Monday, November 12, 2001

So I got up at 6:20 am to go to the airport, interrupting a very peculiar dream in which I was one of an order of monks living in a rambling farmhouse, which was trying, in the way of farmhouses in dreams, to kill us all, and I needed to warn the little old lady who lived in a cottage out the back that the house was the sort that ate people, and we were just having an odd conversation about whether or not my eyes were baby blue or dirty green ("dirty green!" I assured her, but she was deaf as well as half blind and paid little attention) when the bedside phone rang with my wake-up call.

I packed everything, realised that I'd left my notebook with half of the Moebius story in it at the Will Eisner presentation on Saturday, did NOT panic, but went down and got in the car waiting to take Will Eisner, Scott McCloud and me to the airport, for a 10.00 am flight (for you don't know what sort of delays you will get these days, not to mention navigating Chicago in early rush hour).

Got to the airport. Got into a check in line behind a nice man from CBS news who was taking a mobile studio with him and needed to check and sign for a couple of dozen strange boxes. Time passed. Eventually I got to the front of the line, only to be told my plane did not exist. It had been taken off the schedule a few weeks ago, due to the whole nobody-much-flying-any-more thing. Thus I have a while here in the airport and am doing a blogger entry I've not had time to do so far.

So, the whole Chicago Humanities Festival thing (the theme of the Festival was Words and Pictures) was marvelous. For several reasons. Firstly, the guest list from the world of comics included Art Speigelman and Francoise Mouly, Jules Feiffer (who I didn't meet, dammit), Will Eisner, Ben Katchor, Chris Ware, and Scott McCloud, and, as an honorary comix guy, Michael Chabon. Secondly, it was astonishingly well-organised, and, third and most importantly, it was very obvious that, culturally, we were there on the same terms and in the same league as the various nobel-prize winning novelists, poets, musicians and suchlike that took up other streams of the festival. There was no feeling of being second-class citizens or lesser beings. And the Festival people were happy, because (a) they are fans, and (b) we filled our various halls and auditoriums.

On Friday night I did a reading/Q&A session for a packed house, on Saturday I got to interview Will Eisner (ditto) and on Sunday I was on a panel with Will, Ben, Scott and Chris Ware, which was a delight (except for the acoustics on the panel, which meant no-one on the left of the table could hear what anyone on the right was saying and vice versa), and was moderated by Michael Chabon, who began by saying that nobody ever says "what a well-moderated panel" and then proceded to deliver an astonishingly well-moderated panel (especially considering he couldn't make out a word that Ben Katchor or I were saying). (And I only knew what Chris Ware was saying by lipreading, which meant that whenever he covered his face in mortified embarrassment for merely existing and having done such astonishing work all of his wise words turned into vague and amorphous sounds.)

We signed books. We did interviews. We went out for meals and talked to each other. We waved our hands around a lot when we talked. (I think it's a comics thing.) It was tremendously civilised, and sensible and cool. Michael Chabon was unbelievably nice, for someone so talented (which went some way toward proving my theory that the first-class people really are nice; in my experience, it's the second-class people who say things like 'don't you know who I am?' and behave, in the main, like jerks).

I took a few photos, which I'll try and organise to post up here somewhere. Scott McCloud showed me some of the online comics that people are doing. I'm a sceptic when it comes to the web replacing the page, but am delighted to see such a body of inventive and cool work coming into existence. Go and look at Scott's page of links if you have any doubts. (& I fell in love with Vicky Wong's page-designing skills.)

Simply spending time with Will Eisner makes me happy; not because he's been the single most sensible person in comics since 1938, but because he has his eyes fixed firmly on the future, and on the project after next, when maybe he'll finally get it right. He knows how good he is, and he knows how far what he's done was from what he had in his head -- "the sound" as he called it, during the interview, borrowing an analogy from jazz, which he was still in search of...

God, I hope that when I'm 85 I'll still be in search of the sound.