Feature – Philippine Daily Inquirer

From the July 13, 2005 Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Daring to dream with Neil Gaiman

All of a sudden, Neil Gaiman’s fingers are stained with the stains of his imaginations, the long, slender, pale fingers splattered with blood-like liquid. He pauses, and then begins to wipe the blots with a napkin. “I’m getting ink everywhere,” he says with a slight smile.

Everywhere is correct, as the fortysomething Gaiman, one of the world’s most popular comic book creators known for the DC/Vertigo series “The Sandman” as well as the author of best-selling novels “Neverwhere” and “American Gods,” is in the middle of a world tour. The closest thing the comic book world has to a rock star, he is now in Manila from Singapore and soon to be in Australia.

In the meantime, he’s sitting here in the Manila Peninsula in his patented leather jacket and familiar shock of hair (cut just a little shorter than in his usual photos and slightly laced with gray), with a platoon of pens arrayed before him and ink stains on his hands. His visit is courtesy of Fully Booked and the British Council.

Is this your first time in Asia?

It’s pretty much my first in Asia. Definitely my first time doing anything aside from changing planes. And it’s been wonderful. I wish I had come out here much earlier.

So how do you find it here, considering you just got here?

I got in last night. The strangest thing is coming here from Singapore, which is my last stop, and the contrast between the two places, because Singapore is compact and gleaming and a country where chewing gum is illegal and there are fines for littering, jaywalking. Everyone’s neat, everybody’s driven. They love to get into lines and be told what to do. And then coming from there to here, and it’s just a huge cyberpunk sprawl where the idea of making chewing illegal out here, people would simply laugh at you.

You’re still best known for the Sandman series for DC/Vertigo. How do you feel about the legacy of the Sandman?

I’m fascinated by it. People have been asking recently how I feel working in the shadow of the Sandman and I said, there’s an awful lot of work and it went very high and it stretches a long shadow. I think it’s very weird now because I go from country to country and when I do come to, Asia, like now, for example, and the question is how do you feel about how you’re always going to be known as Neil “The Sandman” Gaiman? And I say basically it depends where you go.

I went to Poland, for example, and I discover that actually it can be very crazy because, as a Pole explained, the four big authors there are (attempts a Polish accent) “J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman.” Ah, OK, so they follow me around with a TV crew and the question they want to ask is, “You are very famous as post-modernist fantasy author, do you wish you were known for something else? And I say, ‘Yes, I did this comic The Sandman.’ And naturally, they’ve just started publishing Sandman over there in these black-and-white editions because Neil Gaiman the famous author did them. So it really is so much a matter where you are.

In the US and the UK, it’s about 50-50. In fact, what I’m frustrated about now is, on the one hand, I’m a best-selling author, but on the other hand, what I’m hearing from people is, “I love your books, I love your novels, I haven’t really read any of your graphic novels because I don’t read comics. But I love your books.” But here is this enormous body of work that I did that has some amazing stuff in it and you’d really like it if you read it.

You recently returned to writing about Dream in “The Sandman: Endless Nights” hardcover. Do you plan to work with the Endless again anytime soon?

I’m playing with the idea. I was talking to my editor at DC Comics, Karen Berger, and we were playing with some ideas, going over some things in conversation, and we kind of noticed that The Sandman’s 20th anniversary is not that far away. I thought it would be fun to come back and do something, “The Sandman Zero Project,” or something we’ve being talking about doing for years, so it may well happen.

After you ended the Sandman, you did all these different things. Was it a conscious decision for you to step away from the Sandman mythos and work on something else?

The problem with Sandman was that, when I started writing Sandman, it took me two weeks out of every month, and that was fine. By the time I finished it, it was taking me six weeks out of every month, which meant that anything else I wanted to do simply isn’t going to get done.

In the early days of writing Sandman, I could be “Sandman,” and I could be “Books of Magic,” (another DC/Vertigo series) or I could be “Sandman” and I could be “Good Omens” (the novel he co-authored with Terry Pratchett). By the end of that, people would call me up and say, “Would you like to do a TV series?” And I’d say no. “How about a novel?” No. “Could you do a short story.” No. And that’s how it was, there wasn’t anything else I could fit in.

So once it was done, there were an awful lot of others I wanted to do that I just hadn’t gotten done yet. I got to do a bunch of weird things. I got to write an episode of “Babylon 5,” since Joe Straczynski had been asking me to write an episode since 1991.I don’t think there was ever a conscious step away. I think there was definitely a desire to build things I could own. The problem with Sandman in respect to me is, I don’t own it. People ask me, “We love Sandman, can we put on a play,” and I say, “Go ask DC. I dunno.” I’m sure if ever a really bad Sandman movie were made, people would come to me and ask why I let that happen. “Oh, I don’t own it.” Sandman for me is the equivalent of someone else coming to me and saying, “I have a big wall here, would you like to paint a mural?” And you do, but you don’t own the wall. They can do anything, they can even knock down the wall. The nice thing about something like “American Gods,” is I own the wall.

You have kept very busy, writing the mini-series “Marvel 1602” for Marvel Comics and now, you’re just about to release the novel “Anansi Boys” in September. What’s next?

Dear God, isn’t that enough? What’s coming out next? Well, “Mirror Mask” comes in September in America, which is the film that Dave McKean and I made for $4 million. Because George Bush is not what anybody on this planet would ever describe as a raving economic genius, when we said yes to making the film, that was £21/2 million for Dave McKean to play with. By the time we were actually paying the animators, it was £2 million. So we had actually lost half a million pounds-$1 million had gone away from our budget just by the exchange rate.

In September, they start shooting Beowulf, which is a film that I wrote with Roger Avery that Robert Zemeckis is going to be shooting. The next children’s novel I’m working on is called “The Graveyard Book.”

You’ve been doing a lot of children’s books? Why is that?

Let’s back up here for a minute. The thing I don’t understand is that people ask me, “Why are you doing all these different media, why? You’re doing children’s books, why?” I don’t understand why all authors don’t. It would be like somebody who likes food being asked, “I don’t get it. You had a Mexican meal last night, but today, you’re eating Japanese food! What’s the fascination with Japanese food?” And you’re like, “I had a Mexican meal last night, and tomorrow, I’m probably going to have pasta.” Doesn’t everybody change around a bit? I have children and I was a child, which meant that from the age of maybe 2 to maybe 12, I loved children’s books more than anything and once I had children, I got to discover the delights of reading children’s books with my kids. I also discovered that if you write children’s books, your children will think you’re cool.

The thing that was funniest was with “Coraline.” I began writing “Coraline” in about 1990. I wrote a few chapters and showed it to my editor in London, wh
o sa
id, “You’re writing a kid’s book that’s a horror novel that seems equally aimed at adults, so by definition it’s unpublishable.” So I sort of put it to one side. One day, I looked around and realized I wanted to finish it before my daughter Holly was an adult. She was about 14 at that point and my littlest daughter was about 3 or 4 and I thought, I’ve got to get back to this. So I sent the first half of the book, which I did before I moved to America, to my editor at Harpers and said, “Read this and tell me what you think.” And she phoned up and said, “It’s great! What happens next?” And I said, “Well, send me a contract and we’ll both find out.” And that’s how “Coraline” came about.
–Ruel S. de Vera