Friday, September 25, 2015

A huge thank you, and some life and some death...

Thank you all for taking part in the Humble Bundle, or just for putting up with me blogging, tweeting and facebooking about it. It's been over for a couple of days now: We just got a letter from the guys at Humble letting us know it was:
#1 on the Humble Book Tab
#1 Highest Overall Average for any Bundle.
#1 Media Coverage for a Book Bundle 
And they went on to say:
This bundle was particularly special since it elicited such a beautiful and positive reaction from both our fans and Humble newbies alike.   I talked with our Customer Service Manager yesterday and he reported that there wasn't a single negative comment.  (Except new customers not understanding how to redeem their bundles.  A very common complaint.)   This has never happened before either!
There was a tremendous amount of delighted energy at Humble HQ since the launch.    Everyone here was stoked to be involved.   Dare I say that it was almost in the realm of The Magical. 
 I was so happy how many friends, acquaintances and people I do not even know gave it a push.

John Scalzi went further -- he reviewed my 1985 Duran Duran book, and let the review become a gentle meditation on who we are and who we were and who we become. It's at and you might enjoy it.
Here are the final results for your interest:
Humble Book Bundle: Neil Gaiman Rarities Date:  September 9th 2015
End Date: September 23rd 2015
Avg. price per bundle: $19.63
32,294 bundles purchased
Total Revenue: $633,787.98
(Note the numbers might change ever so slightly over the next few weeks.)  
I'll post the actual numbers here, and how much money that actually makes and how much is going where, when I get the information from Humble.  Hurrah for transparency.

(Also, I commend to you the Banned Comics Humble Bundle that's going on right now: $231 of forbidden comics for Pay What You Like )


Meanwhile, so many things. For example The Sleeper and the Spindle came out in the US on Tuesday. So did the new Sleeper and the Spindle Full Cast Audio. You can listen to it at or

And read a great interview with Chris Riddell (and see pictures from the book) at

The Moth put up a new radio show and weirdly, in a week a son is born, it includes me talking about my father and my son: (This was actually recorded somewhere on the Unchained Bus Tour of 2012.)

I recorded a documentary for the BBC  Radio -- I'm presenting it -- on Orpheus:  I'm really proud of it, and it has wonderful people, like Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Carroll and Peter Blegvad in it. (And this is the poem I wrote for Kathy Acker that's extracted in it:

Miracleman, The Golden Age stories by me and Mark Buckingham is coming out right now on a weekly schedule. You really want to go to a comic shop and buy it. It's thrilling for me rereading it now, and really strange starting the process with Mark Buckingham of finishing the story we began so many years ago.


The baby is nine days old, happy and healthy and, slightly to my surprise, he makes amazing noises: squeaks like mice and gentle burbling like mourning doves and little chirrupping grunts like guinea pigs. I adore him. And his mother's doing really well too. In case you were wondering. 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Our Not-So-Humble Bundle.

He was born at 8:37 in the morning on September the 16th, which is, I am told, the commonest birthday in the US.  It was a long but rewarding labour. The name on his birth registration is Anthony, but mostly I call him Squeaker. He makes the best noises in the world, mostly squeaks and peeps and snuffles.

Amanda is an amazing mother. I am changing nappies (or diapers, if you are not English) and enjoying it much too much. This is wonderful.


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Holy Thundering Sludgebuckets! THANK YOU!

The Humble Bundle went live almost ten hours ago.

It's broken all the previous Humble Bundle records for Books.  As I type this, about 7000 people have already bought the  Bundle. It's raised $133,000. And it's done something really peculiar...

The average donation (right now $18.88) is actually higher than the level we had set as our top level ($15). This means that the books we thought were going to be mid-level books are actually, much to our surprise, the top level books.

This means a few things, including some changes of plans in the week ahead to make sure that as many people as possible get as much stuff as possible...

There's a great interview with me over at The Nerdist where I talk about embarrassment and age and why I'm willing to let some of the embarrassing stuff from the basement and the attic out. (Well, out for the next 13 days, anyway.) It's at

One of the best unexpected side-effects of this has been an ask me anything on Reddit with my daughters, Holly and Maddy Gaiman. You get a great sense of their personalities. They are both very funny in very different ways. For anyone wondering, this is what they look like now.

Maddy is the author of this book. Or she was, in 2002. It's letters and poems we sent each other while I was off writing American Gods, and she was Very Young. Only 100 copies were published, and given to close friends. And now it's part of the Humble Bundle too...

So thank you, and thank you again.

If you haven't bought it yet, you can still get your rare and collectible eBooks, eComics and eWhatnots at for the next 13 days and 14 hours. 1249 pages of  stuff. All the money goes to good causes, and you can control how much of it goes to charities, to the creators, to Humble Bundle...

(There will be more stuff in the bundle released midweek. If you've already bought the bundle you will get it all without having to pay any more.)


