Wodehouse on stage

Obviously, not PG Wodehouse himself, but a stage adaptation of his work.

I am in Sheffield at the moment, and before I was about to come here, L told me that she had seen a musical called Anything Goes playing at the local theater, and it was a lot of fun. The name rang a bell, and indeed, the musical was penned by the same person who made a whole lot of us quiver with silent laughter in our seats through the antics of Galahad Threepwood and Bertie Wooster.

However, it was due to depart from Sheffield before my arrival. No harm done, I figured, but curiosity played a role in my googling for “Wodehouse play sheffield”, and I happened to chance on:

A stage adaptation of Perfect Nonsense, playing in Sheffield the very week I was due to be here. Not only was this a Jeeves and Wooster story starring Roderick Spode and Aunt Dahlia and a silver cow creamer, but it was also very critically acclaimed, having won a bunch of awards in the UK. It starred one of the guys from the TV show Peepshow – a show I confess I cannot watch more than two episodes of without squirming in embarrassment for the characters and the situations they put themselves in, which is another way of saying that it’s brilliant.

Happiness and squee ensued, until:

My trip had to be delayed by a week, because of passport-related nonsense. Long story short, the USPS played pass-the-parcel with my passport, which the UK consulate at New York had sent via one-day priority express (not out of altruism, but because I had paid for the damn return label out of my own pocket). As a result, the parcel, due to arrive on January 24th, made its way to Memphis, Tennessee, sauntered around a bit taking in the sights, I presume, and then mysteriously reappeared in Los Angeles on the morning of the 29th. My flight was at 8:30 in the evening, and I swallowed a couple of optimista pills, and threw looks of longing at passing vans that would make piano-playing jilted lovers from seventies Bollywood want to hire me as their emoting coach. Alas, close of business came and went, and after having cancelled my ticket – sweetly enough, Orbitz charged me a 100$ only for the cancellation, and issued a full refund for the rest – I made my way to our office rec room where a party was in progress, and proceeded to drink myself silly. No, just kidding, I did imbibe, but just enough to drown my feeling of frustration. At that point, there was nothing I could do but wait.

The passport got in on the morning of February 2, and I was off on February 3.

As it turned out, I arrived in London the weekend the play was closing down in Sheffield, so there was no way I could see it there. But:

The next city in the tour was Harrogate, which was not too far. About 2 hours by train, and we could have probably made it to one of the 7:30 PM shows, and yet:

The week was a little crazy, because I was working remotely, and had daily status meetings with my US team at 6:45 PM GMT.  So there was no way we could go watch the play on a weekday. So Saturday the 28th, 7:30 PM, was the only day and time that we could possibly make it to the show. And it was – bam tish! – sold out.

Oh well, we said. Some other time. We decided to go and visit Cambridge over the weekend and maybe York, and see a bit of the countryside. But then we looked at train tickets, and after some calculations, I figured that it makes much more sense to check out car rentals instead. I had tried some half-hearted searching a few weeks ago, but the thought of driving on the left side of the road, and the general unfamiliarity with the English spirit of driving – in my head, people driving in Britain were either sweet old couples who would get panicky at the slightest sign of the inability to follow driving rules, or aggressive football fans who would yell racial epithets at me. And yes, that sounds pretty racist of me, but you have to understand that it’s pretty hard to de-condition oneself of years and years of pop cultural brainwashing.

As it turned out, the rental proved to be much cheaper than the train tickets, and it took a few minutes of blinking my eyes and frowning at the road to understand that it wasn’t that bad to drive on the left side again (It had taken me nearly a year to stop waiting for buses on the wrong side of the road, when I moved to Los Angeles). Now that we had a car, it seemed like a better idea to go to a wildlife preserve instead, specifically the one at Spurn, which was a peninsula that jutted into the sea on the East coast of England. Driving along the M18 was a breeze, and we entered the town of Goole and stopped to get some gas in, when:

I checked the theater listing in Harrogate once more, and saw that:

  1.  They had a Perfect Nonsense show at 2:30 PM.
  2. Tickets were still available.
  3. Google Maps said that the distance from Goole to Harrogate was 54 minutes.
  4. It was exactly 1:25 PM.

