Interview – Silver Bullet Comics

From Blair Marnell’s All The Rage column:

Neil Gaiman has been writing professionally for over twenty years, with a laundry list of hit novels and comics including, Sandman, Death: The High Cost of Living, The Books of Magic, Good Omens, and American Gods. His latest novel, Anansi Boys has recently been released to great fanfare, while his latest film, MirrorMask is currently in limited release. Additionally, his next film, Beowulf just began principle photography. Recently, Gaiman took the time to answer some questions about The Eternals, his newly announced miniseries for Marvel, along with what his future comic plans may be.

Blair Marnell: First off, congratulations for Anansi Boys landing on top of the New York Times Best Sellers List.

Neil Gaiman: Thank you. It’s a bit of a dazing sort of experience. Like being hit by a very wonderful car.

BM: The word is out that you’re doing The Eternals for Marvel. Can you tell us how that came about?

NG: 1602 was always the first half of a two project thing. I didn’t know what project number two was going to be. Various things over the last couple of years have been suggested, we’ve gone backwards and forwards on it. I kept being amused, because I kept reading on a number of websites, I think including yours, what my next project was definitely going to be. And people would write to me and say, “Well, the secret is out. You’re definitely writing the X-Men. Why don’t you come clean about it?” And I’d say, “Cause I’m not. This is the first I’ve heard of it.” [laughs]

I think Rich Johnston managed at least two, perhaps three expos├ęs of what project number two was going to be. In each case, I’d have to write and say “That’s not actually true.” The nearest one to being true, was at one point, Craig Russell and I were talking about taking over Thor, to get Thor working again. Craig and I talked about it, but really just couldn’t make it work in schedules. Then they wanted to get on with Thor so that kind of carried on without us. Or didn’t.

Then I was in New York in June, and Joe Quesada said “Look, what about The Eternals? Do you remember The Eternals?” I said “Oh my God, yes!” I read them as they came out back in the seventies. And even at the time, you sort of went, “Okay, there is something going on here. This is so Kirby.” But you also felt that it was late stage Kirby. It was Jack creating something with bits of things that went back to New Gods and bits of his 2001 comic and also bits of things like his designs for the Lord of Light theme park, that he did (it was designed but never made). All of that was the kind of stuff going in there. It was also a comic book that never seemed to know if it was in the Marvel universe or not. I remember noticing that when I was fifteen or sixteen when I was reading it. “Is this Marvel or isn’t it? Here you have some S.H.I.E.LD. agents and in the next issue it seems to be explicit that Marvel characters only exist in comics.” Then it never really finished, it just sort of died out and half-heartedly incorporated into the Marvel universe but never really seemed to jell. Bits of it did, bits of it didn’t. I thought that it would be a really fun project, so I said “Sure, I think I’ll do that.”

BM: What is that makes the Eternals special in a world that already has mutants, superheroes and supervillains?

NG: I think what makes them special is that they are neither mutants nor superheroes or supervillains. What I think is so interesting is that they are people. They have superpowers and some of them even have costumes, but fundamentally they’ve been undercover a very long time. And they are people who have cool God-like magical powers but they’re still “us,” only they are “us” without assured death in the same way. That’s one of the things I want to address and play around with. Plus, you know it’s got the Deviant characters, which again, is one of those weird wonderful Kirby concepts of “There is always a darkness to the light.” I look at it and go “I’m not sure it’s that simple.” And I’m not sure that’s necessarily how I’m going to play it.

BM: Funny thing is, I think the Deviants have appeared more often in the Marvel Universe than the Eternals have.

NG: Well, yes. And you can sort of see why. I would love to have lived in the universe in which Jack got to do the Eternals comic book that he had in his head with no editorial interference and nobody second guessing him and not having any restraints to keep him from finishing the story he started. To have the done The Eternals on the scale of what he did with the Fourth World stuff. I think that would be a wonderful universe to live in.

