Feature – Winston-Salem Journal

Tim Clodfelter reported the following interview to the Winston-Salem Journal on September 21st.
Writer Neil Gaiman is happy to see his British miniseries Neverwhere finally getting an official DVD release in the United States.

“I think it actually got to the point where the bootlegs were one of the mainstays of eBay,” Gaiman said by phone from his home near Minneapolis. “There were people sending their children through college with them.”

Neverwhere, which was originally shown on British television in 1996, follows the adventures of Richard Mayhew, a young Scotsman who discovers a hidden civilization in the tunnels under London. The miniseries was released in a two-disc DVD boxed set earlier this month by A&E Home Video, with commentary and a bonus interview by Gaiman. Neverwhere’s cult status comes largely from the fact that the show was written by Gaiman. He is the creator of Sandman, a groundbreaking comic-book series that made its debut in 1989 and ran for seven years. Gaiman created an elaborate mythology for the series built around the Endless, a group of immortal beings who were the embodiments of aspects of humanity – Dream, Death, Desire, Despair and so on. The series was published by DC Comics, and its success helped establish DC’s “Vertigo” line of comics for adult readers.

Before entering the comics business, the British-born Gaiman worked as a writer for various newspapers and magazines. He has also written short stories, novels, two children’s books and several screenplays.

“My favorite of all media is the radio play,” he said. “I get to do things in people’s heads.”

Although radio plays are virtually nonexistent in the United States, they are still common in England.

“But there are so few outlets for them,” Gaiman said. “Plus, writing a movie pays approximately 700 times as much as writing a radio play, and novels pay about a million times as much, so I’m much more likely to write them.”

Gaiman’s novels include an adaptation of Neverwhere, the comedic novel Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett), and American Gods. His first children’s book, The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, was published in 1997.

The novelization of Neverwhere was inspired by the fact that budgetary limitations kept the miniseries from achieving the look he wanted.

“I would write things without worrying about how we were going to do them, and then the TV people had to figure out how to do it on a BBC budget,” he said.

In one example, Gaiman described a subterranean beast as a fierce 12-foot-tall albino boar covered with scars and with the shards of broken weapons imbedded in its hide. “And when it would come on, it would be a cow,” he said with a laugh. He tried to persuade the producers of the miniseries to come up with something scarier.

“Unfortunately, I was outvoted,” he said. “Having said that, the beast, it’s just a minute or so out of a much bigger story. Most people are willing to forgive it.”

In the novel, he didn’t have to worry about such limitations.

“The book was my way of trying get back to sort of a ‘director’s cut,'” he said. “It was the one place where I could write a 12-foot-high albino boar with weapons sticking out of its hide and it came out that way. I had my infinitely high special-effects budget and could put back in every scene they had cut.”

Gaiman retired the Sandman series seven years ago, but he returns to the characters this month with The Sandman: Endless Nights, a hardcover graphic novel.

“It has seven stories done by seven amazing artists,” he said, “including Milo Manara, Bill Sienkiewicz, and P. Craig Russell. These are stories I’ve wanted to do for ages, one for each of the Endless.”

Gaiman was well known for collaborating with artists who did not do traditional superhero comics, and he tailors his stories to the artist he is working with.

“I won’t write the story unless I know who’s drawing it,” he said. “It’s one of the places where you get your ideas from. I say, ‘What would I like to see so-and-so draw?'”

In August, Gaiman started another comic book series. 1602 is his first project for Marvel Comics. It takes familiar Marvel characters such as The X-Men, Spider-Man and Captain America and re-invents them as characters in Elizabethan England.

“That was the fun of it, trying to go back and figure out everything I’d loved about these characters when I was a kid, and then tell a story that stripped off all the baggage,” he said. “I started it right after the 9/11 bombing, and I had this feeling, sort of that I didn’t want to write something with explosions and skyscrapers and guns…. I thought it would be fun to recontextualize everything.”

The first issue of the eight-part miniseries was the top-selling comic in August, beating out such stalwarts as Batman and The Amazing Spider-Man. The second issue is available now.

Moving ahead, Gaiman is optimistic about Jim Henson Studios’ plans for a big-budget remake of Neverwhere.

“I believe they now have a script,” he said. “I wrote a couple of early drafts of the script, and then there came a point where I just felt, having written the TV series and the novel and now several versions, I was in danger of becoming my own word processor. It was probably time for someone else to take over.

“I loved, after the TV series, going back and doing the novel. I had nobody saying anything about page lengths at that point. It was just me and the words, which is great.”