It felt stupid to not try to make it to the show, and since L did not explode with fury – she was really sweet about it, actually – I pointed my car in the direction of Harrogate, and set off with a pace that I would describe as not-quite-pedal-to-the-metal-but-almost.

We reached Harrogate at 1:27 PM. The parking lot for the theater said “FULL”. It was raining with the kind of torrential gusto that provokes doomsday prophets to look you in the eye with an “I told you so” expression. After circling around the block for 5 agonizing minutes, I managed to back into a street parking space in front of a mall. It was a pay-and-park space, with a time limit of 40 minutes. “Let’s go”, I said. “There is no point, the show must have begun already, and we are too late.” L, more than a little drenched and exasperated, insisted on walking to the theater to see if there were 7:30 tickets at least. Worst case, she said, we could grab some lunch here.

We began walking to the theater. And walked about 5 minutes before realizing we were walking in the wrong direction, huzzah.

As we entered the theater, the ladies at the box office looked up at us from their lunch. We could hear the audience laughing through the closed doors.

“The show’s already begun”, one of them said. “But if you do not mind sitting in the balcony, you can go right in.”

Wait. What?

As it turned out, we finally made it to the show, about five minutes too late. Wooster was still in his apartment talking to Jeeves about the state of affairs that has led him to commit to visit Gussie Fink-Nottle at Totleigh Towers, and shortly after, Aunt Dahlia burst in complaining about Sir Watkyn Bassett’s attempts to woo away her chef (whose name escapes me at the moment). The show’s half-time matched perfectly with the time of expiration of our street parking spot, and the twenty minute gap was just enough for me to saunter over to the car (it had stopped raining by then), note that Jubilee Car Park now had free spaces, and to move the car inside. I made it back to the theater with enough time to spare to hit the restroom and the bar.

The play was magnificent, with the same two actors playing multiple roles – yes, Jason Thorpe played Jeeves, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Sir Watkyn Bassett and Madeleine Basset, while Christopher Ryan plays Seppings, Aunt Dahlia, a 9-foot tall Roderick Spode and Constable Oates. Robert Webb plays Bertie Wooster, of course, and the play takes madcap comedy to delicious extremes, with the fourth wall not being broken so much as pulverized. The self-aware nature of the proceedings appealed to me a lot, even as the actors played around with a minimal stage setup with enthusiasm. It was full of unbridled Wodehousian joy, the play was.

We spent the rest of the evening in Harrogate. There was a Thai restaurant next door called Sukho Thai, and it turned out to have the best Tom Kha soup I had tasted in a long long time. The pre-theater menu also included a main course of duck cooked in coconut, tomato and pineapple, and subhanallah, calling it “good” or trying to describe it in mere words would be an insult, so let’s just leave it at that.

Comics, Conventions, Events

My San Diego Con Report

I nearly did not make it to San Diego Comic Con this year. Blame it on jet-lag, middle age and a perilous meeting-packed week. I knew I would not make it on Wednesday and Thursday, and by the time Friday came around, I had half a mind not to go at all. But there were promises to keep.

I believe I am coming down with Convention Fatigue. I say this out loud despite knowing that fifteen-year-old version of me would punch me in the face. 2005-version of me would get all passive-aggressive, especially at how I was somewhat behind in replacing all my shelved books with signed copies.

This is specially true of San Diego, where walking from one end of the exhibition floor to the other requires serious stamina, a willingness to not mind being buffeted by the occasional 200-pound metaphorical gorilla. I am not making fun of the Comic-Book Fan here, I swear, it’s just that there is never a straight line. There are always aisles blocked by a signing, or impromptu photography sessions when an exceptionally-beautiful Elektra poses for pictures, or a kid wants to pet a cute R2D2 robot. Occasionally you notice that specific creator signing at a booth, and you have to weigh the probability of missing the event you are running to if you choose to queue for this particular guy, who is only around for 30 minutes more and does not stay the next day.

San Diego Comic-Con is a logistical nightmare if you are not prepared. I was not prepared at all this year.