I am not Jack Kirby. And I am not even going to try and attempt that. What I’m going to try to do is essentially take the universe he created, the characters he created, the ideas that he created and strip them down and put them back together again. As far as I’m concerned, one of the great things about comics is that you’re always allowed to dump the bits you don’t like. Then the deal that comes with that is that the people who come in next are allowed to dump the bits that you did that they don’t like. So I get to try to retrofit the Eternals and see what’s interesting about them from my perspective and to try to create characters that add value to the Marvel Universe. Like going into the playground and leaving some good toys behind. I like the idea that other people can then come along and play with those toys. Frankly, if what I do doesn’t work, or if what I do only works if I’m doing it (which is also a possibility) it’s perfectly possible that people will go “You know, those toys that Neil left are crap. Let’s go back trying to play with other people’s versions of the Kirby toys and see if we can do something else.” And I wouldn’t mind that at all. That’s part of the joy and tragedy of comics.

Originally, I thought it was only the tragedy of comics, but doing Sandman I discovered it was also the joy. You could take these things and mostly treat them with respect but sometimes treat them with respect from the point of view that “This is true, but you didn’t know about it.” With The Eternals, I feel like I’ve been given a weird permission to do more than I would normally do. In taking over existing comic characters, I would normally be incredibly respectful, but very specifically with The Eternals, I look at what Jack did and I went “This is not part of the Marvel Universe. Except maybe it sort of is.” Since then, people other than Jack have tried to fold it into the Marvel Universe, with various degrees of success. Or lack of success. “Well, this character was actually an Eternal, or a son of an Eternal.” And then it ets to the point when you’ve got Zuras meeting Zeus and you go, “How did you get to there? You’ve got Gods in the Marvel Universe and you’ve got characters who inspired the Gods in the Marvel Universe that both somehow exist side by side. But that doesn’t work.” There have been various attempts to reconcile that but most of that stuff I’m not even going to try and reconcile. What I’m going to do is pick the bits that I like and start something new.

BM: Tell us about some of your plans for The Eternals. How are you going to integrate them into the Marvel Universe. And are there any characters in particular that you’ll be using?

NG: No.

BM: No?

NG: No!

BM: Okay.

NG: Good try, but I mean no. When I’ve got it all figured out, maybe I’ll talk about it. Or maybe I’ll make people wait until it happens. I don’t know. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I don’t like t
he way so much information is around on the web so long before things come out. Because people like to discuss them, long before they come out, long before they’re even thought about and decide what they think about them long before the first word has actually been written. However, it’s so much more fun (that’s the whole point of monthly comics, as far as I’m concerned) to keep as much secret as possible before you go public so that people can actually have many cool surprises when they go down to the comic store. And I hate the idea of talking about a comic that won’t come out I think, for a year. The first issue will probably be on sale in eleven months time. We want to do the same thing we did with 1602, which is have most of it done, or in my case, have most or all of it written before it starts coming out. I hate this thing in monthly comics where issues one and two come out on time, issue three comes out a bit late, issue four comes out very late, issue five comes out shortly after the deadline for it to be returnable and then people laugh at you when you come in and ask where issue six is. We almost made it with 1602, issue eight was late because it was an extra length issue and there were a few problems so we wound up skipping.

BM: Well, maybe you can answer this. What is it about The Eternals that appeals to you?

NG: Oddly enough, people keep going “Oh! It’s the God thing, isn’t it? You must love people who are mistaken for Gods.” No, it’s not, because I feel that I’ve done that in lots of different ways. What I love is doing stories about people. what attracts me to it is the idea of people with incredibly long life spans and doing these comics about people who are functionally immortal. People for whom time moves very differently and how things have changed over the years. I want to start creating the idea of the Eternals as a group and watch things change over time. Somebody who might have been your best friend two thousand years ago is your bitterest enemy a thousand years on from that. Or the way that a romance that happened ten thousand years ago can affect things happening fifty years ago. The idea of a hidden hand in human history, hidden agendas across human history. I really like the idea of playing with that. I think there are going to be some mysteries in it. I have some ideas for things that are going to happen that I hope you are not going to be able to figure out why they’ve happened or what was actually going on until the last issue. By that point, they won’t mean the things they did at the beginning, I suppose an example of the kind of thing I mean that somebody else once did, was when Alan (Moore) killed the Comedian. By the time we figured out who killed the Comedian.

