Writer Neil Gaiman’s speaking engagement through UCSB Arts & Lectures was sold out to an audience of supporters as enthusiastic about the prolific author as devotees at a fan convention. His jokes got big laughs, his readings were answered with eager applause, and he never needed to explain his references. Gaiman writes poetry, books for children and adults, short stories, comics, and screenplays, and he is the showrunner for Amazon Prime’s upcoming Good Omens, based on his novel of the same title. Through his works, including the Sandman comics, the novel and television series Neverwhere,and the best-selling novel American Gods, Gaiman has amassed an impressive fan base.
His reading at Campbell Hall was illustrative of his charisma: He’s a talented writer with an approachable, artsy persona, and he’s a good reader of his work, infusing his stories with quiet humor. The evening was a casual mixture of Gaiman reading passages and short stories, offering anecdotes, and answering audience questions from cards collected from the crowd preshow. With an audience this dedicated, a Q&A segment is a fun element to add to the end of the show, but non-vetted audience questions in between readings broke the hold Gaiman had on the auditorium. Peppering these questions into the presentation not only stretched a 90-minute reading into a beefy two and a half hours, but it also broke the momentum of Gaiman’s work and insight by making him answer general (or worse, inane) queries. A smoother approach would be either to curate questions that further the conversation onstage, or to leave the Q&A to the ardent fans postshow.