I missed Benoit Peeters and Francois Schuiten signing the new English language reprints of their award-winning graphic novel, Leaning Girl. I could not get to Joe Hill at the Harper Collins booth because he signed until noon on Saturday, and I got there at 12:10. I could not get to Joe Hill at the IDW booth because you needed wristbands (groan!) to stand in line, and all the wristbands got over in the morning. I missed Bryan Lee O’Malley signing at his booth because I wasn’t there on Thursday and he cancelled his Saturday signing. Missed Matt Kindt and Kazu Kibuishi; did not even get to say hello to Mike Mignola at his booth, wanted to get a ticket for the Sin City 2 signing at the Dark Horse booth but could not.


“So what did you do in the one and a half days you were there?”, they asked.

My favorite moment in the show was meeting artist Kevin O’Neill, who was signing and sketching over at the Top Shelf Booth. I was in line on both days, and got a Mina sketch and a Hyde sketch in my Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen editions. Got my Marshal Law and Nemesis The Warlock volumes signed, and even bought a limited edition copy of League: Century, signed by both Alan Moore and Kevin. While waiting in line, it turned out that pal Micah was right behind me, and we spent a pleasant half-hour talking about con experiences and comics. With a special emphasis on the phrase “Hyde fucking the Invisible Man to death.” What have you wrought, Alan Moore?



Right next to Top Shelf was the Fantagraphics booth, and I met Don Rosa, the man behind The Life and Times of Uncle Scrooge. I had met Don in 2007, at my first US convention – Super Con San Jose, which has since been rebranded as Big Wow Comic Con, and I mentioned to him how he had signed my copy of Life and Times, but when I went to buy the companion (which is sort of a collection of out-takes from the book), it was all sold out. This time I had a copy of the Companion with me, and he signed it “For Satya, again!” He also sketched a very cool Kid Scrooge for me, with his lucky dime. Very very cool indeed. The Hernandez bros were also signing right next to him, and I got my copy of the Love and Rockets sketchbook signed by both Beto and Xaime.

Saturday started off pretty badly, with a parking ticket from the officialdom of San Diego, because half my car was in a yellow line as I was getting money out of an ATM. Mood soured, I went in to try catch Joe Hill. Missed ‘im. Headed to Zander Cannon’s booth, got myself a copy of his audio commentary and he drew me a sketch inside my copy of Heck. Most of the day then went by in a blur, meeting old friends, talking to art dealers, admiring the cosplayers. Made my first payment for my Next Big Art Deal. Ended the day and my con meeting Jeff Smith, who signed copies of Bone for a pal. At this point, I am not sure how many copies of Bone I have asked Jeff to sign, but it’s always a pleasure to say hello to him and Vijaya.

A couple of take-aways for me, from SDCC this year.

  • I need to be better prepared. Comic-con is a test of one’s physical and mental reserves, and if I am not into it, I will not enjoy it, period.
  • No more lugging hardcovers around. They put a serious damper on my enjoyment of the convention. I plan to make myself some book-plates next time. Getting those signed and sticking them into the actual copies of the books.
  • I hate the fact that I did not make it to any panels this time. Not even the one where one of my friends was up on stage!
  • While hotels were sold out, I noticed lots of AirBnb postings in the downtown area. So far, I have stayed at a hotel away from the convention center, at a hotel right next to the convention center, at a friend’s place in San Diego, and this time, at a friend’s place in the OC. AirBnb next time, maybe?
Books, Events, Myself

Neil Gaiman at the Alex Theater, 27th June 2013


You know, I had never attended a Neil Gaiman signing before. Events, yes, two of them, in fact, but I did not have a car back then and waiting in line to get stuff signed and run the risk of missing my last bus on a weeknight did not appeal to me. Last Thursday, at Alex Theater in Glendale, I attended my first Gaiman signing. It lasted till 2:40 AM, they say. I was in the first few rows on account of having gotten a premium ticket, and I headed out of the auditorium at 11:15 PM. Despite the lack of a lunch and a dinner, and various other adventures during the day, I felt great. And more than a little sorry for both Neil Gaiman and his legions of fans, who had stood in line around the block for about six hours, and sat in their seats, patiently, as the ushers invited them up on the stage row by row. It is not without reason that the man is called the most hardworking author in the business – he has earned his legions of fans not only by his writing, but also by the remarkable respect he shows to the people who come to see him at one of these events.

