Tuesday, May 13, 2008

what you can't help doing

Sorry about the font-mess of yesterday's post. I did it using Safari on a PC, and the result was hellish. Obviously these are not two things that work well together when playing with Blogger. And each attempt to clean it up on my part made it worse. (Thanks to the Web Goblin for fixing it.)

I did a second draft of the Waterstones "What's Your Story?" story (only a few words I wanted to change, but it meant handwriting the whole thing out again), and FedExed it off today.

My thanks to the Eagle Award voters -- I was thrilled that Absolute Sandman volume 2 won an Eagle Award for Best Reprint. (Last year it was Absolute Sandman volume 1. Next year the vote will probably be split between Absolute Sandman volumes 3 and 4, and something else entirely will win.)

(I was looking to see if there were covers for Absolute Sandmans 3 and 4 up yet at Amazon, and noticed that volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all on sale for $62.37 [and that they are going to weigh a grand total of 29 lb altogether] and the last two have 5% preorders discounts up as well. Which I mention mostly for those people who write to me and grumble about the Absolutes being $100 books.)

Not sure if the cover for Absolute 4 is a mock-up or the real thing. I suspect it's not the final, mostly because I'm pretty sure that face is from Sandman #1, and for Absolute 4 we'll be taking a cover portrait from somewhere in the last 20 issues.


Regarding the Julie Schwartz Memorial Talk at MIT on the 23rd of May: To reiterate from the other day -- over at we learn that Tickets to the event are $8.00 and will be available at the door, pending availability. There won't be any available on the door, because they have almost all sold out. The website has a list of places selling the tickets -- yesterday there were about 60 tickets still out there. So this is a sort of a last call -- you can try phoning the places at the website to see if they still have tickets...


An ebay auction with a story... I've been rereading some old Batman comics recently, although I don't think I'd want these. But the story that comes with them is wonderful...

I'm worried and upset about the earthquake in China. From Nancy Kress's blog I learned that at least some of the friends we made in Chengdu last summer are okay -- and so are the pandas.


Rice pudding re-prompt! Once you get home to proper milk, of course. "Your general guidelines for a batch of rice pudding please, Mr. Gaiman!"Thank you!! ^_^b

I'm working on it, honest. Decided to figure out the proportions I'd used by a) finding a very similar recipe on the web and starting from there and then b) fiddling with it.

Two night's ago's rice pudding (the web recipe) was much too salty and wrong. I fiddled with the proportions and last night's was a lot better but now too sweet. Tonight's rice pudding would have been perfect I have no doubt but I forgot to buy more milk, so I didn't actually make one.

Dear Neil,

The press down here in Brazil have enthusiastically announced you'll be here for the Paraty International Book Fair, first week in July. But since you're also scheduled to lecture at Clarion, I'd like to ask if this is true. Or maybe you have a doppelganger. Or maybe the organizers here had a dream. Or maybe you're taking a weekend of from Clarion down here in Rio (if so, it'll be winter here, and rainy, not the best time to come...) Best regards,Eric

That sounds right, yes. (I teach Clarion the 3rd week in July.)

Hello hello hello,

To quote one of your other fans, “I have a question for you about writing”. I find that my own writing will echo the style of which ever author I am currently reading. Any idea how I might get around constantly mimicking others?

You write more.

I don't think there's anything wrong with copying other people's styles -- it's a skill you'll need, after all. Many actors begin as mimics. You don't worry about it, and keep writing, and after a while you'll have written enough that you can't help sounding like yourself, whether you want to or not.

Style is what you get wrong, that makes what you do sound like you. Style is what you can't help doing. Style is what you're left with.

(I just googled "style is what you can't help doing" because it sounded half-familiar, and I wondered who said it originally, and discovered that it may actually have been me, as I found myself looking at an extract from a speech I gave to an audience of comics artists and writers in 1997 at ProCon in Oakland:

We are creators. When we begin, separately or together, there’s a blank piece of paper. When we are done, we are giving people dreams and magic and journeys into minds and lives that they have never lived. And we must not forget that.

I don’t want to sound like an inspirational speaker here. "Be you." "Be the best you that you can be." But this is really important. It’s something that we mostly lose track of when we start, because when we start in comics we’re kids and we have no idea who we are or what our voices are, as artists or as writers.

Young artists want to be Rob Leifeld, or Bernie Wrightson, or Frank Miller, just as young writers want to be Alan Moore, or Chris Claremont or, well, Frank Miller. You’ve seen their portfolios. You’ve read the scripts.

We all swipe when we start. We trace, we copy, we emulate. But the most important thing is to get to the place where you’re telling your own stories, painting your own pictures, doing the stuff that no-one else could have done but you. Dave McKean, when he was much younger, as a recent art-school graduate, took his portfolio to New York, and showed it to the head of an advertising agency. The guy looked at one of Dave’s paintings—"That’s a really good Bob Peake," he said. "But why would you I want to hire you? If I have something I want done like that, I phone Bob Peake."

You may be able to draw kind of like Rob Leifeld, but the day may come, may have already come, when no-one wants a bargain basement Rob Leifeld clone any more. Learn to draw like you. And as a writer, or as a storyteller, try to tell the stories that only you can tell. Try to tell the stories that you cannot help but tell, the stories you would be telling yourself if you had no audience to listen. The ones that reveal a little too much about you to the world. It’s the point I think of in writing as walking naked down the street: it has nothing to do with style, or with genre, it has to do with honesty. Honesty to yourself and to whatever you’re doing.

Don’t worry about trying to develop a style. Style is what you can’t help doing. If you write enough, if you draw enough, you’ll have a style whether you want it or not. Don’t worry about whether you’re "commercial". Tell your own stories, draw your own pictures. Let other people follow you.

If you believe in it, do it. If there’s a comic or a project you’ve always wanted to do, go out there and give it a try. If you fail, you’ll have given it a shot. If you succeed, then you succeeded with what you wanted to do.

And it's still true. (That speech is, along with another speech about tulips and comics, and an essay on how to do successful signings, available in Gods And Tulips, illustrated by Chester Brown, price $3 from the CBLDF commercial website.)(And for those of you after instant webby gratification, the whole Procon speech is up at the Magian Line archives at But the CBLDF Neil Gaiman store one has a pretty Mike Kaluta cover of me being dead on it. And it's cheap...)

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