Also, things I should mention:

Miracleman #1 is out! The art by Mark Buckingham has never looked better. The story by me is, well, I'm still proud of it, after all these years. If you've wondered what the fuss was about, it's a great place to start and should be at your local comic shop.

The Global Goals: On the 25th of September, the UN will officially adopt the new Global Goals. Head over to and learn what they are, and what you can do to change the world for the better...

Before that, Penguin are going to be releasing the world's first Post-It Note book, to draw awareness to the global goals: I helped, a little, in making it happen:  Richard Curtis did all the heavy lifting.

And, in case you were wondering...

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Do YOU want to save THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS while DOING GOOD? Er, and also get some interesting things to read.

The thing about having a writing career that spans more than thirty years is that that you write things – books, comics, all sorts of things – that for one reason or another become rare. They go out of print. Often because you are embarrassed by them, or do not want to see them in print. Or because circumstances are against you. Or because something was only ever published in a limited edition.

I have a basement library filled with mysterious copies of things. Some I only have one copy of. One book, the hardback of my Duran Duran biography, I paid $800 for, about eight years ago, astonished that anyone would ask that much, but aware that I'd only ever seen one other copy. (I saw another one for sale last week for over $4000.)

Many years ago, I sued a publisher for non-payment of royalties, registering copyright in his own name on things I'd written, and various other things. And, because it felt right, I decided that any money I made from the case would go to charity. Long after the case was won, when the finances were eventually settled, I found myself with a large chunk of money.  I didn't want to give it all to one charity, and instead formed the Gaiman Foundation which has, for several years, been using that money to Do Good Things. The Gaiman Foundation has funded the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Education program, various Freedom of Speech initiatives, the Moth's High School program which teaches kids the power of telling their own stories, along with helping to fund good causes like the Lava Mae charity, which gives showers and cleaning facilities to the homeless around San Francisco.

Giving money away to good causes has been a fine thing to do, especially when the results were immediate and obvious.

The only downside is that the initial chunk of money from the lawsuit is almost used up. I've been putting money into it as well, but last year Holly Gaiman (who is not only my daughter and an ace hat maker, but is studying running non-profit organisations and has been invaluable on the professional side of things of the Foundation) pointed out to me that if the Gaiman Foundation was to continue, it would need me to put in a big chunk of money as an endowment. And I started thinking...

Some years ago I took part in one of the earliest book-based Humble Bundles, and was really impressed with how the Humble Bundle thing worked.  E-books (back then,  of out of print or unavailable work,) would be put up DRM free: some of them would be available to anyone who paid anything at all, some only for those who paid above the average, some available to anyone who paid more than a specific amount. Artists and writers got paid, and money also went to support good causes -- when you paid for your books, you could choose how much of the money going to charity went to which charity, how much goes to the creators, how much to Humble Bundle. 

Hmm. I had the beginning of an idea.

Charles Brownstein at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is always willing to listen to my strange ideas. He liked this one.

This was the idea:

I'd put into the Humble Bundle all the rare things we could find. 

Books that were long out of print, stories and such that collectors would pay hundreds of dollars for, obscure and uncollected comics and pamphlets and magazine articles. Even the things I am still vaguely embarrassed by (like the Duran Duran biography, a hardcover copy of which, as I said, can set you back thousands of dollars these days, if you can find one). 

Books which have been out of print for 30 years, like GHASTLY BEYOND BELIEF, a collection of quotations from the strangest SF and Fantasy books and movies that Kim Newman and I made when we were 23 and 24 respectively. Things that were absolutely private and never before sold, like LOVE FISHIE, a book of poems and letters from my daughter Maddy (aged 8) to me, and from me back to Maddy, that was made into a book (with help from my assistant the Fabulous Lorraine) as a gift for my 42nd birthday. 

Two long out-of-print books from Knockabout Comics: OUTRAGEOUS TALES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT and SEVEN DEADLY SINS, with stories written and or drawn by me, Alan Moore, Hunt Emerson, Dave Gibbons, Dave McKean and a host of others. 

Rare out-of-print comics stories by me and Bryan Talbot, by me and Mark Buckingham, even by me and Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham.

There would be small-press short story & suchlike collections like ANGELS AND VISITATIONS and the LITTLE GOLD BOOK OF GHASTLY STUFF containing stories that went on to win awards and be collected in the more big, official collections (Smoke and Mirrors, etc), and stories no-one has seen since, not to mention non-fiction articles, like the one about the effects of alcohol on a writer, or the one where I stayed out for 24 hours on the streets of Soho, that are now only whispered in rumours.

There would even be a short story of mine, “Manuscript Found in a Milk Bottle”, published in 1985, that is so bad I've never let it be reprinted. Not even to give young writers hope that if I was that awful once, there is hope for all of them.

Charles from the CBLDF liked the idea.

It was a good thing Charles liked the idea. He had to do so much of the work, coordinating, finding, talking to people, getting contracts with artists and publishers and everyone signed, all that. Which he did, cheerfully and helpfully and uncomplainingly.