BM: It wasn’t important anymore.

NG: Right, it’s not that important anymore, because “Oh my God, this is what’s actually happening.” The thing is what takes you into it. And the things that happen to Ikaris at the beginning of issue one are going to propel you through the rest of the series, I hope.

BM: Any plans for the Celestials to show up in the series?

NG: I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing with the Celestials. Again, the Celestials are one of those things where you look at something and you go “Okay, it wasn’t built to be part of the Marvel Universe. It was built to be part of a Kirbyverse that was going on at the time.” Because, apart from anything else, there’s no way that a thousand foot high alien can come stand on the Earth and say “I’m going to be here for fifty years deciding whether I should blow it up or end the experiment” and the heroes wouldn’t come out in force. None of them did because they weren’t in that universe. But then the Celestials have been folded into the Marvel Universe now, so what am I going to do with them? But what’s nice is that I get to do a story that’s going to take place over a very long time and there will be, you know, Hot Celestial Action in it.

BM: Do you have any idea how long the miniseries will be?

NG: I’m planning for six issues, probably with longer than twenty two pages in each issue though.

BM: Any word on the artist?

NG: Yes.

BM: That you can share?

NG: No, I. I wish I could, but I can’t. There are some cool art plans that when people hear about them, I think it will make them go “Oh, that’s cool.” But again, I can’t share them at this point.

BM: Given your success in other media, will The Eternals be the last comic you do for the foreseeable future?

NG: I don’t know. My troubles are with time, not with things that I want to do. The novel readers would like it if I gave everything else up and did nothing but write novels for the rest of time. And the comic people would like me to do comics. It’s Sandman’s twentieth birthday in 2009, and I think I’m very much likely to do stuff for that. If only because it’ll make me feel really old. But it might be in 2008. Sandman #1 was published in November 1988, but with a cover date of January 1989. So I get to pick which is the twentieth anniversary. It’ll probably be 2009 just because I’ll be running late. I’m terrified to say that about something four years away! [laughs] But it’s true.

We did Endless Nights, which was enormously fun. I wanted to do a big pretty book and I got to do the thing. But having the first mainstream comics published original graphic novel on The New York Times’ Bestseller List. That was enormously fun and enormously satisfying to have done. Having said that, I can’t see much point in doing it again having done it. I would be much more likely to do the equivalent of a six or eight issue miniseries than I would to do an original book. It’s something that DC Comics knows I would like to do and I know they’d like me to do something. It’s not immediate so we’re worrying about different things.

The next thing that will be fun, and I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say this, but seeing that I’ve been so incredibly unhelpful on things I do know that I’m not allowed to talk about yet (laughs), I will give you one thing. I haven’t been told not to say, so I will give you something that is technically an exclusive, which is the last thing I heard that they are definitely doing is an Absolute Sandman. Because frankly, the first twenty odd issues of Sandman (in particular, but there’s more running through) were colored for a process that hasn’t been used for twenty years on that old paper stock. And now the paper stock is amazing, the print process is amazing and we’re still using the colors which look worse and worse with every printing. That’s not satisfactory. We’ve always known we needed to recolor the first two graphic novels and maybe the first couple issues of Dream Country. Steve Oliff took over on Sandman 19 and 20 and made it beautiful but at that point it was a computerized process. We’ve always wanted to recolor those and that I think, is incentive enough. The question is how are we going to do it and what will the Absolute Sandman be? For example, I don’t know whether the physical mechanics of book production will actually allow for a two thousand page book. A complete Sandman book would probably look like something encyclopedia sized. On the other hand, it would be a really cool object. And you could kill somebody if you hit them with it.

BM: It’s good to have a hobby.

NG: Absolutely. You could look at people straining themselves to pick it up saying “Oh my God. This is the whole of Sandman.” But quite what it will be. I don’t think we’ve come to that conclusion yet. But I have heard from Paul Levitz that it’s definitely going to be happening.