Feature – TODAY

From the July 5th TODAYOnline:

Almost Famous: Cult novelist Neil Gaiman nearly went pro with a punk band in his teens

Imagine if Neil Gaiman became a rock star. Not a rock star of the literary scene, as he’s often been called, but an honest-to-goodness musician in a band.

It almost happened – the 45-year-old cult writer almost became a punk rocker.

When the Sussex-born Gaiman was 17, he fronted a punk band called Chaos. They were good enough to be offered a record deal, which Gaiman later rejected.

“We took the contract to a lawyer, who told us that even if we had a No 1 single, we would be lucky to make money off of it. I realised that’s the way the music industry was designed – to screw over naive, teenage boys,” he told Today in an interview yesterday.

He will be in town until Friday to promote his upcoming film MirrorMask, which he co-created with good friend and artist Dave McKean.

A bookworm at heart

These days, in between crafting stories, book tours and rubbing shoulders with the famous, the soft-spoken Gaiman lives with his American wife and three children – aged between 10 and 21 – in a gothic house in Minneapolis.

As a child, he described himself as the bookish sort.

“When the other children in my school were having fantasies about being famous footballers or astronauts, I was the kid whose fantasy was about having the only copy of Lord of the Rings in existence, and claiming I had written it.

“Even then, I liked the idea of being a writer, although not necessarily writing. Lord of the Rings seemed like an awful lot of work to a 12-year-old,” said Gaiman in his languorous style.

But he’s still got a little bit of that rocker left in him. In person, he was all dishevelled hair, shades, leather jacket and tight black jeans.

He’s got the fan base, too.

After a media session held yesterday, seasoned journalists – clutching their precious copies of his work – clamoured around him like groupies drawn to the bright flame of a rock star. Some knelt by his side as he autographed their books, while others requested for group photographs.

This is the kind of cult following Neil Gaiman commands.

He will have you know that he doesn’t deliberately dress like that – never mind the Giorgio Armani leather jacket even in Singapore’s hot and humid weather.

“I dress like this because I have no imagination,” he said with a laugh. “It makes it so much easier to get up in the morning because everything I wear is black.”

The punk ethic, however, has stayed with him.

“I wasn’t attracted to punk because of the safety pins or the ripped-up pictures of the Queen. It’s just the idea that I don’t need to know something to do it. There were punk bands that more or less started because they only knew three chords.

“That has influenced everything I’ve done – just the idea that I don’t necessarily need to know what I’m doing. I just go off and do it. If the first one I do is crap, the second one will probably be okay.”

Fluid beliefs, flamboyant writing

This has led to some of the most imaginative works of fiction ever created in modern-day literature.

People discover Gaiman in different ways. Some are hooked on the dark sensibility of what are ostensibly children’s books, such as Coraline and Wolves in the Walls.

Others are drawn to his fantasy novels like Neverwhere and American Gods.

However, it is for the seminal Sandman graphic novel series that he is best remembered.

Written by Gaiman and drawn by a series of artists over a span of seven years beginning 1989, it revolutionised the comic genre.

Gaiman told the story of Morpheus, or the Dream King – one of seven anthropomorphic entities.

In Sandman, Gaiman wove mythology, religion and pop culture seamlessly into stories crafted out of sheer imagination.

He also subverted more than a few conventional beliefs along the way and, in the process, won over groups of people previously alien to the comic genre. These included literary snobs, teenage girls and the likes of Norman Mailer and Tori Amos.

But what does Neil Gaiman believe in?

“My beliefs are incredibly fluid. The joy of writing is that such amazing powers of belief come into play when I am lost in the moment.

“If I’m writing about ghosts, I definitely believe in ghosts. When I was writing American Gods, I believed everything, except the Greek and Roman gods because they weren’t in my book,” he said.

“But mostly on my days off, I don’t believe in anything. I believe in my garden and my cats,” he said with a smile.

what: Book signing
where: Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City
when: today, 4pm to 6.30pm.

what: Talk and book signing
where: Borders, Wheelock Place
when: tomorrow, 6pm to 8pm.

Neil Gaiman also blogs regularly on www.neilgaiman.com/journal/journal.asp.

Next from Gaiman:

Anansi Boys: The sequel to the considerably darker American Gods (2001) is a humorous novel about the son of a god, and how he deals with his unconventional family.

MirrorMask: The special effects laden film about a young circus performer and her magical journey of self-discovery will be released later this year.

Death – The High Cost of Living: The spin-off graphic novel from Sandman, which expanded on Gaiman’s vision of Death as a goth-punk teenage girl, will be adapted into a film. Gaiman is keeping mum about the cast.

Beowulf: The adaptation of the epic poem into film is a collaborative screen-writing effort between Gaiman and Roger Avary. Peter Zemeckis of Forrest Gump directs. To be released in 2007.

The Graveyard Book: Gaiman’s latest children’s work is “like a Jungle Book but set in a graveyard”. It will be published in 2007.