The short of it was that it was offered me and I was quick to embrace the opportunity. The long of it, of course I'm a fan. I didn't mention him in the Ode-athon, but Neil has been a huge inspiration to me. His depiction of the trickster god Anansi has informed material in Minor Contracts, a manuscript I wrote three years ago, and is a considerable part of In the Land of Pangaea, my WIP. Anansi was featured in Neil's American Gods and of course the subsequent Anansi Boys, and perhaps it's a sign of my affection for the character that I was never able to understand why people didn't like that one as much as I did.
Plenty of people love Neil's work. I spent a good portion of this year reading his Sandman, and as I have yet to read the complete series (to say nothing of the new follow-up, Sandman Overture), I anticipate doing more of that in the future. It's arguably the most literary comic book ever attempted, and the style hugely informed how I approached Modern Ark, a manuscript I wrote four years ago (what's easy to do in a comic book is not so easy to do in a book if you're looking for an actual audience; maybe I just need to identify my Morpheus more clearly?). Since I didn't read Sandman as it was originally released issue by issue, even though I was actively reading comics during the second half of the series, it's been interesting to play catch-up.
Neil can sometimes be a little intimidating. And yet I don't think he's hit his full cultural reach yet because I also think he can be underrated by people looking for a little more of the mainstream in his work (a problem that also plagues Grant Morrison). Sometimes even as we champion artists who can make anything mainstream we limit our ability to find them by asking that they have a certain level of conformity to what already exists. They see that Neil came from comic books and that's excuse enough to not take him as seriously as they should.
I haven't read enough of his work, Sandman or otherwise, even though I was still in high school when Neil started taking the art of writing books seriously. That would have been a good time to start, but then I was still fighting my appreciation of Stephen King then, too. I think Neil has a good amount of King in him, but they approach the same kind of material differently. For Neil it's about seeing the grand scale on an intimate level, whereas King takes the intimate at a grand scale (which is why he can do horror and things like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption with equal aplomb). But they're essentially the same. They see the hidden mythologies around us and attempt to interpret them. Clowns are scary, mm-hmm.
On the one hand having this comic biography under my belt means I'm an inch closer to working in comic books the way I always dreamed. That's the selfish part. On the other, I'm also an inch closer to Neil creatively.
But only an inch.