Interview – Globe and Mail

From the September 30th Globe and Mail:

If you haven’t heard of Neil Gaiman yet, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll run across a product of his restlessly creative mind. He’s currently touring Canada with his latest novel, Anansi Boys, which traces the lives of the offspring of a recently deceased African god of mischief. But he is also known to legions of fans as the creator of The Sandman, an award-winning graphic novel series featuring dark dream lord Morpheus.

Anansi Boys is not Gaiman’s first time crossing the bridge into traditional literature. In 2001, he released American Gods, an epic journey through a U.S. landscape populated with deities in human form. He has also tried his hand at children’s literature (with the book, Coraline), the silver screen (his adaptation of Beowulf, starring Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie, just started shooting), a daily blog (at http://www.neilgaiman.com), and even an opera.

You’ve said your first love was always comic books, but you didn’t get around to writing one until you were in your late 20s. Why the wait?

I really wanted to write comics, except that I wound up very rapidly deciding that I couldn’t get there from here. They have this thing at school where you’d take a battery of tests one day and then the next day a bunch of career advisers would come in and advise. I remember I got shown in and this guy said, ‘So, what are you thinking about doing?’ and I said, ‘Well, I want to write American comics.’ There was pause, and then he said, ‘Well, how do you go about doing that then?’ ‘I have no idea,’ I said, ‘you’re the career adviser.’ Then there was another even longer pause, after which he said, ‘Have you ever thought about accountancy?’ Then we just sat and stared at each other until I said, ‘Should I show the next boy in?’

I was a little surprised to discover that your career began as a writer for men’s magazines like Penthouse and Knave. How did that come about?

It’s funny, because when I was a very young journalist, I did my first piece of journalism for a very respectable women’s magazine called She, which paid me 80 pounds and didn’t run the piece. I did my next piece of journalism in a rather embarrassed fashion for the English version of Penthouse. It was an interview with [science fiction writer] Robert Silverberg and they paid me 350 pounds and they ran it. I thought, ‘This is really cool.’ I wrote for everybody after that, but always loved the men’s magazines because they had a decent budget — and they had pages between the naked ladies that needed to be filled.

The Sandman has earned a cult-like status among Goths. Do you still see a lot of black at your signings?

Let me blunt here — I’ve spent years being polite to journalists, but I’m actually coming to the end of my patience on this, so I will be blunt — I have not met these fans, and I must have signed for 150,000 of them. People say they’re this or they’re that, and I’m starting to feel like [journalists] are being rude about my people. You come along to a signing and you will see, say, 900 assorted people, and the thing they probably have in common is that they’re bipeds. Beyond that, you may get a few beautiful people, you might get a few Goths, you might get some grandmas — but you’re not going to get any more Goths than you get grandmas.

Anansi Boys is a distinct change in tone from your previous book, American Gods. It’s almost farcical in parts. Was that a conscious decision?

Having done American Gods, which was a great big, solid, serious-y kind of thing, I just decided to do something that would make people feel happier than when they started. It was interesting, could I write something that was a classical comedy — that had some substance and feels right, like in a Shakespearean way you feel like everybody gets what they deserve.

Anansi Boys also made me think of the comic Deadface by Eddie Campbell [cartoonist of From Hell, the basis for the Johnny Depp movie], which also deals humorously with gods walking the Earth. Was he an influence?

Oh good. I’m both a fan and a friend of Eddie. I think he’s the unsung genius of comics. We’re in this world in which comics people are getting praise and applause and winning Pulitzers and stuff, and Eddie’s stuff is somehow just a little bit too odd and quirky and personal. He’s never going to tackle say the Holocaust. I just hope one day people pay more attention to him.

Any fond memories of Canada?

The last time I think I was in Canada was a couple of years ago when, as a present to myself for finishing a book, I promised I would go stay in the Ice Hotel up in Quebec. I remember getting off the plane and it was minus 9 [Fahrenheit] and a blizzard was going on and I suddenly thought, ‘This seemed so sensible when I was sitting in a nice warm room.’ It was cold. It was pleasant and it was an adventure, but I didn’t get any urge to go back.

You seem to have a restless spirit — jumping from journalism to comics, from there to novels and now film. What’s next?

I’m likely to go next to stage plays. I just love learning new skills, and that’s why I tend not to repeat myself. From a commercial point of view, I’m sure I’d be infinitely richer having written more American Gods. That’s the way it tends to work — you sequel a bunch of times. But I really just like doing different things, so I’d like to write a traditional play.

Gaiman reads at the Victoria Conservatory of Music on Wednesday, in Vancouver on Thursday (in conjunction with the Vancouver International Writers Festival) and at Bloor Street United Church in Toronto on Oct. 8 (in conjunction with the Learning Annex).
–Brad Mackay