Neil Gaiman returned to the scene Tuesday night. "UArts gave me something cool," he says, "and I wanted to give them something, too."
A year ago, Gaiman, an award-winning writer of graphic novels (Sandman), books (American Gods), and movies, gave a commencement speech for the University of the Arts graduating students of 2012.
"I didn't know commencement speeches were meant to be dull and interminable," he says by phone, minutes after doing a Talk of the Nation interview at the WHYY studios. "I thought, 'Right, these things are meant to be interesting, fun, and cool. They're graduating arts students, so I'll tell them everything I know, everything I wish somebody'd told me when I headed out into the world at 21.' I was honestly pleased to have made it through alive."
What happened next was crazy. The speech was put up online, and it went viral, viewed by hundreds of thousands via YouTube and Vimeo. It came to be known as "Neil Gaiman's 'Make Good Art' Speech." That was its memorable refrain: "And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. I'm serious."
"I didn't know what it meant to 'go viral,' " Gaiman says. "Just one day I went into my agent's office, and I was shown a thick sheaf of requests to make my speech into a book."
And he did. Chip Kidd, famous book designer and graphic-novel god, created a colorful, romping book unlike any other, "breaking all the rules of book designing and making it work," Gaiman says with a laugh.
So Tuesday night, new copies of, yep, a book titled Make Good Art under his arm, Gaiman went to UArts again for a Q&A with UArts president Sean Buffington and this year's graduates. He sold copies of his book, and after the Q&A, his wife, former Dresden Dolls rocker Amanda Palmer, played a tune for the lucky audience.