The Humble Bundle people liked the idea too.

Humble Bundle money is divided between the creators and the charities, with the person buying the Humble Bundle deciding how the percentage that goes to the charities is divided.

I'm giving my entire portion of Humble Bundle creator-money directly back to the Gaiman Foundation. (My agent Merrilee has donated her fee, too, so 100% of what comes in to me goes to the Foundation.)

There are, obviously, other authors and artists and publishers involved. Some have asked for their money to go to charities, and some are, perfectly sensibly, paying the rent and buying food with it.

(Originally, we'd hoped to split the charity money between the CBLDF and the Gaiman Foundation as well, but in the very last couple of days of putting things together we discovered that was impractical, so we made the other charity the Moth's Educational Program instead: it's the Moth storytelling in High Schools, it's done some really good things, and I'm proud to be helping it.)

Normally Humble Bundle likes to explain that you are paying what you like for perhaps $100 worth of games or books or comics. It's hard to price this stuff – buying Duran Duran and Ghastly Beyond Belief together could set you back thousands of dollars. Here, you'll get some ebooks if you pay what you like, more ebooks if you pay over the average, and some choice plums (like Duran Duran, and “Manuscript Found in a Milk Bottle”) if you pay over $15. 

There's a total of about 1,300 pages of DRM-free ebooks and comics, fiction and non fiction. There's even a Babylon 5 Script I wrote.

These books and comics and suchlike are going to be available during the two week on-sale life of the Humble Bundle. After that, they are going away again. This really is your chance to read them.

Click on the link: It will take you somewhere that will look a bit like this, where many pages of ebooks will be waiting for you:

And remember, it's pay what you want. (If you want to pay the thousands of dollars it would have cost you to buy all this stuff as collectibles, you can do that too. I'll be grateful, and so will the various charities, not to mention the artists, other writers and so on.)

Thank you to Charles Brownstein; to Mary Edgeberg, Holly Gaiman, Cat Mihos, and Christine DiCrocco, on my team; thank you to my agent Merrilee Heifetz; to everyone who drew or wrote or published or in other way gave us permission to put things up; to Mike Maher and the team at Scribe for mastering the eBooks;  and above all thank you to everyone at Humble Bundle for relentlessly doing good for wonderful causes.

I hope you enjoy all 1,289 rare and collectible pages. Even “Manuscript Found In a Milk Bottle”.

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Sunday, September 06, 2015

How to help your family and save lives.

It's very safe here: we're in Tennessee, in a perfect little house we are borrowing from a midwife who has gone out west to her son's wedding. We are cooking, eating,  catching up on our sleep. Amanda's due in a week and her Nesting Instinct seems to be manifesting chiefly in trying to clean out her email inbox. She's also cleaning, washing and folding baby clothes and clean towels. I'm writing a lot, enjoying the lack of cell-phone connection, and the lack of internet connection, and getting things written without distraction. (I wrapped the first draft of a script on Thursday, wrote a preface to SANDMAN:OVERTURE on Friday.) We've felt like a couple for a long time. We're starting to feel like a family.

And the safety feels very fragile, and like something to be treasured.

There's a photo I'm not going to post. You've probably seen it already: it shows Aylan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian refugee, dead on a beach in Turkey after his family tried to get to Greece. It made me cry, but I know I'm overly sensitive to bad things happening to small children right now. I'm reacting as if he's family.

In May of last year I was in a refugee camp in Jordan. I was talking to a 26 year old woman who had miscarried her babies in Syria when the bombs started falling. She had made it out of Syria, but her husband had left her for another woman he hoped would give him babies. We spoke to women eight months' pregnant who had just walked through the desert for days, past the dead and dismembered bodies of people fleeing the war, like themselves, who had been betrayed by the smugglers who had promised them a way to freedom.

I gained a new appreciation for the civilisation I usually take for granted. The idea that you could wake in the morning to a world in which nobody was trying to hurt you or kill you, in which there would be food for your children and a safe place for your baby to be born became something unusual.

I wrote about my time in the Syrian refugee camps here, in the Guardian. (You can read it here: and you should, if you have time. I'll be here when you get back. And here are some photos from my time there:

Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon have, between them, taken in millions of Syrian refugees. People who fled, as you or I would flee, when remaining in the places they loved was no longer possible or safe.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has made a plea to Europe that you should read (and insist that whoever represents you also read)  at
The only ones who benefit from the lack of a common European response are the smugglers and traffickers who are making profit from people's desperation to reach safety. More effective international cooperation is required to crack down on smugglers, including those operating inside the EU, but in ways that allow for the victims to be protected. But none of these efforts will be effective without opening up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe and find safety upon arrival. Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice. 
The UN Refugees Agency wrote about words, and how they matter. In this case, the word migrants and refugees: they don't mean the same thing, and have very different meanings in terms of what a government's obligations are to them.
 One of the most fundamental principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat...
Politics has a way of intervening in such debates. Conflating refugees and migrants can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees. Blurring the two terms takes attention away from the specific legal protections refugees require. It can undermine public support for refugees and the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before. We need to treat all human beings with respect and dignity. We need to ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected. At the same time, we also need to provide an appropriate legal response for refugees, because of their particular predicament.