And what a bunch of people! To my right was a lady clutching a hardcover of Fragile Things, who held the guy next to her very close and said “my boyfriend is the best boyfriend in the world, he got us these excellent tickets and surprised me”. I could see she meant it too. On my right was a teenage boy, his teeth in braces, a nervous smile on his face. I met him when he was standing around at the reception, looking lost, an awkward smile on his face. “Go and say hi to Neil”, I said to him. “No”, he replied. “I am not interesting enough.” We were among the last of the premium ticket holders to go in, and consequently ended up sitting together. There was the comics crowd, holding their mylar-enclosed copies of Sandman #1 and Black Orchid close to their bodies; excited Whovians; the dressed-up-in-their-Sunday-best-on-Thursday crowd, white-haired couples sitting next to teenagers – holding Gaiman books and hands. Eyeliner and designer tattoos, summer hats and flower-patterned dresses, black suits and Neverwear t-shirts, I looked around the theater and it felt glorious.

“You are a very clappy crowd”, Neil began, as the opening applause died down. The conversation with Geoff Boucher began with a discussion about a writer’s need for applause, the desire to evoke reactions from his viewers. Neil spoke about the best crowd reaction he had ever gotten, at a reading of a chapter in The Graveyard Book when he stopped at a crucial point in the story. This was followed by long, insightful conversations about things such as how personal and truthful Ocean was (“it is a mosaic that looks pretty, and as you go closer, you see it is made up of blue dots and green dots and red dots, and only the red ones are true”), how hard it is to be fresh and new with his writing, on the advantages of writing in long-hand, with a fountain pen. He mentioned how his first draft of the Neverwhere short story “How the Marquis got his Coat Back” was derailed because he could not work with the paper on the notebook that he used – “And this may sound like I am being a prissy writer, but I am not. A fan gave me this notebook he had constructed out of paper that he had made himself, with crushed rose petals on every page. The only problem with that, as it turned out, was that the rose petals would clog my pen on every line and I had to clean it. I wrote half a page with a description of the Marquis’ coat, and then I gave up and forgot about it for many, many years.” The two other important things about writing in long-hand was that he used different colored inks on different days so that gave him an idea of how much he was writing every day, and it made it easier for him to discard material when he was finally typing it into a word processor, because it was “too much work”. He also talked about why he chooses not to reveal much of what he is working on until he is done. “There was this project that was killed by my agent before I even began working on it”, he said. “She asked me what I was working on, and I told her excitedly about this story I had in mind, about a boy who wants to be famous, and the simplest way for him to do so is to go to Disneyland and kill Mickey Mouse.”  After a long pitch came the punchline, delivered by Neil in the lady’s dead-pan voice: “Not exactly high-concept, is it, dear?”  It led him to throw away the idea and his retelling of it made us laugh like delighted school-children.

He then read from one of the opening parts of Ocean, after asking his audience how many had read the book. (Not too many, though a great number were done with their books by the time they had to queue up for the signing). I had, and after hearing his reading, I was tempted to order the audio-book, just to hear his rendition of the complete thing.

Then there were questions. There was one direct from Stephen King, read out loud by one of the organizers. At the risk of mangling the words, the question asked something like: “Do fantasy writers have a better conduit to their subconscious?”, to which Neil responded with a lengthy – and very funny – explanation of how his recurring nightmares became a fertile source for Sandman situations. “I would dream about a baby in the basement with an incision in its abdomen and it crept towards me slowwwly. And I would think to myself: ‘that’s a good one!’ At some point, the ones responsible for sending those nightmares my way must have given up in disgust.” Another audience question referenced a piece of advice Stephen King gave Gaiman: “You should enjoy this, all of this”. As Neil explained, this came at a time when the relentless Sandman touring and monthly scripting was taking its toll on him, and the term “Fraud Police” came up – the idea floated by Amanda Palmer that with success comes the worry that some day, They are bound to find out that it was a fluke, and They would take you to task for fooling your audience into thinking that you are clever when you are not. He used this piece of advice to make peace with the fact that he was good at what he did, and he liked it, and with it came a bunch of pluses and minuses and he was ok with all of it. “Tea helps. Bee-keeping helps, because every writer needs a hobby that could kill them. Having a dog helps. But I would not recommend cats at all.”

