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Neil Gaiman responds to "pencil-necked weasel" insult by Matt Dean [INTERVIEW]

Matt Dean, the Republican leader of the Minnesota House, was quoted in Wednesday's Star Tribune hating on famous local author Neil Gaiman and calling him a "pencil-necked little weasel."

We left several messages for Dean, but didn't get a response. Gaiman, on the other hand, was happy to talk. He was mystified by the vitriol, but has some entertaining theories about where it came from.

UPDATE: Read Gaiman's reaction to Dean's half-assed apology

City Pages: So how did you first learn that you're a pencil-necked little weasel?

Neil Gaiman: I got up this morning, checked my twitter on my way to morning cup of tea. And two or three people were sending me things saying "What do you think of the fact that you were called a pencil-necked weasel and a thief who I hate by the Republican leader of the House?"

And I thought it was a joke. Obviously this hasn't actually happened -- it's some kind of goofy thing on somebody's blog or whatever, because grown-ups don't actually say things like that. And I clicked on the link and I'm suddenly reading the Star Tribune and there it is. And I'm expecting him to carry on and call me "Stupid stupid-face," and then tell me he's going to have all his friends see me by the lockers or the back of the schoolyard and I better show up if i know what's good for me or something!

It had that sort of completely mad school bully quality. I kept thinking "Is this some sort of weird joke where my friends have taken a real Star Tribune page and then inserted this paragraph to make me laugh?" And eventually I came to the conclusion that no, this is real.

CP: Have you ever met Matt Dean or had any interactions with him?

NG: I've never met the guy, never heard anything from him.

The entire controversy from last year consisted of a Republican blog drawing attention to this speaking gig, using the $45,000, which actually wasn't the true number, but it got picked up.

I received a grand total of $33,600, and I know because I checked this morning. That went to charity. I'd been doing a bunch of library-based events. It was at the end of a week where I'd done a huge pro bono Comic Book Legal Defense fund event, then I'd gone to Indianapolis to receive the Kurt Vonnegut award for literature, and then I was coming home.

I got a message from my speaking agency saying they want you to come and speak in Stillwater, and I said "I'm pretty pooped," and they said "Well, they're paying forty grand."

I said "Isn't that an awful lot to pay for a library in Stillwater?" and they said "Absolutely not, they have this money and it can only be spent on speakers in libraries. It can't even be spent on books or paper clips or staff And they will lose it, and if they haven't spent it their budget will be cut by that amount."

Matt Dean hates Neil Gaiman's neck
Matt Dean hates Neil Gaiman's neck

I said, "Oh, OK, well then sure."

When I have windfalls like that I don't hang on to them. A third of my fee went to a sexual abuse charity, and the rest to a library- and book-based charity. And then I was done. I didn't actually think anything more about it until suddenly it became a thing in the Star Tribune, which seemed to be saying this was money that could have been used to pay for a football stadium or something.

And there was a brief tiny thing about it, so I posted something on it to my blog. People had been saying, "Well how can you take money from a library? It should have been spent on books and staff!" And so I wrote on my blog and said, "Well, actually it couldn't, and here's the deal."

Also, this is why I set my speaking fees ridiculously high: because I'm a writer, and what I should actually be doing is writing. This is why i have a speaking agency, because they filter this kind of stuff. I don't think I'm even in the top third of what their clients charge. But I've won the Newbery Medal, and the Carnegie Medal, the Hugo, and some Nebulas, I've written some hit movies.

And in the case of the Stillwater thing, MPR actually broadcast the talk. You can still listen to it online, as many many thousands already have. So that sort of amortizes in its own way.

 

CP: Do you have any desire to talk with Matt Dean and find out what that statement was all about?

Neil Gaiman responds to "pencil-necked weasel" insult by Matt Dean [INTERVIEW]

NG: Why would I talk to him? There are signals that human beings give off. There are human being signals that say "I would like to talk to you. I would like to open a discourse with you."

And then there are signals that human beings give off that say "I am really the kind of person who wants to be there with your head down a toilet, my hand on your neck, and the other hand flushing it." And as far as I can tell, Rep. Dean gives off the toilet-flushing signals. I mean, "Who I hate?" "Thief?" I don't get it.

Someone wanted to know if I was thinking of suing him for slander or libel or something, and I thought: That sounds like kicking a dog-shit in the street to punish it -- you just end up with dog-shit all over you. Why would you do that?

I think the best possible use of my time is this: I have a lot of readers who are Republicans. Lots of people read my books. They are anarchists and they are communists and they are Democrats and they are the Monster Raving Loony Party and they are conservatives and some of them are Republicans. And pointing out to Republicans that they have somebody of this standard representing them, and they might want to choose somebody else, is probably a good use of my time. But I can't think of what I'd do beyond that.

CP: Are you a Minnesota resident these days?

NG: I'm just over the border. I'm one of those people who gets all of the good stuff from Minnesota. I can turn on my radio and hear glorious Minnesota Public Radio. I have an address in the Twin Cities. I do spend a lot of time there when I'm not in Scotland, and when I'm not in Boston where my wife is these days. I'm mostly just over the border in Wisconsin.

The thing that fascinates me most about all this, watching the whole Legacy thing and the attack on the arts, and the whole code of this weird pencil-neck thing...

CP: Yeah, I was wondering if you had any theories about what that was supposed to mean.

My only theory about pencil neck is that it has the word pencil in it, which is something you use to write and to draw with. And maybe it's safer to say than intellectual, because it has fewer syllables.

Sandman, one of Gaiman's iconic creations
Sandman, one of Gaiman's iconic creations

This is probably incredibly mean and petty of me, but I did wonder what kind of person this was, and I did Google up a photo of Matt Dean, and was enormously disappointed that he did not have this huge bull-like neck. I figured he had sort of a wrestler neck. And honestly, there are people who can insult necks, but dude: honestly, people who live in glass necks... I mean it's just wrong.

I don't know, I think it means I'm a writer. I think it does a very foolish thing, this whole attempt to cut the Legacy and to slash NPR is fundamentally foolish.

I've been living in this part of the world for 20 years now, and one of the reasons I've been living in this part of the world, rather than the many other places I could be paying taxes and buying things, is I really like the quality of life. A lot of that is the arts scene around Minneapolis and MPR. It's good quality of life stuff. Ditto what's going on in the public parks.

I look at the attempts to remove the legacy amendment, and I'm going "No! This is actually one reason why we're here, because of this wonderful arts scene, and this great quality of life."

You can actually turn on the radio and find something interesting going on. You can't do that in a lot of America. It would be really sad if people like this old school bully were allowed to get away with it.

I'm hoping that there are people out there who will at least take this as an indication of what they don't want to see from their representatives, because honestly, its kind of pathetic.

CP: All right. Well thanks for speaking about this. We're trying to reach Matt Dean too to see what we can learn from him.

NG: See if you can get a quote from him! Find out why he hates me! Hate is such an amazingly strong word.

I feel like this is one of those moments where I'm going to discover that I stole his parking space, or had sex with his sister and didn't know.

There's also the really sort of weird kinky Republican thing of maybe he likes me, and this is some sort of weird cry for attention. The whole "I hate you, you're a pencil-neck" thing, and then he'll try for some sort of reconciliation and then the next thing you know he's putting his hand on my leg. It's just going to be weird. It could be awkward.


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