It's worth making sure that people are using the right words. A lot of the time they don't realise there's a difference between the two things, or that refugees have real rights -- the rights you would want, if you were forced to leave home.

A lot of people have been asking me about ways that we as individuals can change things for the better for refugees: there's an excellent article in the Independent about practical things you can do to help or make a difference.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is feeding and housing and housing and helping literally millions of refugees around the world, always with the eventual goal of getting them safely home one day. Their funding comes from governments and private individuals all over the world. But this crisis has stretched them thin. You can help.

Donate to them at​ -- and please, share the donation link:
With your support, UNHCR will provide assistance such as:
  • Deliver rescue kits containing a thermal blanket, towel, water, high nutrient energy bar, dry clothes and shoes, to every survivor;
  • Set up reception centres where refugees can be registered and receive vital medical care;
  • Provide temporary emergency shelter to especially vulnerable refugees;
  • Help children travelling alone by providing specialist support and care.
As I said on this blog when I came back from visiting the camps:

I came away from Jordan ashamed to be part of a race that treats its members so very badly, and simultaneously proud to be part of the same human race as it does its best to help the people who are hurt, who need refuge, safety and dignity. We are all part of a huge family, the family of humanity, and we look after our family.  

(I'd love it you would spread this post around, and spread the links inside it. People who know that I'm involved in Refugee issues have been asking me about places to donate and what to do and what to read, so I put this together for them, and now, for you.​ was the donation link.)

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Have I Actually Been Eaten By A Bear?

Amanda is now 8 and a bit months' pregnant, and she wanted to have our baby off the grid, in the middle of the woods with nothing and nobody around but midwives, a doula, and me.

Which seemed like an odd idea when she first floated it by me, but has come to strike me as more and more sensible in the last few months, especially when I would look at my deadlines. It's been a mad year anyway, and more and more things have crept onto my schedule: the idea of going off to a cabin in the woods and writing, away from phones or emails or any distractions seemed increasingly attractive. So I get the best of all worlds: undistracted time with Amanda, undistracted time with Amanda and the baby (when he appears), and relatively undistracted time to write.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy,  last Friday.

Except, the birth-month is September. And September is the month when everything is happening.

It's still ridiculously cheap on Amazon, for three books you could not previously get in these editions in the US.

The last issue of Sandman Overture will come out in September (although not the hardback collected edition of the whole thing. That comes out on November 10th -- my birthday, oddly enough: details at )

And, more personal for me even than these, it's the month that the Humble Bundle happens.

You know what a Humble Bundle is, don't you…? It's a bundle of Digital Stuff (usually games, sometimes eBooks or Graphic Novels) that goes out to the world on a Pay What You Like basis. Sometimes you can get hundreds of dollars of stuff cheaply.

But I think it's fair to say there will never have been a Humble Bundle like this before. Why ever is that? you wonder. Ah,  you will have to be patient. It's going to be remarkable.


I'm going to be away. So I'm planning to learn how to use the various timed posting things on Twitter and Facebook and here on the Blog. People will think I am back from the woods, but no, I won't be. Magical timed postings will be going up to let people know what's happening.

(This may also result in a few tone deaf postings in September, as I apparently plug the Humble Bundle or Sleeper and the Spindle immediately after I hike into town to find internet to tell you that the baby has turned up. Forgive me if they happen.)  

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

“Behind the Trees”

 I love my wife so much. This is an animation by animator Avi Ofer that uses a voice memo from Amanda's phone of a conversation she had with me while I was asleep. 

(I can have conversations while I am asleep, I am told). 

She found the message she had left on her phone for herself, whispered in a bathroom while I slept,  a year or so after she’d left it, and played it to me. I said it sounded like an animated film, and she agreed, and used her Patreon to make it happen…

Only watch it if you want to know what the inside of my head is probably like while I am asleep.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

After the Pause

And now, the exhale. Then quiet: only birdsong and the wind in the leaves.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Existing in the pause

I was meant to be in the UK for another ten days. It was the ten days I was most looking forward to: a long-overdue trip to Scotland, to St Andrews (where I would be receiving a doctorate) and to Edinburgh and on to Skye. My friend Polly's 21st birthday party. A Masterclass in story writing I was going to teach.

I was walking in to a meeting with TV execs from around the world, along with my American Gods TV posse (the people from Fremantle Media, and Bryan Fuller and Michael Green) when Amanda texted to tell me she was on a train into London from Hornchurch, our friend Anthony was dying, and we were on a plane that was leaving in three hours from Heathrow. I explained what American Gods was to the TV people, and then I ran for it.

Somehow (well, with the aid of Clara Benn) we were packed and on that plane, in the last two seats in the back. (I am not pregnant: I took the middle seat.)

