I’m a fan girl: Neil Gaiman

How big of a Neil Gaiman fan am I? Here’s a hint.

I was first exposed to Neil Gaiman as a teenager by my sister, albeit a indirectly. She lent me the Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll. I devoured it in a few days. I raved over it to her (it’s still one of my all time favorites). She mentioned that it reminded her of a particular arc of a comic book series called Sandman. I filed that away for future reference. About a year later, I was perusing my local Borders. I spotted a few Sandman trades. At that time I didn’t have a lot of money or many possessions to my name. Every purchase was carefully considered. I read each volume’s description until I found the one who’s plot sounded the most like Bones of the Moon. It was A Game of You. I took it home, hoping I hadn’t wasted my twelve dollars.


It probably wasn’t the best place to jump into the series as it was the most self contained arc, without many links to the series overall. It didn’t matter, I was hooked. Over the next year I read the rest of the series in order of what was in stock at the book store at any given time. I had already realized that I liked comic books before I left home, but I doubt I would be as into them as I am if I hadn’t spent that time in the graphic novel section searching for Sandman volumes I hadn’t read yet.


Once I’d devoured the entire Sandman saga, I snapped up everything else with the name Neil Gaiman on the spine. And they didn’t disappoint. Neverwhere, Mr. Punch, Stardust, they all sparked my imagination and made me see the world in a new way. I love the way he writes, often in a personal but slightly esoteric style. I love the way he mixes myths and everyday life in a way that makes me feel like this is the way the world has always been, I just hadn’t noticed before. And I love listening to him read his stories.


And my love of his writing sent me down many unexpected paths. It led me to delving into comic books. It led me to going to signings and conventions at a time in my life when getting out of the house for things other than work was a challenge. It led me to other artists who spoke to me, like Jill Thompson, Dave McKean, and Susanna Clarke.


What it didn’t do was spur me to do was write. Oh, it inspired me and made me long to be a writer. But I wanted to write like Neil, which I couldn’t. I would start a story and give up after a few paragraphs. I just couldn’t do what he does. It took a long time for me to realize that I’m not supposed to write like Neil, I’m supposed to write like me.


Occasionally I hit on something that feels like it plays in the same sandbox as Neil’s work (such as the story I posted on Halloween) and it pleases me immensely, but I’m no longer trying to imitate my idol. After all, he does an excellent job of being Neil. We don’t need another one. And I get to create something that only I could have created. Maybe I’ll never reach his level of craftsmanship, but I’m going to keep trying. And that is one of many reasons I’m a fangirl.

I’m a fangirl: Jim Henson

I hope this will be a semi regular feature where I discuss some of my biggest influences. First up Jim Henson.

Sesame Street

Like most people born after 1969 my first exposure to the work of Jim Henson was Sesame Street. Back then I didn’t know there was a person behind the puppets. They were entirely real to me. My prime watching years were 1980 to 86. It was a little different than it is today. No Murray or Abby Cadabby, only minimal Elmo. Not nearly as structured about when each segment aired. It was still the early years, I vaguely remember Mr. Hooper and a Snuffy who was imaginary. I clearly remember Gover as a waiter, Ernie stealing Bert’s nose, a song about a llama going to the dentist, Kermit as a reporter. Sesame Street made a huge impression on me and I absorbed as much as I could. It taught me about letters and numbers and words. It also taught me that being smart was important, but wanting to learn was even more important. It taught me people were all equal regardless of color: black, white, blue, green, it was all good. And no matter their quirks—if they can’t count, if all they want to do is count, if they tend to devour your worldy possessions, if they bother you while you’re trying to sleep, or if they’re perpetually crabby—your friends are your friends.
And they were my friends. I trusted them and loved spending time with them. Even after I found out there were people making them say or do the things they did, they were still living breathing beings to me.

The Muppets

My Muppet years started later than the Sesame years but they definitely overlapped. (In this case I’m referring to the ensemble of characters who populated the Muppet shows and movies, though it can be used to refer to all of Henson’s puppets including the Sesame gang). I don’t actually remember a time when I didn’t know of the Muppets. I think I might have been born knowing the lyrics to the Rainbow Connection. While Sesame’s focus was on education, The Muppets were all about entertainment. The Muppets were a little more sophisticated than their Sesame Street counterparts.  They were a tiny bit more complex both in their design and personalities. It’s remarkable that Henson and his fellow performers could imbue bits of felt and fur with such a range of emotions.  These puppets could convey pathos, joy, ennui, insecurity, mania, frustration, contentment etc.  That versatility meant you never knew for sure what you’d get with them. Sometimes it was pure vaudevillian shtick. Often it was zany, chaotic, whimsy. And sometimes it was raw emotion that spoke to the core of the human experience. (Okay, that was a kind of hyperbolic.) Few things have moved me the way Gonzo singing I Want to Go Back There Someday in the Muppet Movie did. Many of the few that have, also involve Muppets. (If you want another example of the muppets moving you to tears, search for Just One Person on YouTube.)

Despite their differences Sesame Street and the Muppets have a lot in common. Such as their affinity for the absurd. But most importantly, like Sesame Street, the Muppets are about acceptance and tolerance.  Everybody is welcome.

Everything else

Once I learned that there was a man behind Kermit and Ernie and the Swedish Chef, I sought out to find more things he’d done. And there was a lot. Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, The Labyrinth, The Storyteller. All these worlds bursting with imagination. It came as a shock, yet felt entirely right when I learned that Henson and his team created the Yoda puppet for George Lucas, and Jim’s longtime collaborator, Frank Oz, brought him to life.

It’s a cliche to say that there will never be another Jim Henson. But it’s the truth. He was unique. My world is richer because of his creations—because of him. I was ten when he died. It was the first time I was so affected by the death of some one I never met. I’m so glad that Sesame Street and the Muppets have carried on after he was gone. Kids need them, I need them. They reflect the world the way I want it be be.  Full of laughter and hope.  And I’m glad that his company continues to produce incredibly creative and original projects like the TV show Farscape and the movie Mirrormask. Jim is gone, but his inspiration continues.

And I will always be a fangirl.