Last week there was Graphics Festival at Sydney Opera House featuring a couple of graphic novels and movies folks. I was most excited about Shaun Tan and Neil Gaiman. Shaun Tan because, well, I adore his works beyond words. And Neil Gaiman, though none of his works have truly connected with me, he’s the type of author I’d love to meet in person.
So on Saturday night, hubby and I went to an orchestra based on The Arrival, Shaun’s wordless graphic novel (since I’ve met him, can we be on first name basis now?). The orchestra complemented the slides of illustrations from the book nicely. It was lovely.
But the real highlight for me, of course, to meet Shaun Tan in person! Gosh talking about nervous! Heart beating fast.. sweaty hands.. incoherent speech.. fangirl mode on. Luckily I managed to force myself to blurb out something like I’m the biggest fan of your work. He was being really nice, and replied back in a very normal way, so we actually had a nice conversation for a couple of minutes. I haven’t been to many authors’ signings, but I thought Shaun was extra nice. He actually talked to me like a completely normal person without fame vibe whatsoever and it didn’t feel like he was rushing so he could get on to the next person behind me, if you know what I mean. He actually spent some time talking to me even though there’s a long line for him!
When I said I loved The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia, he said that his favorite book is probably Tales from Outer Suburbia. It was the one he enjoyed doing the most, and the type of book he likes to read as well, short stories and illustrations. Then I mentioned about seeing trailer of The Lost Thing and how awesome it looked. He thanked me and said it took them nine years to do the 15-minute short film (wow!). Said it’s gonna be out on DVD soon and that he thought I would love it. (obviously!) I also found out that The Arrival took him four years to complete (with one year of thinking and not exactly knowing what to do). Each page took about a week long. When asked how he came up with such beautiful illustrations, I overheard, he smiled and answered, just lots of practice really.
It was the best author night ever. I left with a huge huge smile on my face for the entire night :)
What’s that he wrote under the cute pet? (which he drew on the spot!) I was too nervous to pay attention at the time to ask!
Afternoon the next day I went to a panel titled The Evolution of an Idea, with Shaun Tan, Neil Gaiman, and Eddie Campbell. The length I went through to get the ticket to this event! I thought when and where else would Shaun Tan be in the same room as Neil Gaiman?! I just had to go to see them both!
Look at them side by side!
Lucky I managed to secure myself a spot! It was an awesome 90 minutes panel about evolution of ideas. Obviously Neil Gaiman was the most famous out of the lot (though I beg to see differently as Shaun is my star), so lots of questions were thrown at him. He struck me as being a shy guy for some reason, and impressed me for being very articulate and well-spoken. Shaun too, to my surprise. I guess I have preconceived notions that authors are generally articulate on paper, but not in person. Well they both defied the myth. To be honest Eddie Campbell wasn’t on my radar much. I heard of From Hell but that’s probably it, and I didn’t find him as interesting as the other two on the panel.
A couple of things I gathered from Shaun (which seems to be a misspelled Shawn or Sean, because that’s how you pronounce his name):
He started as an illustrator but always wanted to be a writer as well, because he wasn’t satisfied with just illustrating other people’s lines. On The Rabbits for example, he received a half-page fax with 16 lines from John Marsden for the script of The Rabbits. It took him a year to illustrate the book, while both of them later got the royalties, which probably didn’t feel fair to him. The idea of course is important, but the actual labour of writing is minimal compared to illustrating. Good for him to make the book his own at the end with his outstanding illustrations! Were the script given to a lesser illustrator, it would just be a bunch of indistinguishable rabbits and the book would be lost in the sea of the ordinaries. (Since then Shaun has gone to have his fully own written book: Tales from Outer Suburbia.)
A thread of conversation led Neil Gaiman to mention that he thought who you are as an author is shaped by things you digest before you’re twenty. Shaun quickly agreed. Said he used to really get into reruns of The Twilight Zone the tv series when he was about 11. He then went to the library and asked the librarians what genre The Twilight Zone was. It was science-fiction apparently and he was given a list of sci-fi authors, arranged alphabetically. He came upon Ray Bradbury and never got pass that. (funny!) Shaun read all Bradbury’s books and was completely immersed. (Note to self: read one of Bradbury’s books!) Another book he remembered was Animal Farm by George Orwell. (Note to self: read that one too!) His parents thought it was a children book and gave it for him to read. But just so you know he totally got it and could see who the pigs were on the school playground.
When talking about adaptation of his books, Shaun said he generally doesn’t have a lot of actions in his books and his characters are often nameless. He has always preferred “static images that linger.. like an echo of what happened”. Which doesn’t make it easy to adapt his books to other medium. In one case, The Arrival was adapted to a stage play in Canberra and they added a strong landlady character to create conflict with the main character. Gracious and humble he said if he had seen the adaptation before finishing the book, he would probably make it that way. It’s scary how in the process of creating a book, it could go a thousand different ways. Which path should I take? Which path is right? At the end you have to go with what you feel strongest for. Neil expressed his agreement.
What I gathered from Neil Gaiman:
That he never starts to write a script before he knows who the illustrator will be. It’s crucial to collaborate with the illustrator and adjust his writing in accordance with the strengths and weaknesses of the illustrator.
In his early writing career he wrote biography for Duran Duran..
There are about 60 people altogether working on The Sandman series.
One of the most interesting thing was probably the part where he told the story behind MirrorMask (note to self: watch the movie). Whereas any normal movie project starts with an idea, MirrorMask started with a budget. Dave McKean was given 4 million dollars to make a movie and he accepted, asking Neil to work together. The rest of the details were quite hilarious, I wish I could record everything. Oh he also talked about Stardust the movie (which I also haven’t watched. I do have the book on my tbr.)
It was a great afternoon. But have to say I was really disappointed that they almost literally ran out of the room as soon as the event ended. I brought Stardust with me (my American Gods didn’t arrive on time from Book Depo) and was kinda hoping that there would be signing at the end. They didn’t say there would be, but still I had my hope. Well, Neil disappointed me in that regards. What, is he too famous to do signing in Sydney? :(
I’ve made up my mind. If I could have ANY three authors for dinner, alive or dead, one would definitely be Shaun Tan. My admiration for him keeps going TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!