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Novello - Enter Sandman

by Mark Peres

October 3,2004

This time last year, I sat near the back of the Neighborhood Theater in NoDa, among other graphic novelist fans, listening to Neil Gaiman read from his book, “American Gods.”

In his novel, Gaiman explores the mythic landscape of the nation through a main character named Shadow. The story begins with Shadow, just released from prison, on his way to attend the funeral of his beloved wife. Along the way, he meets an odd businessman who offers him a vague, enticing job. Shadow reluctantly accepts and soon tumbles along a journey through the heartland of our country, where in weird and evocative places, he meets the “old gods” of our collective past who have since been forgotten.

The novel uncovers the lives of forgotten divinities, of once-powerful personifications of our consciousness that have been reduced to two-bit grifters and con-men, replaced by our new gods of “credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon.”

It is classic Gaiman, a prolific writer and artist, who in black leather jackets and with moppish hair, has built a career exploring what role dreams play in our lives. He is a writer of angels and visitations, of threatening harlequins and of neverwhere. His great literary character is a very attractive, slightly edgy, teenage girl named Death, introduced in perhaps the most stunningly intellectual and compelling graphic novel series ever written: “Sandman.”

Gaiman is among a triumvirate of iconoclastic artists who have exploded the comic book form from within. Along with Alan Moore, author of “Watchmen,” and Frank Miller, who forever redefined the Dark Knight, Gaiman goes deep into myth, deep into the complex caves of psychology, bringing forth contemporary stories of ancient states of being.

This year at the Novello festival, with general seating tickets in hand, I will find my way to Michael Chabon. He, like Gaiman, is prodigious and acclaimed. At an early age, Chabon drew worthy and wide attention for “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” and later again for “Wonder Boys.” He won the Pulitzer Prize two years ago for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.”

In his Pulitzer winning novel, Chabon takes us to New York City in 1939, where two young cousins, one who escaped from Nazi occupied Prague, and the other a Brooklyn-born schemer with moxie, collaborate to create a new comic book hero within the American dreamscape. As the shadow of Hitler falls across the world, the Golden Age of comics begins.

Chabon took me back to my own days as a ten-year old in the Borough of Queens, when I would run to the corner store with quarters in hand, to buy the latest issue of Spiderman. Today, in a new Queen city, I’ll visit “Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find” on East 7th Street and look, quite intently, for the latest Alan Moore, Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman work of art.

In my days and nights in this city, as I pursue my profession and seek to contribute, as I meet good friends over a drink or two, as my wife and I consider the storyline of our lives, I’m drawn to the power of dreams. In the Jungian word of myth and imagination, all is limiting, all is possible.

Novello, our literary art festival, reminds us of the ancient stories within us that each of us retell in the contemporary world. Each of us is a character in a dreamscape of our own making.

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