Sunday, March 08, 2009

Blueberry Girl, Charles Vess and Neil Gaiman at Books of Wonder

[Pictures here]

Originally I started this entry with “What a great day.” but Neil Gaiman’s post, late last night, gave the day an even greater poignancy in reflection.

Books of Wonder hosted an art exhibit, reading, and signing of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' new picture book, Blueberry Girl -- a prayer to a new life.

The day started not-early-enough before Bridget McGovern called and told me that there was already a line out the bookstore door. It was a quarter to 11:00 and the signing was scheduled for 1:00. I hustled over and, thanks to Bridget, we got in soon after and had a low ticket number.

Once in we had were able to view the artwork for a while -- I've talked about the paintings before but I had not seen all of them and I certainly had not seen them framed up and presented as a single body of work. It's a wonderful collection of images, in a slightly different style for Charles. Later on he would tell the crowd that it took him a long time to give himself the permission to utilize so much white space in the paintings. I’m thankful that he was allotted that time. It adds a dreamy every-time-ness that is so appropriate for the book.

Not unexpectedly we ran into many other artists -- Rebbecca Guay, Michael Kaluta, Rick Berry, Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon, Kristina Carrol, Tristan Elwell, and others. Michael Kaluta mentioned the glow of the room and he was right -- the place was packed with people excited by words and pictures, and packed with friends and artists that had traveled up to five hours to wish Charles and Neil, and their book, well.

After the art viewing the crowd gathered around on the floor in a semi-circle, kindergarten story-time style. Neil talked about writing the poem (in a hotel room in Vegas, of all places) as a gift for Tori Amos and her soon-to-be-born daughter. He read the book, noting that it was one of the few times he could read an entire book to a roomful of people and be done in two and half minutes.

Charles gave a quick slide show going over his first rough thumbnails, refined drawings, and some alternate versions of the paintings. He mentioned that the 18 lines of the poem doesn’t have a linear narrative so he quickly came to utilize images of pathways and migrating animals as a means of visualizing the journey of a girl’s life. He also mentioned that he did not want to lock down the “Blueberry Girl” as a specific person with a particular nationality -- instead he changes her race throughout the story and makes her any girl. The repetition of animal imagery helps maintain consistency throughout -- the same owl connects a blond haired girl on one page to an African-American girl on the next, and so on.

The goal of any artist working on a picture book is to add another dimension to the story -- to make the words and images together become a greater third thing. It’s an unqualified success. Bravo to both creators.

And then the signing began...lots and lots of signing. Again, thanks to Bridget we were able to get in early. I've known Charlie for years but have never met Neil...and was very shy to meet him now. Bridget forced my to say hello and I’m glad she did. All the rumors are true - he is the most gracious and charming thing you could cross paths with.

Some friends and I left for a while to garb a bite to eat and came back a few hours later - Charles and Neil were only halfway through the line, still chatting and being gracious to everyone as they stepped up. We left for dinner and Charles showed up hours later, high on adrenaline. It was a great night of eating and talking. Charles showed off the proofs to his art book, Drawing Down the Moon (due out “before Comic Con)....Holy smokes does it look great. A thick book, just about every paintings and drawing being a full page. Charles does not have an extensive collection of his work online, going through these pages and seeing so much work in one sitting is a heart-stopper.


Anonymous said...

Neil's post on his blog last night put an uncanny spin on an otherwise glorious day.

Kristina Carroll said...

Irene- that first picture of Neil and Charles a la Raphael's Two Angels is perfect.

It was such a wonderful day. I am floored by Neil's grace throughout, despite what must have been a very difficult time.

Also- it was great seeing you and all your peeps!

Pinflux said...

Bravo to Neil for coping on the day - the news that it was his father is even more jarring.

Sounds like it was a very pleasant event otherwise.

Irene Gallo said...

Pinflux - I had no idea it was his dad until just now.I cannot imagine what he must have been going through throughout the day.....

I was having such a great time in my band of twenty or so friends that were there - some that I had known for over a decade and others I had just met. The day seemed infused with such good will due to the nature of the book itself.....I'm speechless thinking how hard that must have been for Neil.

Irene Gallo said...

Kristina - Ha! I didn't think of it until you made the connection. Funny...and I was wondering if I should have gone with more serious pictures, now I'm glad I didn't.

Angilram said...

Pity I missed that. It's always fascinating to hear such significant authors talk about their process and thoughts while creating a masterpiece.

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