One of our faithful weekly patrons is a guy named Jeff. I don't know much about Jeff other than he's some sort of skilled laborer (carpenter, I'm imagining), he's the owner and wearer of a ZZ Top beard and train engineer-style hat, he visits us every Wednesday at around 5p like clockwork, and he has pretty good taste in reading material. I know this last bit because I helped shape a minor corner of his taste in books by introducing him to the works of Neil Gaiman.
The way this began is that, years back, Jeff asked me for a recommendation on a book. As is usually the case when people ask me this, I shoved Good Omens at him. He liked it quite a lot, so the next week it was Neverwhere. Then American Gods. Then an ILL for Stardust (which we now own) and then Smoke & Mirrors and then Coraline and then The Wolves in the Walls and, eventually, Anansi Boys. M is for Magic is the latest Neil collection we have, though we also recently picked up the ever-so-excellent unabridged audio adaptation of Neverwhere as read by Neil himself and I must confess the man is now right up there with Jim Dale as far as audio readers go, in my book.
Oddly, I don't think I've mentioned The Sandman to him, which is criminal, really. However, we only have the first couple of trades of that series, so it's always seemed needlessly cruel to get him addicted just to say, "Oh, sorry, we don't have any more for you. But the rest of it is really very good."
So Jeff occasionally asks me what sort of thing Neil has coming out next. I recently reported to him of Neil's new children's book Odd and the Frost Giants as well as The Graveyard Book, coming out later in the year. Meanwhile, he's branched out quite a bit to read all sorts of good things, including Gene Wolfe (a favorite author of Neil's) and, naturally, Douglas Adams (who is the author that lead me to first read Neil in the first place via Neil's Hitchhiker's biography, Don't Panic. Funny story, that--when Neil first began writing comics in this country, one of his earliest efforts for DC in the late 1980s was the Black Orchid mini-series. I'd always liked the Black Orchid character, having read of her in Suicide Squad and the Who's Who directory of the DC Universe and really really wanted to read this prestige format mini-series. Unfortunately, we didn't yet have a comic shop in the town I grew up in, so I had to wait for the eventual trade. However, when I read the press about Black Orchid, I knew I recognized the name Neil Gaiman from something that I owned, I just couldn't place where I'd seen it. So I spent a good hour going through my entire comic collection looking for his name on every cover, trying to figure out why it was so damned familiar. Sitting there on the floor of my high school bedroom, I finished the last box of my then two or three long-box collection, and had not found anything by him. I felt defeated, and allowed my head to fall back on my shoulders, which aimed my gaze up at my bookshelf where I saw the name Neil Gaiman staring down at me from Don't Panic. Within a couple years, I had the Black Orchid trade and began noticing Neil writing smaller stories in places such as Secret Origins, including a fantastic origin for Poison Ivy that I highly recommend and believe is collected in a Neil miscellaneous stories trade put out a few years ago. When I heard he was doing a book called The Sandman, I wondered if this was a new version of either the Golden Age Wesley Dodds Sandman (whom I'd read of in a story called Whatever Happened to The Sandman, which I think was a backup tale in a 1985 issue of All Star Squadron, and which I dearly loved) or the Jack Kirby 1973 Sandman in the red and yellow costume (which I owned a couple of issues of, having special ordered them thinking they were about the Golden Age Sandman, and still liking them well enough). When my friend Gordon began buying the new Sandman book, I asked him which version it was about. He wasn't familiar with either previous character, but said it didn't sound like them. He made me read a couple of issues of The Doll's House, and very quickly I found that the Kirby Sandman did play a role. I was already hooked by then, though, on the story of Morpheus and, more importantly, the supporting cast of the Doll's House story. (And to me Neil's Sandman is always more about the various supporting casts than it is about the Sandman himself.) I was a devout Neil follower from that moment on and have spread this affection/infection to most of my friends.)
But I digress with lots of parentheses...
When Jeff turned up today, I broke the news that I was leaving and would not likely see him next week or, perhaps, for a long time. He congratulated me on the move, but then seemed concerned.
"Where am I going to get my news about the next Neil books?" he asked.
"Oh, I've got `em pretty well trained around here. If they see Neil's name on something, they'll order it."