And then he side-tracked into a brilliant explanation of what it is like to write with a dog in the room, against writing with a cat. The dog stays in one corner, looks at you and tells you that you are the best writer in the world, and that you are doing great, and that everything will be fine. The cat, on the other hand, looks suspiciously at you, climbs up on the desk and tries to sit on the keyboard, and finally tells you: “You missed a comma there.” This is truly the highlight of attending a talk by Gaiman – he ends up crafting hilarious, personal stories out of nearly every question. Much like his writing, there is a particular spontaneity to it, the right turn of phrase, the correct pause before a witty response, an unexpected observation about the world that was always hiding under a sofa in your brain and which he, like a guest making himself comfortable in your mind, pulls it out with a flourish and makes you say “Aha!”.

Other things that happened: how the Dr Who episodes came to be. The fact that the boy you see at the back of the book cover is Neil Himself. Another reading, this time from Fortunately, The Milk, his children’s book that is out in September, and which is a response to Father’s Day gifts of The Day I Swapped My Dead For Two Goldfish; it involves aliens, time-traveling dinosaurs, and pirates and I just pre-ordered it. The surprise he felt on being #1 on the NY Times Bestsellers’ list, especially with a Dan Brown book out. (“Take that, Dan Brown”, somebody from the audience shouted. We cheered.) An antivirus warning occasionally popped up on the screen behind him, causing a moment of mirth.

It was time for the signing. There were a good number of rules for the event, everybody could get as many copies of Ocean signed as they wanted to, but only one other item, and only one of these could be personalized. People with mobility issues and with children at home were given preference, and anybody who wanted to skip the signing could just exchange their book (which came with the ticket to the event) with a signed copy outside. The first person to be up on stage was a little girl, presumably because it was a school night. The ushers queued people in order of their rows, and the lines proceeded briskly.

I had had a terrible day. I was in San Jose until the morning, thanks to a conference. A week ago, the time of the event had moved an hour earlier to 5:30 PM (the main reading event to 7) so that the signing could get over early. I re-booked my flight from San Jose from 2:45 PM to a morning flight 3 days before the event, and that flight was cancelled, I was moved to one at 3:45 PM instead (yes, an hour after my scheduled flight). Much gnashing of teeth, pleading and being zen at the airport happened, and I managed to get myself aboard the 1:50 PM flight. Upon reaching the airport parking lot, I found out that my car had a flat tire. Deep breaths when changing it. By the time I got home (I had to, I needed to pick my books up), it was already 4:30. Google Maps showed ETA for the venue as 6:15 PM. At that point, I decided to just forget about the reception and be in good spirits for the actual signing. Reached at exactly 6:15, after some cloggy moments on the freeway. Saw the lines that went around the block and gave myself a high-five for my decision to cough up extra money for the VIP ticket.

When I got to the reception, the lady at the counter warned me, with a sad look on her face, that there was only 15 minutes before it ended. I got in, however, to find out that Neil had come out to greet everyone just 5 minutes ago. He was being mobbed by hordes of fangirls. “You didn’t miss anything, except the sliders”, a guy standing next to me said. The food was being cleared even as Neil made his way through the room. I managed to catch his eye, and showed him the two pages I was carrying, my Eddie Campbell page that featured him. “Oh, I had never seen this before”, he said, and spent some time admiring it. Then I showed him the Bolton Desire splash, and he gave me some suggestions about how to frame it, because I said I wasn’t too sure. “Good luck”, he said, as he gave me the pages back. “Uh buh guh buh”, I replied. And cursed Google for not releasing Glass yet.

From Eddie Campbell’s Alec.

