Review: Edinburgh Book Festival – The Sandman with Neil Gaiman – 25th August 2013.

neilWith a string of festival appearances already under his belt in Edinburgh, his third and final had comic fans high in anticipation, ready to hear about the return to his famed Sandman works. Chaired by the charming Hannah Berry, it was clear to see that this was someone not only here to do a job, but someone clearly a fan of their interviewee.

But, unlike the strict line of thought in some previous events, this one felt a bit less structured. Even the original question of ‘How are you?’ results in a noticeably long answer from Gaiman. By the third or so question on how to write a comic script, much time has elapsed, and Gaiman knows so. “Two people sit on a stage. One has said embarrassingly little so far. Thinks: When will he shut up?” Drawn out as some answers may be, his humour brings everything back on track.

While his answers still maintain a notable length, the stories bring variety. He has yet, on his entire speaking tour, sat down to talk about Sandman. He recalls comics being banned at school because “comics are junk food – if you read them, you won’t read good books.” He remembers countering that fact with his English teacher, being not only the only one he knew to read comics, but the only one to have read the majority of the school library.

Furthering his school story, he told his career advisor that he wanted to write American comics, to which he asked if Gaiman had ever considered accountancy. It was, he admits, probably the shortest career session in history.

The topic of conversation finally swerves truly on track as he delves into his time with Sandman. First, the history: he didn’t think it would go past a year, so factored in a plan to end it neatly in time. But, it wasn’t cancelled. More so, he managed an exclusivity in authorship. Where most characters are handed on to various writers over time, Gaiman used press appearances as a quirky ploy to quash the idea of passing it on. Naturally, it’s a welcome idea that he is set to return after all these years.

But the most interesting parts lie in various admissions, such as Gaiman admitting on some level he believes that the Sandman comics changed the publishing industry. More so, he has so many ideas that can’t always fit into the story of his characters, meaning he not only had the chance to come up with new ideas, but potentially revisit some he couldn’t previously use. A veritable trove of leftover Gaiman ideas.

It’s a labour of love, basically, and the final product will show that. It reads as if it was fun to do, and that’s exactly the reason Gaiman claims he’s returning: he simply loves working with Sandman.

The evening is unsurprisingly fascinating, as Gaiman is a master of captivating an audience with the simplest threads of thought. But it’s not as structured as his previous shows, nor is there enough time to fully delve into the Sandman project. There was a sense that Berry had more to pick at, and the evening would maybe have benefited from a few shorter answers in the earlier moments.

★★★★

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