Yoshitaka Amano. He has an ethereal yet detailed way of drawing that I envy, creating some of my favorite images. I first became aware of his work from his character design work for Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy 3 in the US), which was incorporated into the manual. It immediately drew me in and influenced my perception of the world created within the game in a way that I had not experienced with other games or illustrations. For lack of better description, Amano’s work is like looking through the eyes of an Efreet, Djinn, or Genie: a magical overlay to a very real world. A recent collaboration between Amano and author Neil Gaiman continues this trend, in the most delightful way possible.

The Dream Hunters is a supplementary story that takes place under the aegis of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of comics and graphic novels. While considered a graphic novel, it is not done in the traditional “comic” style, but rather is written as a prose story, with a full page illustration for each page of text. The story itself is a retelling of an old Japanese myth about a monk and a fox, and the relationship that develops between them. Amano manages to capture the mood and magical, dreamlike nature of the story in a fashion that seems exactly and absolutely the correct way, and the very notion of it being illustrated in any other way would be intrinsically inaccurate and wrong.

That’s not to say that Amano’s style is the answer to everything. Other styles have their own merit of their own accord; it just so happens that in these circumstance, his style works well with the piece. It is a style that is most suited to the fantastic, the mystical, and the spiritual (really, aren’t these the same thing?), which is very much the nature of The Dream Hunters. I suppose what I am trying to say by this is that I am not claiming that Amano is the greatest artist of all time, that I would not elevate him above other masters (such as Da Vinci), but I WOULD place him in that same master category, and his particular style is one that I would like to adopt in my own work. I’m not sure if that notion is in some way silly or hypocritical to my belief that an individuals particular artistic style is at least partially developed through their personality, but I would certainly like to believe that it is not contradictory to include the desire to incorporate a particular style into your own work as well. (There is some credence to this, in my opinion, based on my observation of artists such as Fred Gallagher, who blends japanese manga style with american animation influences to create a style that is uniquely his own. You can see what I mean in his online manga comic, http://www.megatokyo.com.)

While I enjoyed the entire book, there were some pieces that particularly leapt out at me. One that immediately comes to mind is the cover itself. The particular edition I have (there are several variations) is a metallic gold background, with the Sandman (very pale skin, black hair, black clothing, wrapped in a cloak) in the center of the image with a full moon in the background. Flowers are growing out of his cloak, and a raven is perched on his shoulder. Various creatures (a serpent, a fox, and several baku — dream eaters from japanese mythology) are faint in the background. Immediately in front of the Sandman is a beautiful woman, prone, floating/falling in the air (her clothing is draped downward as if she were floating or being carried, but her hair is pulled forward as if she were falling from a great height… the physics of a dream world is a marvelous thing). The overall composition is very direct and appealing.

Another piece I particularly enjoyed was about two thirds of the way through the book, when the monk travels to the King of Dreams (the Sandman), and is stopped at the door by an itsumade, which is a mythical beast loosely akin to a gryphon: “a monstrous bird, with a head like a lion’s, sharp teeth, a snake’s tail, and huge wings.” (90) Amano’s depiction of this creature was remarkable, both in the size and scope of the creature compared to the dimunitive monk, and in the blending of its traits into a believable creature. It literally fills the page with swirling color and shape, evoking wonderment at getting to see such a beast.

The final image I’d like to point out in particular is also somewhat epic in scope. It is when the fox meets the King of Dreams for the first time, where the Sandman takes the form of a giant black fox, who speaks to her from the top of a mountain. The image is very dark, yet still detailed, and does a masterful job at depicting just how much the fox is dwarfed by her surroundings.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, and would happily recommend it to anyone, both for the art and for the story. Neil and Yoshitaka put together a fantastic piece of work, and I look forward to seeing more (in the afterword, Amano mentions that this is just the beginning of his plans with Gaiman… the notion of another collaboration is more than enough to make me giddy with anticipation). I intend to continue to examine Yoshitaka Amano’s work during this semester, in the hopes of learning a bit about how he achieves what he does in his work.

Gaiman, Neil; Amano, Yoshitaka. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: DC Comics, 1999.


First: I’ve been wasting far too much time over the past day or two reading the back archives (all 1300+ entries) of Neil Gaiman’s blog. It’s delightful reading, but damned if there isn’t a lot there.

Second: Kurt Vonnegut weighs in. An interesting read, and I’ll leave it at that until someone chooses to comment about it. Thanks to Mickey for pointing it out to me, and thanks to whoever pointed it out to her.

Toodles, I’ll post more later.