Years ago, when I was in the first grade, my father rode a bicycle in a parade and got his picture in the local paper. I was certain that the next morning, due to my father's newfound mind boggling fame I would obviously be asked to sign autographs for my peers. In fact, I was so expecting to be besieged by psychophants, and not wanting to let anyone down, I spent the evening pre-signing my name so that in the crush I could just hand them out and there would be no weeping. After all, he was riding a bicycle.
Well, imagine my disappointment when the next day passed as any other with the exception of my having 50 copies of my own signature on bits of scrap paper in my pocket. Ah vanity.
My mother chanced to get me a Mcguffey's Reader for Christmas two years later -- this was a reproduction of a 19th century school book that taught the Spencerian method of penmanship (you can click here for a look at what Spencerian penmanship looks like). I adopted characters from this and my signature was complete by the fourth grade. All I lacked was notoriety.
Some time in the sixth grade my teacher, Miss Duggan, called me aside to discuss a paper I'd handed in. Pointing to the upper left hand corner where my practiced, ornate, and completely illegible autograph existed in its fully formed glory, she said "When I say write your name in the upper left hand corner -- this isn't writing your name, this is your signature. When you write a book and get famous, I'll want your signature, but in class, I just want you to write your name." (Miss Duggan, unlike many of my teachers, believed in me with a passion, which I am grateful for to this day.)
Frustrated that no one wanted my autograph, I at least now realized what I needed to do in order to get to sign autographs. I needed to write a book and get famous.
There followed many years of writing, submitting, and publishing and eventually a number of books which were more or less successful in their own ways and I autographed stuff and it was swell. Usually when I have a book signing I sign fifty books, or twenty books. People come up, they talk about something, I sign their book, they say something like "I love Roswell" or "the first time I saw one of your photographs it was in Gothic Beauty" or "I heard you on the radio" or some other lovely thing, then the next person comes up and this repeats -- it's very nice. It might have been this way too for the Amanda Palmer / Neil Gaiman thingie -- I expected I might autograph 50 copies at a few events and I'd meet people and talk about cameras (as usually happens). Well, the Amanda Palmer / Neil Gaiman book fell behind schedule due to some printing mishaps and when it became obvious that it wouldn't be ready for Christmas, Amanda sagely decided to send an autographed card to everybody who pre-ordered the book. This is why her fans love her, because she loves them first.
So while I was in Louisiana for the gallery show, Amanda freaking Palmer and Neil Freaking Gaiman got together in Neil's kitchen for a few days and autographed about nine billion cards for the people who pre-ordered The Big Book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer -- Amanda posted this photo in her blog (I don't know who took it)
They FedExed these to me and last week I began the daunting task of adding my own signature to them all. I took my three most favorite pens, and sat down to see if I could run them completely out of ink.
This was autographing on a massive scale. No matter how many I put my name on, the pile never seemed to get smaller. Every moment I wasn't eating or sleeping, I was writing my name. I did it while watching television, I did it while Roswell sat on my lap, I did it while listening to the radio. And it was different than book signings because people weren't standing there telling me how much they loved Roswell or how they found my photographs of Romanian Orphans inspirational and now they work for the Peace Corps. This was more like making those autographs in my living room in first grade except I couldn't stop when I got tired. I began to feel Neil and Amanda's daily pain -- when you'd rather be doing something else, but there's a huge stack of stuff that needs your name on it still in front of you. It's a good pain though. It's pain made of dreams come true.
Photographers don't usually autograph things. They sign stuff. You make a print, you frame the print, you sign the print, it hangs on a wall, someone pays you half a months rent for it, they take it away, and you do it again. You write your name a hundred times a year, and you're very grateful each time. "Hey!" you say to yourself, "check out my Spencerian script!" -- it's very fulfilling. Rock stars and novelists make thousands of books or CD's and they sell for less money and part of the dynamic for the buyer is often trying to get the artist to autograph it. Consequently, Neil and Amanda autograph stuff all the time. For hours and hours, there are long lines of people fanning out behind them. Typically you don't rip a photo out of a magazine and track the photographer down to put his name on it. I'm not sure if this is good or bad.
So this is how the first ten sibbulian cards looked:
(sibbulian is a number that I just invented that is exactly equal to the number of cards that looked like this. Note Spencerian script.)
Well, a funny thing happens when you've been signing your name for a long time. Occasionally you realize you're signing your name and you start to think about how to sign your name AND YOU FORGET HOW TO SIGN YOUR NAME. Sometimes this happens mid signature and you stop and look at the paper and you've no idea where to go from where you are or what letters are or how a pen works. You end up with something that doesn't look like your signature at all but more like someone taped a sharpie to a spastic rat and let it go. And you feel bad about it. So you want to do a little something to make up for it. So whenever I messed up a signature, I'd draw a little dead Amanda Palmer next to it. Eventually I realized that the drawing of Dead Amanda was cool and I should put it on all of them -- this tripled the amount of time each card took, but it looked more personal and hey, are we talking about time? i think not:
Or sometimes I'd write a little note. Neil, I noticed, would break the monotony by sometimes writing little jokes on the cards:
It's one of the many reasons that I love Neil Gaiman.
Another of the reasons that I love Neil Gaiman, and Amanda Palmer, is they made up for all the disappointment I had that day in first grade, I got three days in the life of a rock star and my pens all ran dry.
Hope your day is swell. And I hope, if you pre-ordered The Big Book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer, that you get one of the cards with a drawing of Dead Amanda on it.
Last 50 cards photographed with Roswell to enhance value.