Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saint Neil

I knew Neil Gaiman was in China and that he posed with a baby panda on his lap. But when he didn't mention a trip to Japan (and instead a visit back to England), I pouted and stopped reading his journal for a few days. You can imagine my surprise then when I did check it out and discovered he indeed WAS going to make the flight to Japan -- great! -- and not only that but he widdled 40 interviews down to 37 so he could squeeze in a book signing -- oh, man! -- and just to add a little more excitement to the stew, that book signing was ... the following day at six thirty pm. Which would be a whole lot less nerve-racking if I lived in Tokyo. I don't.

However, after a few creative hours of phone-calling, schedule-shuffling, and coin-counting, I was ready to go. Of course, though, there needed to be maps. I get lost walking from the kitchen to the TV room in my own house, so my husband and son were justifiably worried about whether or not I'd even make it to Tokyo or not. I reassured them (weakly) and armed with a backpack full of printed out maps from the Internet and an enormous copy of The Absolute Sandman , I used my secret weapon when it comes to getting somewhere on time -- I left ten hours early.

I actually made it to Tokyo Station in one unfrazzled piece. Next, I had to find the Chuo line. This is what I had to work with:

Yea. That's what I thought. And while I can read the Japanese characters, or heck, even the English if I need to, I preferred to use a far less complicated -- far more exciting -- method. I was looking for an orange train. Finding it, I jumped on, took a seat and thought to myself, "Gee...this might be more of an apricot, or maybe a salmon-colored train."

It turns out I was right. A couple trains later and I actually got off at Iidabashi, exactly where I was supposed to be. Yay! Now, from here I needed to head West from the station. There doesn't seem to be any signs either. No problem there. I was a Girl Scout for three years. I've been camping. I walk out to get my bearings on the sun and find it high noon *sigh*. I go to the nearest Police Box to get some help. It is so extremely hot I have to use some of my folded maps to shield myself from the glare. And wouldn't you know when the cutest little cop in the world asks if he can help me and I whip out my maps they are all smeared with enormous drops of sweat.

But still, I manage to find the publishing company and the correct building even. Now, all I need to do is make sure I know what ROOM the signing will be in because I could totally see myself lining up in front of some office where everyone inside is working on payroll or something. I ask the receptionist girls. They make some calls. They ask my name. Odd. They make some more calls. Then one tells me to sit down someone will be with me. Huh? A man in a suit comes running over from another building asking me exactly when my interview with Mr. Gaiman was because they didn't have me on the list and maybe they could fit me in. No, I say. No! I can almost imagine how thrilled Mr. Gaiman would be to find he had yet ANOTHER interview and to find me sitting there in a room with nothing interesting to say or ask, a big goofy grin on my face. I explain again and he shows me to the room a tad less excited than he was a few moments ago. Come back at six he says.

So I spend the next six hours wandering in and out of coffee shops, strolling up and down the scorching streets, and watching the comatose or screaming patients get loaded out of an ambulance every thirty minutes or so. The only bench in town was in front of an emergency hospital.

Five o'clock arrives and I head back. In the lobby I met some awesome foreigner-type people who will later form the "Spider Pig Congo Line"... (yes, there was alcohol involved). We chat and laugh and try to expand our little English speaking network.

Six thirty comes and we -- all fifty or so of us -- are shown upstairs to where the book signing will be held. Neil is still in Shinjuku at an interview. He'll be here soon, they say. In the meantime drink all this champagne and wine and eat all these lovely foods. We answer a resounding, yes, we can manage that. Here they are setting out rows of plastic wine glasses full of booze.

Neil shows up a little before seven and it looks like the poor guy just woke up. Indeed, he had. He was suffering really bad from jet lag. Still he was so nice and considerate and was able to smile and sign, answer questions and make a couple cookie jokes.

I don't know how the "Spider Pig Conga Line" really gelled. It just did. They were some certainly neat people from all over Japan (and before that from all over the world) and the curious mix of excitement, nervousness, and alcohol just made everyone that much more funny and friendly I guess. I have a great picture of them but should probably get their permission before I post it. I also met Top Secret Kenji who you can find all over Neil Gaiman dot com. He's got a picture of him with Neil on the forums I believe. When we were riding the train back to Tokyo Station he's like, so are you sure you guys didn't know each other before tonight?

Here Neil is signing a book. That woman is giving me a strange look, isn't she? Wonder what that is about.

I thought I was gonna be a show off and whip out my gigantic Sandman book, but the guy ten places ahead of me had the same one and he was in fact the recipient of all the ooo's and ah's when he beat me to the draw. Still, Neil drew a picture of the Sandman in mine. And that was way cool.

But I suppose the "piece de resistance"would have to be the kiss on the cheek and hug.

I try and pretend that it doesn't look like I've got him in some sort of headlock in this picture Ugh. Sorry, Neil.

Afterwards, he answered any question we wanted to ask. Yours truly being the intellectual giant that she is asked, "Was the panda heavy?".

Oh, and here is Vince. I didn't talk to him that night but he got some great pics and an even better video of Neil reading from Fragile Things.