On May 11, hundreds flocked to UCSB’s Campbell Hall to listen to a man tell his stories. They sat in awe as he spoke of his past and his connection to UCSB. They had gathered to hear the tales of Neil Gaiman, a world-renowned storyteller and friend of the campus.
Gaiman is an English author of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, children’s stories, and short stories. He is most well known for his novels “Coraline,” “Stardust,” “Good Omens,” “American Gods,” and the comic book series “The Sandman.” He has won numerous awards in his career and had many of his intellectual properties turned into movies and television shows.
The night began when Gaiman walked onto the stage. The hall roared with applause for his appearance. He carried with him a stack of index cards full of submitted questions and an iPod full of books to read to the audience. Throughout the night, he picked a question from the stack and respond with a tale from his life.
“Nothing tonight has been planned,” Gaiman said.
This statement from Gaiman truly embodied one of the main themes of the night — the other being a focus on remembrance. The night felt like one long conversation about the past rather than a lecture about his works.
One of the first stories that Gaiman told the audience about his relationship to UCSB and his old friend Frank McConnell, a late English professor from UCSB.
Gaiman told the audience that McConnell was one of the first academics to seriously analyze his work, “The Sandman.” McConnell wrote an academic review of the graphic novel and taught it in his classes at the time.
“UCSB was the first school that I was ever invited to speak at,” Gaiman said.
Gaiman also told the audience how McConnell wanted to nominate Gaiman’s “The Sandman” series for a Pulitzer Prize, but wasn’t able to because of the fact that Gaiman is English.
The next stories that Gaiman told the audience was about another late friend of his, Terry Pratchett. Pratchett was a famous English fantasy author. Some of his most well-known works were the “Discworld” series, “Nation,” and “Good Omens,” which he co-authored with Gaiman.
Gaiman began by reading the first chapter from “Good Omens” to the audience. He explained that the story was originally his own idea, but Pratchett enjoyed the concept so much that he offered to either purchase the property from him or co-author the book with Gaiman.
Gaiman spent almost an hour reminiscing on the life of his friend. He spoke of how, near the end of Pratchett’s life, both men spent years trying to pitch “Good Omens” to any film studio that would be willing to pick it up.
Pratchett died in March 2015 before the story was picked up. In a letter to Gaiman, Pratchett urged him to finish the project that they had started.
“I know how busy you are, but I want to see this before the darkness takes me. Will you do this, please?” he wrote to Gaiman in the letter.
In 2017, Amazon Video picked up the property and decided to adapt it into a television mini-series that would premiere on its streaming network. Gaiman took up the role as executive producer for the series to ensure that it would stay true to his and Pratchett’s story and vision for the project.
The last major story of the night was about the weeks that inspired his tribute to Ray Bradbury. When Bradbury turned 91 years old, Gaiman wrote him a short story called “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.” The story focuses on a man who has forgotten Ray Bradbury’s name, but remembers everything else created by him.
“Sometimes when the words go away I can find them by creeping up on them from another direction. Say I go and look for a word — I am discussing the inhabitants of the planet Mars, say, and I realize that the word for them has gone. I might also realize that the missing word occurs in a sentence or a title. The________ Chronicles. My Favorite _________. If that does not give it to me, I circle the idea,” read Gaiman.
Before reading this story to the audience, Gaiman told the story of its inspirations. During a troubling week in Gaiman’s life, he told the audience how he had forgotten something important in his life. He was trying to remember what or who it was. There were moments when he could remember things about the person, but not the person.
“He works at UCSB. He’s an English professor. But what’s his name?” said Gaiman.
He had forgotten about Frank McConnell. It had been a decade since his death. Gaiman talked about how he could have “googled” his friend’s name, but instead he kept searching for it in his brain. This frantic mental search is what inspired the piece.
After that story, Gaiman realized what time it was, and decided to answer a few quick questions before ending the night.
Six episodes of Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens“ are set to release on May 31, 2019, on Amazon Prime.