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Stardust Memories
by Hank Luttrell

When I sell comics at science fiction conventions (which I often do) I try for breadth of selection rather than depth of stock. Which is to say I bring long white boxes of many different titles, mostly one copy of each. It has been my experience that I tend to sell diverse assortments rather than a lot of copies of a few issues.

White boxes of comics are rather boring visually, so I am behooved to display selected titles face-out. You know, to give browsers the actual idea that I'm selling attractively illustrated books and pamphlets containing sequential art and recreational reading, and not just cardboard. At this year's WisCon (Memorial Day weekend, Madison, WI.) one of the comics I picked for prominent display was Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess.

WisCon "Celebrates women in science fiction." So when I organize my inventory for WisCon I specialize in comics by women creators, in comics with strong women characters, and certainly comics which I've seen to be popular with women readers. Rose certainly falls within two of these three categories.

Charles Vess
Charles Vess
Imagine my surprise when I looked up and found Charles Vess browsing my display. I had no idea he was going to be attending. WisCon is a small convention, with only limited resources for underwriting the expenses of guests. Normally there are only two guests each year. This year, our guests of honor were Nalo Hopkinson and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Many other professionals attend, but they pay their own expenses, as do all committee members and convention volunteers. So it was surprising, gratifying, even exciting to find one of my favorite artists, and one of the finest artists working in the field of fantasy, poking around in the WisCon dealers' room: just another convention member and participant.
Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson

I did some research on Vess' interest in WisCon (well, at the Charles Vess website) and I learned that Vess had also attended WisCon in 2000, mainly because Charles de Lint was a guest. Other friends and colleagues also attend, such as Terri Windling, Midori Snyder, Heinz Fenkle and others. They like to style themselves "The Interstitial Arts Mafia," I suppose because much of their work is hard to classify in just one familiar category or genre.

The next day of the convention I made it a point to bring and display lots more of Vess' work, such as Books of Magic and issues of Book of Ballads & Sagas. Arranging the display in my exhibit space is always a work in progress. So on Saturday, Vess books and comics started showing up prominently on my tables from time to time, only to sell or get rearranged. Charles drifted through the room several times. It must have seemed that every time he looked more or different examples of his books were being displayed. He may have felt like I was stalking him, since finally he whipped out his pen and asked if I wanted him to autograph books. I said I usually didn't let people write in my books, but in his case I'd make an exception.

On Sunday, he drifted into the room with another person, with whom he was talking about his work. They may have started talking across the hall in the art show, where Vess had mounted a stunning display. On this day, Vess found a copy of the DC trade paperback Stardust on my table. He asked if he could draw on it. Well, sure. His acquaintance allowed as how she might want to buy it. "Do you take plastic?" she asked. "Of course." "How do you spell your name?" Vess asked, insuring the transaction.

Stardust Stardust Stardust is a favorite book of mine, and it happened that I had a few questions and comments on this book. What better time than while Vess was trapped at my table drawing on it? "So what was the deal with the Avon printing of Stardust, anyway? The one without your art? That seemed like a gyp." Vess explained he had certainly received his normal share of the royalties, even though they had not been able to use his art. Neil Gaiman had written the text. The contract gave DC exclusive rights to the art, but Gaiman had negotiated to retain the rights to the text. DC must have supposed that the text in an illustrated book was without value by itself. Then Gaiman had turned around and sold it as a novel to Avon.

I like the Avon hardcover, actually, because the type is larger than in the DC editions, which is a consideration when your eyes are 55 years old. And the Advance Readers' Copy which Avon published is gorgeous. (If you are a fanatic Gaiman collector, you have to have one of those.)

Vess allowed as how he had never read the Avon text, and he really wondered about it. Much of the story, he reminded me, was told in the illustrations, so he was uncertain how Gaiman had dealt with that when telling the story with text only. I said "I've talked to Gaiman about that, and I've compared the texts, and really he didn't change much. He said he 'tweaked' it a little." Some of the changes he did make are curious. I would have never noticed, but my wife pointed out that at a wedding, what were red and white roses in the graphic album become red, white and yellow in the novel. Yellow? This, from a fellow who dresses all in black and sees the world through smoke-colored glasses.

"I have one reservation about the DC graphic album." I said finally. "Your caricature of Gaiman at the Fairy Market Festival is cropped off the page!" It seems that DC didn't re-size the art scans. (Or something like that. Technical stuff that I don't understand. But money and/or time weren't used to create what would have been a more perfect book.) But the good news that Vess gave me is that the correct proportions are restored with the third printing!

Vess mentioned that they have sold a movie option for Stardust. This doesn't mean that there will ever be a movie made, though it is one step, but it does mean Vess can afford something like getting his roof repaired.

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman
On Sunday and Monday of the convention, I noticed lots of people in the dealers' room without convention name badges. This is a good thing! In the 26 years I've been managing the WisCon dealers' room, we've always made this part of the convention open to the public. I feel, and am supported by a consensus of the WisCon organizing committee, that not only does this policy benefit the vendors (and convention vendors bring much value to any science fiction convention), but it also allows people to "sample" science fiction conventions. It is a way for people to become more interested and involved in the science fiction/fantasy community.

Anyway, one of the guys I spotted was a fellow dressed all in black wearing sunglasses. (He probably thought he had snuck in.) Suddenly the Dealers' Room looked a lot like the Fairy Market Festival from Stardust. Neil Gaiman lives in Northern Wisconsin (something which you will be reminded of many times as you read his Hugo-nominated regional novel American Gods.) Obviously he had popped into Madison to visit with his friends The Interstitial Arts Mafia. But I had already sold out of all his books, so I couldn't throw any on the table top.

Copyright © 2002 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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