We made it to the hospital while Anthony was still conscious and more or less able to communicate. I told him about the umbrella cane I had discovered for him (I get him canes, with stories, from all over the world). He put his hand on Amanda's baby-bulge, and we talked to him about the baby's name, and he smiled.

We were in the hospital with him for two days and it seemed like a lifetime. On the third day the doctors said he could go home: he would get no better, and he was slipping away.

Amanda and I have moved next door to Laura and Anthony, moved to Amanda's old family home, as we wait.

It's the morning of day four now, a beautiful sunny fresh day. It rained in the night, and the grass was covered with webs that held the raindrops, and the morning sunlight slanted in at an angle that made everything look clean and magical and whole.

Anthony's dying fast. He communicates sometimes, if he's thirsty, or hungry, or needs to pee. He groans, and rolls, and does not want to be in his bed and does not have the strength to be anywhere else. There's nothing more. He hurts, his body is failing, and the leukemia and all that goes with it is draining him away. His wife, Laura, is being remarkable: saintly and brave and helpful and a rock for all the people around. His family and his friends are here sometimes. People are around the bed, and then they move away and talk, and then they are around the bed once more.

I keep making food, and feeding people. It helps.

Amanda is here, with me, with Anthony. So pregnant,  a beam of life and light in the darkness of the dying.

We won't be waiting long.

It doesn't feel like real time. Normally, we breathe in and we breathe out, and we never notice the beat between the breath. Right now we are living in the place between the inhalation and the exhalation, existing in the pause.

Do you want to know who Anthony is? Read this:
It's the introduction I wrote to Anthony's book Beloved Demons, in November 2013, when his cancer was in remission. It stayed in remission for a long time, but not long enough.

It starts:

I had known Amanda Palmer for six months, and we were going on our first date. Our first date was four days long, because it was all the free time we had at the beginning of 2009 and we were giving it to each other. I had not yet met her family. I barely knew her friends.
"I want you to meet Anthony," she said.
It was January. If I'd really known who Anthony was in her life then, if I'd known how much he'd played his part in raising her, I think I would have been nervous. I wasn't nervous. I was just pleased that she wanted to introduce me to someone that she knew.
Anthony, she told me, was her next door neighbour. He had known her since she was a child.
He turned up in the restaurant: a tall, good-looking man who looked a decade younger than his age. He had a walking cane, an easy comfortable manner, and we talked all that evening. Anthony told me about the nine-year-old Amanda who had thrown snowballs at his window, and about the teenage Amanda who had come next door when she needed to vent, and about the college-age Amanda who had called him from Germany when she was lonely and knew nobody, and about rockstar Amanda (it was Anthony who had named the Dresden Dolls). He asked me about me, and I answered him as honestly as I could.
Later, Amanda told me that Anthony liked me, and had told her he thought I would make a good boyfriend for her.
I had no idea how important this was, or what Anthony's approval meant at the time...
And here is a song Amanda played for him at the end of a tour, three years ago, before she ended the tour early to help get him through that first round of chemo.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Drawing the Undrawable: An Explanation from Neil and Amanda.

So that, as they say, was a thing.

The Neil and Amanda guest-edited New Statesman came out a couple of days ago. It's what we wanted it to be – an issue about saying the unsayable, filled with writers saying stuff. We are in it too. Everything is perfect...

Except the cover isn't the Art Spiegelman cover it was meant to be, the one that went up online at the New Statesman site and then vanished again. It's an Allan Amato photo of Neil and Amanda instead. A beautiful photo, with text over it. But it's not the cover we told people we were putting out, the cover that people have been asking us about.

This is what it looks like with the flap covering the left of it:

We owe you an explanation for why this is, especially as it gets into strangely self-reflexive territory: an issue about saying the unsayable that loses its cover for reasons of, among other things, freedom of speech, human error, and whether or not you can say the unsayable. Or show the unshowable.

And the short tl:dr version of this is:

We loved Art's cover. (So did the New Statesman.) We are really sorry that the cover wasn't used. Art pulled it because he felt that agreements with the NS weren't being kept, specifically, he had done a comic that he wanted in the issue, and as Guest Editors we'd assured him that wouldn't be a problem. Communications between Art and the NS were not good: they didn't get back to him on his questions, or, we think, understand that they were meant to include the comic. When the NS editors learned about the comic it was already too late to put it in the magazine, and when the Amanda-and-Neil-put-it-online solution failed, Art, with enormous regret, pulled his cover.


Of all the things we were excited to attack with this "Saying the Unsayable" issue, the cover was at the top of the list, because it posed such a great braintwister: how do you draw what can't be said? Neil and I spent a few weeks chatting through all the various options - one of the nice things about being a musician and graphic novelist who have both been collaborating with artists for years is that we had a list of art-geniuses a mile long. Art Spiegelman won, in the end, because he was perfect for the theme. I remember seeing, in a newstand the week after Sept. 11, 2001, the cover of the New Yorker - thinking, at first, that it was a solid black image. And then, as the issue caught the light and revealed two magically disappearing towers, painted in ghostly gloss with a single antenna thrusting through The New Yoker masthead, I knew I was looking at the work of artistic emotional genius.

