Thursday, July 14, 2005

Beso-Beso With Neil Gaiman

Brandishing his Omas 1950s flexi-nib fountainpen, he signed in burgundy ink on the frontispiece of my “Brief Lives” graphic novel (Sandman Volume 7): “Mona, Sweet Dreams -- Neil Gaiman.” A salesgirl took our photo (I made sure I brought my digital camera), but I won't be posting it here; it's for my secret delectation. I’m so glad I didn’t do anything stupid like burst into tears or freeze. In a tiny voice I managed to say, “Thanks for signing, Neil.” He smiled and said, “You’re welcome, Mona.” Then I bent down a bit to make beso beso, and to my surprise it wasn’t an air-kiss -- he kissed my right cheek. (All the girls were doing it, so I figured I’d get in on the kissing action, hehehe.) As I straightened up again, clutching my book in a sort of daze, I realized how exceedingly tired he was. Poor guy. He looked like he hadn’t slept for weeks and sported massive eye luggage. But he was determined to accommodate as many fans as possible.

YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! I walked out the bookstore with a spring in my step and with a stupid grin on my face.

(In your mind picture me jumping up and down on Oprah’s yellow sofa a la the delirious Tom Cruise, and you can imagine how ridiculous it looks. Of course, I didn't really do that. But I tell you, it felt so great to be so amply rewarded for waiting in line at Fully Booked Gateway for nearly six hours last Monday, on the last day of Neil’s signing tour in Manila.)

Neil is such a simpatico person; incredibly kind, patient and generous to all his fans. I suppose he was pleasantly surprised to realize his fan base in the Philippines was bigger than his publishers had originally thought. I guess he didn’t expect that thousands of fans would want to meet him (I heard some fans even travelled to Manila from as far away as Davao and Cebu). Last night I read his blog and he said he “never felt more loved by so many people”, that Pinoys were more enthusiastic than the Brazilians in expressing their cheer, and that he was thinking of returning again to Manila, perhaps in a couple of years or so.

I was number 480 in a line of just over 600 fans who heroically lined up. When I arrived at Gateway, the line began outside Fully Booked on the third floor and snaked down two flights of stairs to outside the Aurora Boulevard exit to the front of the nearest 7-11. I tell you, the sight of that line would have discouraged a less determined person. I just felt that getting Neil’s autograph would be worth it. For the first two hours the line stayed put and I had nothing to do but stare at the changing cloud patterns in the sliver of blue sky between the mall and the MRT. My friend Juned advised via text: “Imagine you’re back in UP enlisting for classes.”

Originally, rules stated that one had to buy a book from Fully Booked in order to get a signing pass. Later on they changed the rules, allowing people to bring any Gaiman book they owned for signing. Those who bought a book and got a signing pass were then entitled to have two books signed. This was a good idea, since most fans, like myself, had already bought books prior to the signing promo. Changing the rules meant that more people would participate, and that any marketing data they would gather from the signing promo would be more representative of Neil’s fan base.

Waiting in line can get interesting, though. Two college girls behind me were looking at Neil’s picture on the back cover of my graphic novel. Later, as we approached Neil’s table, they looked at him and back at the photo and whispered to each other: “He’s that lolo-looking guy? But he’s OLD!!!” I wanted to laugh; and then I felt my age. When Vertigo first published Sandman I was just out of college. I was young enough to have borrowed and read the comics when they first came out but couldn’t afford to buy them at the time. These two girls each had a paperback copy of “Stardust” which (apart from the paperback of “Coraline”) was among the more affordable Gaiman books in the market (roughly PhP 350). Two lawyers lined up just ahead of me were clutching hardbound graphic novels that cost nearly PhP 2000 each (One was the Sandman Dustcovers book and the other was Marvel’s latest release, “1602”.) I couldn’t help but overhear that one of them even bought a VHS tape box set of “Neverwhere” from the BBC when he was last in London. Normally I’d be secretly peeved if it sounded as if he was gloating about his purchase, but he sounded so happy to have bought it even if it was in PAL-SECAM format and not compatible with his player, I couldn’t begrudge him his glee.

The crowd kept their good humor, though. Several times as the line moved, we saw a good-looking young guy counting people in the line. He turned out to be named Jaime, and was apparently the manager of Fully Booked Gateway. I joked to the two girls behind me: “Sa kanya na lang kaya tayo magpa-sign? Cute pa naman siya.” The two promptly developed a crush on him, entertaining themselves taking pictures of him with their camera phones. As for the two lawyers ahead of me, they joked that Bro. Eddie Villanueva could only get 2000 people to attend his people power rally, while everybody else would have preferred to wait in line for Neil Gaiman.

I guess for a lot of people meeting Neil Gaiman was a positive, life-defining moment. The last time I felt like this was when I had waited in line to get tickets for seats I wanted at the first Sting concert in Manila ten years ago. Of course my collection is far from complete, and Neil has two books still to be released, “Melinda” and “Anansi Boys.” And who knows? Maybe one day soon they’ll screen “Mirrormask” here. Or release it on DVD. Like many fans, I’ll be waiting.

In the meantime, I have introduced my mom to the pleasures of reading Neil Gaiman. (Really!)