I met him again for a few minutes, at the signing. He took a short break to meet someone backstage just as it was my turn, and I spent time talking to the lovely Lauren Cook, who was one of Neil’s Elves, working to make the signing events go smoothly. She talked about how much they had to travel and some of the logistical challenges – as an example, they had to remove the table-cloth from the signing table because the big books (like the Absolute Sandmans that some brave souls lugged with them, or its Big Daddy, the Annotated Sandman) did not slide too well on the table and it was slowing down the process. After a while, Neil came back, and took off his jacket, revealing himself to be wearing a black t-shirt underneath. Making sure his pen was sharp and inky, he signed my books. I told him about my day, and he smiled, looked up, and said: “But you are finally here, and that is a good thing.” I told him why the only personalized copy of Ocean was not for me. I wanted to tell him about the story behind my copy of American Gods when he was signing it, but did not want to take more of his time. Just as I was taking the books back, he asked me if I wanted my Eddie Campbell page signed. “Because I kept you waiting”, he added.

Neil Gaiman did to me what he did to every single person in that auditorium. And I can say this with certainty – even though I did not stay back till the end of the signing – because I could see it in the happy, goofy smiles on the face of every one person who came down from the stage that evening. Neil Gaiman Made My Day.

Concerts, Events, Music

Concert Diaries: Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer at the Wilshire Ebell Theater

I had not bought a CD since 2008. In a few months, I get CDs of Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman’s recent tour, which I backed through Kickstarter. Also attended their LA show, which was a blast. It happened on All Hallows Eve. In addition to Amanda covering songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Neil reading out horror stories that made all of us in the audience sit lower in our chairs and try not to let tendrils of terror tickle our tummies (fuck yeah, alliteration!), we also had fans wearing Halloween costumes. Who were judged by the Dynamic Duo and then given access to luscious swag. The show also featured guest appearances by The Jane Austen Argument, a lovely Australian band. They’ve just released their first single, which has lyrics by The Gaiman himself, and their album is due for release in February.

Neil and Amanda totally behaved like newlyweds, or at least like teenagers out on a voyeuristic date. There was much public display of affection on stage between the two, and a completely aww-moment when Palmer scribbled down lyrics to the song “I Google You”, which was written by Gaiman once upon a time as a post-modern Sinatra-ish love song, and was supposed to be sung by him onstage, at which point he claimed to have forgotten the words. She then scampered up to him, gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and then slipped him the scrap of paper with a dramatic “let’s-do-this-secretly-so-no-one-notices” gesture. Total heart-melt. And Gaiman singing “I Google You” turned out to be completely adorable too.

But anyway, I got myself a Christmas thank-you card from them, which was technically not a Christmas card because they sent it way back in November, but became a Christmas card just because I got it around Christmas. So yeah, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer sent me a Christmas card. How cool is that, huh?

The other thing I got today in the mail was a download code to a preview of the release. And what a preview! Two hours of music, storytelling and much hilarity. I am half-way through the 25 minute narration of ‘Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar’, a Lovecraft-meets-the-British-Countryside short story by Gaiman, and it drives away every bit of lugubriousness brought about a long and weary working day. It has the songs ‘Blake Says’ and ‘Runs in the Family’ by Amanda Palmer, and also a bunch of excerpts from question-and-answer sessions that the two had. It features great verbal interplay between the two, Palmer’s American drawl contrasting quaintly with Gaiman’s British accent, as the two speak of mixtapes, hobbies, dating and how the audience should behave in order to come off well in the recordings, for posterity’s sake. (“Scream during the singing bits, like you would in a rock concert. And be quiet and inhale sharply in the right bits when Neil reads.”)

That evening was full of fun, laughter, singing, reading, gasping, kissing, premature birthday wishes (Gaiman’s) and a whole lot of ukelele jamming. And, as AFP put it in one of her blog posts, it was a perfect post-wedding reception for two fan-families.

Another memory: On the way back from the concert, I met someone at the bus stop who happened to play the bassoon for Frank Sinatra. He had pictures of himself with Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro. I talked with him until the bus came, and then I took his card and waved goodbye.