Art's been a fighter for visual free speech for ages: his seminal graphic novel "Maus", a profound commentary on family and nazism, has recently been banned from sale in Russia because it featured a swastika on the cover (though one could argue it was hardly "nazi memorablia - not to mention Art has already won the argument in Germany that Maus was culturally significant enough material to allow it onto shelves). Art's also let us crash at his apartment. So we were gleeful when Art agreed to do the cover, even though he had his grumpy doubts about the British press (we'll get to that in a second), and I traipsed over to Soho to have a long chat with him about what we might do for an image.

For three hours, over two walks and three locations (one cafe, Art's studio, and we stopped by to visit the artist JR: you'll note that that gave accidental birth to the use of JR and Art's Ellis Island graffitti/drawing collaboration in the issue), we discussed the potential for the cover, and I told Art about the fantastic writers we had on board, writing about the unsayable. I wound up getting a three hour crash-course in banned comic history, including the life and times of Fredric Wertham, Comics-burning, and the Comics Code.

In his studio, Art showed me some of his recent covers and comics following the Charlie Hebdo massacre. We batted some ideas around. An image of Me and Neil? Only if it was a really strong idea, I said. I didn't want this being about our egos - and we had balked at the idea of just using a nice photo of us on the cover. There's certainly nothing Unsayable about that.

Art showed me a comic he'd drawn about what you can and cannot say as a cartoonist, which I found smart and hilarious, and hardly controversial: Notes from a First Amendment Fundamentalist. It pictured Art, shown as the mouse-headed narrator, explaining what images were for, and why editors were scared of them, preferring to show smiley faces with “Have a Nice Day” on them instead. The comic had run in The Nation in the US, in many European countries and on the cover of a german paper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine. It hadn't been run in the UK, Art said, so we could have it as an exclusive. Brilliant, I said. Art told me the New Statesman had already passed on running it, back when Charlie Hedbo happened, not - they'd told him - on the grounds that it was controversial, but on the grounds that they'd felt they had enough Charlie Hebdo coverage. Art had been in China when the massacre happened and didn't get cracking on this drawing until a few weeks after the main news explosion. The London Review of Books had passed on it because “they disagreed with what Art said in it”.

It was something he felt really strongly about, and he was disappointed that it hadn't been seen in the UK. Would we run the comic as part of the issue? Neil and I both loved it -- it was a comic about saying the unsayable. We let the New Statesman know, Art sent over the image of the comic, and we got to work on what we thought was the hard part, the cover itself.

(Click on it to read it at full size.)



The phone buzzed and Art and Amanda were together in New York. We talked ideas for covers.

Art is a cartoonist: he writes beautifully and well, but his medium is pictoral, or that combination of words and pictures that become more than either alone.

“I don't think you need me,” he said. “They could do it with just a photo of you guys on the cover.”

“We need you,” we told him.

We wanted an image as powerful as some of his iconic New Yorker covers. Art retired from New Yorker covers, mostly because he didn't like having to negotiate or deal with magazine people, but he was willing to do it for us.

“The problem is,” he warned us, “that you can write about the unsayable, and nobody will mind. But if you draw the undrawable, you're in trouble.”

We tell him we are game for trouble.

Ideas are discussed: Me and Amanda as Paper Dolls surrounded by the costumes we could wear, all of them evoking things different groups would find offensive. Amanda and me about to be burned at the stake, with other burnable things. The see-no-evil monkeys.

We settled on me and Amanda drowning in our own word balloons, and got Art photoreference of us.

He called the next week. The word bubbles cover wasn't working. But he had an idea: a man drowning in shit, unable to talk about what he was drowning in.

The man would be calling out baby names for shit, loudly...

Art sent us a rough of the image.

It was great, except, it wasn't right. I showed it to Amanda.

It was a powerful image. And some days it feels like we are drowning in shit.


I talked to Art after the Pen Gala, and explained my problem.

“It doesn't say Saying the Unsayable to me,” I told him. “It says, We Are Drowning in Shit. It's the cover to the Drowning in Shit issue.”

Art had already had another idea. He showed it to me. I took a photo of it and sent it to Amanda. She said “YES!” and we had our cover.

A week later, Art sent us this:

And it was perfect. Amanda was concerned people would look at it and see only a disempowered woman, not an angry woman. The New Statesmen people liked it (some of them loved it) but they were also concerned it might be misinterpreted.

We wrote a piece that was meant to go into the New Statesman talking about it:

We actually can discuss the unsayable. We are doing it here, in this issue. In that sense, “unsayable” is almost an oxymoron.

