Comics writers find home on TV

Knight-Ridder’s Richard Pachter has conducted a short interview with Neil in the Miami Herald (and reprinted in the Albany, NY Times Union as part of a piece on writers who have worked both in the comic book and television industries.

When British comics scribe Neil Gaiman starting writing “Sandman,” he followed fellow Brits Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, who breathed new life into heretofore moribund features like “Swamp Thing” and “Animal Man,” respectively. Gaiman abandoned all but the Sandman name, imbued the new character with a poetic (some might say, new age) sensibility, and was lauded as a visionary. It was, in some ways, an odd turn. Comics, after all, are a relatively disposable medium. But Gaiman’s work is an exception.

“Pretty much every comic I’ve written is still in print,” he writes in an e-mail interview. “Most of the ‘Sandman’ collections are now in their 12th or 13th printing, and sell more and more every year.”

Gaiman, whose novel, “American Gods” had a nice ride on the bestseller list last year, has relocated to the United States. He still writes comics, despite ending “Sandman’s” regular monthly run a few years back. But he has always worked in a variety of media, including television, scripting an episode of the classic science fiction series, “Babylon 5,” as well as his own BBC miniseries, “Neverwhere.”

“Making ‘Neverwhere’ with the BBC,” he wrote in an e-mail, “was like working with an artist who’s a bit out of sympathy with the material. But a lot of good stuff made it through the BBC filter anyway.”

There are subtle but substantial differences in writing for comics, television and the screen. “Storytelling and the alphabet are pretty consistent from medium to medium, everything else is mutable. If I’m writing a comic I have to describe every panel to an artist. In cinematic terms, I’m the director and the editor as well, while the artist is the cameraman and all the actors. If I’m writing a TV or movie script it’s basically dialogue and the action. Much less work.

“You get paid a lot more for writing one TV episode than you do for writing one comic,” Gaiman said, “just as you get paid more for writing a movie than you do for a TV episode. I’ve always found it easier to do the work I loved and let everything else sort itself out.”