Someone asked me this weekend what my favorite book was. My answer was instant: Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel The Sandman. Surprised by my quick response, they asked why. I told them Neil’s writing was beautiful, but more importantly as a young reader, his worlds and characters were more ‘real’ to me than reality itself.
The Sandman (and also The Books of Magic) were enthralling and awe inspiring in a way I cannot describe in words. They defined several years of my life and I draw inspiration from them to this day. Honestly, I feel The Sandman series is the greatest work of fiction ever created.
For those who don’t know, The Sandman's main character is Dream, the Lord of Dreams who is essentially the anthropomorphic personification (archetype) of dreams. At the start of the series, Morpheus is captured by an occult ritual and held prisoner for 70 years. Morpheus escapes in the modern day and, after avenging himself upon his captors, sets about rebuilding his kingdom, which has fallen into disrepair in his absence. Gaiman himself has summarized the plot of the series (in the foreword to Endless Nights) as "The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision."
If you have not read it, you really should. (Take care, it is violent and dark at times.) While I could go on and on about the story, its various characters, or even dive into The Books of Magic, I actually want to talk about something else. A day or so after my aforementioned conversation I looked online for an interview with Neil to see what he was up to these days. And although I found what I was looking for, and now have to begin watching Dr. Who from the beginning and pre-order The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I also found something else: A commencement speech. (See below for full video of said speech.)
Apparently unbeknownst to me, Neil Gaiman delivered the keynote address and received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts (HDFA) at the University of the Arts' 134th Commencement, held May 17, 2012, at the Academy of Music on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts. It was his first-ever university commencement address and he urged young artists to "make good art."
It’s a really great speech (I would like to think that I know, being a speechwriter) and three quotes in particular stuck out to me.
“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and dance and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that's the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
“I don't know that it's an issue for anybody but me, but it's true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I've never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”
“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”
The “make good art” quote (which is actually longer than I have posted above) has its own video, comic and even now has its own book designed by Chip Kidd (which you can preview here.) I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Although I have never met him in person, Neil seems like an incredible guy and his various works are truly stunning. I greatly look forward to the good art he will create in the future, Sandman related and otherwise!