We can talk about something without actually showing it. We can discuss “drawing Mohammed”, we can write entire books if we wish about the traditions involved in representing Mohammed, the problems inherent in it, the issues of power, offense and violence involved, and nobody will try to kill us for writing it.

Once you draw the picture, it’s a different story: when you “draw the undrawable”. The moment that you draw a picture that shows something transgressive, even if you are simply commenting on it, you have drawn it. (In 2010 Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris attempted to satirise and comment on the issues involved in representing the prophet in a humourous way, by drawing a cotton reel, a cup, a domino, a purse, a cherry and a pasta box, each claiming to be an image of Mohammed. She was placed on an Al-Quaida deathlist, and has been in hiding for four years.*)
* This is a simplification. At the top of the cartoon, it talked about a fictional Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, it went viral, and Molly was put on the death list. Here's one of the last cartoons she did before going into hiding.

Images that shock or repulse us have power, in a way that words will not.

 Amanda walked with artist Art Spiegelman through downtown New York for an afternoon, getting schooled in the long history of banned drawings, comics and the wake of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations.  She and Art got Neil on the phone and for an hour discussed "see no evil” monkeys, people and stereotypes being burned at the stake, and how to represent offensive images without actually offending people. We wound up with the idea of Neil and Amanda trapped and drowning in their own speech bubbles. But Art wasn't happy with it.

The first cover design he actually showed us was a glorious depiction of a man drowning in a sea of shit, unable to say the word. It almost worked, but not quite. (We worried that people would think, not unreasonably, that this was the “we are all drowning in a sea of shit” issue.)

When he sent over the sketch of an angry woman bound, “see no evil” blindfolded, but still trying to swear through the happy-face on her ball gag, we knew we had our cover.

And we stopped worrying about the cover.



Putting together the contents of the issue was a blast, and a tsumani of emails flooded between me, neil, the new statesman folks, and the various writers we were hoping would write for the issues. Some people got their pieces in within days of being asked, some people wrote thousand-word pieces only to spill tea on their computers at the last minute, missing the deadline. Some interview questions went unanswered, some people called in sick.

Some incoming material led to new inspirations, which was where we really felt the beautiful synchonicity of concocting a magazine in realtime, on a deadline. JR's haunting Ellis Island graffiti images seemed to hunger for context about today's heated immigration issues; we pondered who could write about that, and the new statesman suggested we bring in Khaled Hosseini (whose work I'd read, but it would have never occured to me). We ran into Laurie Penny in a cambridge coffee shop and she offered to work with a writer of a piece we liked but felt wasn't there yet. We emailed with our friend Stoya to see what her take was on the unsayable issues in her workplace, porn. I happened to be talking with two different friends on the phone when it occured to me that they should write about what were were chatting about: both of those moments found their way into the "Vox Populi" sections. It was a lot of fun. The New Statesman folks were incredible - they caught the balls as fast as we were batting them and worked tirelessly on laying out the perfect issues. Everybody was really excited.

Two nights before the launch of the issue - the night before the final pieces of the magazine were to go to the printer so the magazine could hit the stands on time - we got a distressed email from Art. He was going to have to pull his cover, because he'd gotten an email from the magazine saying they they wouldn't run his comic.

Because of timing, or because of the content? Timing, probably. My brain did a few frantic calculations. Had we sent it over? Had we missed it in the master list? Oh shit. Maybe. I admitted to Art that we hadn't been the most organized editors - but we'd call the magazine right away. The worst thing that would happen was that it would miss the print deadline, but it would make it into the online version, which was, hopefully, going to see even more traffic than the printed issue, anyway. Art sighed and said he'd be happy enough with that, but he needed a promise from The New Statesman. It was 7 pm, We phoned the New Statesman. It was too late for the comic to get into print, they said. Could we run it online? They froze. Apparently, there had been a New Statesman-wide meeting and consensus that the magazine wouldn't print any images of the prophet mohammed. Art's comic showed two magazine covers, the one that was not a problem (a happy smily face saying have a nice day) and  one that was a problem (a happy smily face with a turban, and the word Mohammed pointing to it) and in a final panel, it depicted Art tearing off his mouse mask and revealing a turban-wearing happy smily face, saying Have a Nice Day. 

Neil and I sighed. We hung up the phone. We looked at each other, glumly. This sucked.

"Okay. What if...." I said, "you write about the evolution of the cover for the online version of the magazine, and in there, just put a thumbnail of the comic which linkes to the full-size version of the comic which is already up online? You could interview Art about censorship. That way the comic gets the attention it needs, the new statesman doesn't have to actually run it, Art will get his way, and we won't have to lose our beautiful cover. Because honestly, the heavy irony of the fact that we're sitting around here discussing losing the cover of our 'Saying the Unsayable' issue because we can't run a smiley face with a turban on it..."

Neil furrowed.

"We can try."

We called The New Statesman. They said they could live with that.

We called Art. He said he'd go for that.

We breathed a massive sigh of relief. Neil called Art and did an interview with him about pictures and art and censorship and why artists need to be able to do art to communicate, for the blog. Neil couldn't work out why the Skype calls kept failing. (I was in bed on the internet, downloading things.)

But after three calls, he came to bed. We were saved.

The next morning, at 10 am, I had voicemails and texts to call the New Statesman. I gulped. We called. The peace treaty had broken down overnight. Art's agent had put The New Statesman's promise to run the thumbnail, with the link, in a blog written by Neil, into a contract and sent it over. They wouldn't sign it, as they explained, if they failed to do as Art requested, he could have the whole issue pulped. They said they'd rather pull the cover. It was 11 am, and Neil and I were on a train to go and visit his family in the countryside, with phone service coming and going. We spent the train ride on the phone convinced that we could re-assemble the agreement we'd managed to put together the night before. The absolute deadline for printing the cover was 12pm.

We couldn't do it.

By 11:45pm, it became clear that Art's cover was going to be pulled. We started discussing, reluctantly, what could possibly replace it. The New Statesman mocked up a simple cover using the press photo by Allan Amato that was taken four years ago, with the words "Saying the Unsayable" printed across our faces. We sat in a cafe in the English Countryside that happened to have wireless and downloaded it.

"This is fucked. This is an issue about censorship, and it looks like the cover of GQ." I said.

"We could just go all black...." said Neil. (Of course).

We sent some half-hearted remarks to The New Statesman to improve the size and placement of the text, but we didn't have any further time to discuss it. The cover went to press.


It was a complete cock-up. Art's ironic prediction of a photograph of me and Amanda on the cover proved correct.

Art's frustration is that the British press can write about freedom of speech while at the same time having blanket policies which mean that an image like this one becomes unshowable. (In context:, Art shows us a magazine with a smiley face and turban, labelled Mohammad to show us what is a problem, and what is not. The New Statesman took it as showing an image of the Prophet, something that they had agreed amongst themselves they would never do.)

I suspect that if the New Statesman had had longer to talk amongst themselves and to think about the Art's comic it would have made it in, but I could be wrong.

The night before the New Statesman went to press, when the agreement was that I would blog about it on the New Statesman site, I interviewed Art for the blog. He said a number of cogent things about image and cartoons, about why the UK press wouldn't show images, like his comic, which had been on the front covers of newspapers in Germany and prominently published elsewhere in Europe. On why, in a secular society, it is vital not to bait, but to debate – and that people who use pictures to communicate needed to be able to use their pictures, as those of us who use words use their words. That there cannot be a "Kalashnikov veto" on what is published.

(The blog didn't run, and as Art says, he gave the interview being still kindly disposed to the New Statesman, and he doesn't feel that way any longer, so I'm not going to quote from it.)

Art feels angry: angry for the wasted work, and primarily angry because he wants people in the UK to be able to see his comic.

The New Statesman editors felt aggrieved, trapped between the rock of having to show an image that might, conceivably, have been interpreted as showing Mohammed in order not to lose their cover, and the hard place of their discomfort with the Wylie Agency.

Amanda and I are sad and disappointed. I'm mostly disappointed because I thought that the proposed solution (of blogging about it on the NS site, with a thumbnail of the comic that you could click on to take you to a larger image, so the comic could be seen, and in the blog Art and I could talk about the issues involved) was something that worked. I'm still sad that the New Statesman backed away from it, when it was put in writing.

It's obvious, going back in the email chains, to see the breakdowns in communication between Art and the New Statesman and vice versa, while Amanda and I were riding the magazine guest-editor whirlwind (writers dropping out and coming back in, pieces coming to us or going directly to the NS, people we waited on for articles or think pieces or interviews until the last moment, while still trying to keep our lives and our real, paying work going). It was our cock-up as much as anyone's: we knew he wanted the comic in and had sent it over, and didn't actually think of it again until the end.

Neil and Amanda:

So that's what happened, and why Art's cover isn't there on the cover of the New Statesman.

Running a magazine is insanely hard work, and having to deal with the crisis at the last minute was no fun for the New Statesman team, who have been supportive of us all the way, and who wound up, at the end, face to face with, and having to deal with, what is and isn't unsayable. (And from their perspective, as they expressed it to us, it was also a freedom of speech issue: they didn't want to run the comic, and couldn't be pushed into it.)


This is how we get into this mess in the first place. "We would, but...." "We should, but...." "We believe in freedom of the press, but...." It's death by a thousand buts. We wanted to say the unsayable, and draw the undrawable. We ended up feeling like we'd tried, and, due to human error on our parts and on the magazine's, failed.

We're really, really proud of this issue, and we're honored that the New Statesman gave us a chance to gather all these artists and writers together. We have the former Archbishop of Canterbury writing about why religion needs blasphemy and Stoya on porn, and Michael Sheen and Hayley Campbell and Kazuo Ishiguro and Roz Kaveney and Nick Cave and...

We just wish we were as proud of the cover as we were of the content.

Have a nice day.

Neil and Amanda

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