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Neil Gaiman

Author/Screenwriter - "Mirrormask", "Beowulf", "Sandman"
Interview by: 
Jason Sizemore

HV: Hello Neil, how’s it going this evening.

NG: It’s going a bit fun this evening.

Oh yeah? Fun?

It’s been one of those strange evenings where you get to sit around and every half hour the phone rings.

And you get to talk to someone different each time.

One of the fun things is that no one has asked the same questions. The thing with interviews that drives you nuts is being asked the same thing over and over, and this evening has had the peculiar quality where I’m certainly not doing that.

Okay, no pressure! Thanks, Neil.

I think we’ll be okay.

*bragging tone* I like to consider myself an old-school Neil Gaiman fan as I was right there with the issue one release of Sandman. So, does this qualify me, in your eyes, as ‘old-school Gaiman’?

That’s back in the dark ages! That’s truly prehistoric. That’s before the old school was even built! The people that were there for Sandman number one…I actually got sent some photos the other day of the very first signing I ever did for Sandman, right when Sandman number one came out. What was funny was seeing me and Mike Dringenburg sitting at a table in a little comic store in Staten Island with a line of seven rather bored people who were not really sure what they were buying, but they bought it because it was a premiere issue. And you think, oh my god, nobody would have ever predicted what it turned into. I never would have predicted it. If you told me back when that comic came out that this thing I was doing would sell more copies…that I’d be selling more copies of Sandman collector’s edition in 2006, eighteen years later, than we had when this thing came out I would have thought you a mad person. You would have sounded pretty damn mad. You know, it’s so weird, the fact that we’re in this universe that Sandman became this huge thing and remains huge because every year a new generation comes along and discovers it.

Congratulations on Mirrormask. I was looking around on the internet this week and on the IMDB I saw where a fan had posted the following quote: "Mirrormask is the masterpiece that will stand the test of filmic history". So, is this pretty much how you see it?

Uh, no, not really! If it does turn out to stand the test of history and turn out to be a masterpiece, that is always nice and a wonderful pleasant surprise. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but I do think it is not like anything else. We created a film that is not like any other out there. I think the most important thing is that we got to experiment; we got to make something cool. We were allowed to essentially go and play. Which was great! That’s the magic of being allowed to do something for a very small budget. The good part about it is that Dave McKean got to go out and make the film look good by literally using blood, sweat, toil and tears. But on the other hand, he got it working and made his own movie. Nobody told him what to make, and it was nothing that came out of focus groups.

So Dave was the driving factor behind the film?

Actually, it was Lisa Henson. Because Lisa had seen some of Dave’s short films, like The Week Before, set the week before God creates the earth, sort of when he’s slacking off, playing cards with the devil and that sort. These wonderful films, films Dave had made for something between no money and very little money, were made quite literally in his mother’s barn. So Lisa was the one who came to me and said the Henson Company has four million dollars to do a fantasy film and I said “That’s ridiculous” and she said “Yeah, but would Dave would do it?” and I thought about it for four seconds and said “You could ask him.” So it really wasn’t Dave, it was Lisa.

The DVD release of Mirrormask is soon, and no doubt it will be superlative.

It’s going to be released on February 14th, and there is crazy cool stuff on it. You get interviews with Dave and me, a commentary track by both of us, you get a stop-motion film of the setup and filming of the monkey-bird sequence, you get lots of weird Q & As, and you get a San Diego comic convention panel discussion with me and Dave.

Are you going to ComicCon this year?

If the studio tells me that they really want me to go for Mirrormask or for Beowulf. It is so weird that San Diego has become an entertainment Sundance.

How is Beowulf coming along?

In October of last year, all the performances were captured, which is to say that actors were put into funky suits and acted their hearts out.

Are you in any of the funky suits?

No, I’m not. Actually…honestly, I could have been, but I made the fatal mistake of having a novel out, and I was on tour for Anansi Boys, when they were having all the stuff where they could have made me a werewolf in the background.

It could have been your Hitchcockian cameo!

My moment of fame! But it was denied me, and by the time I went into shooting, Danny Glover, Angelina Jolie, and Ray Winstone were the only people left on the set. Anthony Hopkins and everybody had already left. What’s strange and scary, now that all the performances have been captured, is it’s going to take another eighteen, nineteen months to make the film, which is kind of weird.

Is this due to all the digital effects?

The cool thing about it is going to be an animated film for adults, and I don’t think anybody has done one of those successfully, perhaps never, it’s not something you tend to see a lot of.

Yeah, Tim Burton is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

Heavy Metal, maybe, even that wasn’t successful financially more than artistically. So we’re definitely in a world where I can’t way to see what it is like and what it turns into. But honestly, your guess is as good as mine.

You mentioned Anansi Boys, I’ve had several people mention that they were halfway or completely through the novel before they realized the main characters are black. Do you consider this a pro or con?

To be honest, I’m glad anybody notices at all. You’d be surprised the numbers of readers that go through the book without noticing the protagonists are black. Which I think is kind of odd. I think a lot of it for me is when in most novels you are told when character so and so is black, but you’re not told when a character is white. It’s assumed the default the readership is white. And I was very uncomfortable with it, and have always been. So I decided everybody in my book is black, and I will be very good and mention whenever a character is white. I must say, it is a fun thing to do in a novel. It’s not something you can do with film, to figure out what the characters look like with cues, which is something you can do in a book.

Anansi Boys has a lot of funny bits in it. Do you have any particular favorites?

My favorite to write was probably Fat Charlie’s hangover. And his brother, Spider, the first day in the office pretending to be him. It was an enjoyable book to write, of course, except when it wasn’t! I got to document this cheerfully on my blog while I went through, so those on the blog know exactly when I was having good days and when I was having bad days.

I have a friend who had a chance to review the Anansi Boys audio. She said that listening to the novel and going back and reading the novel that you get a sense Anansi Boys was written to be told instead of read. Was this a conscious decision on your part while writing Anansi Boys?

It was definitely a conscious decision, and one of the reasons why I was thrilled to get Lenny Henry to do the reading. He was the person whose voice was in my head while writing it. I’ve known Lenny for years. He’s an astonishing actor and performer. And I loved the idea of getting him to read the book. If you buy the audio book, I think you get a better idea of how it sounded in my head as I was writing the book.

One of the things that was most fun about the Anansi thing, the Anansi stories were all stories, were all told, so when you’re building it, it would be something you’d enjoy saying out loud.

I’ve read that you have an enjoyment of Appalachian folktales, especially Jack Tales. Do you think a lot of that comes out in your writing intentionally?

Oh yes, I love those types of tales, trickster stories. One of the things about Jack Tales that is fascinating is the way they completely take a bunch of stories, most of which were lost to us, and which were originally English folktales, and take some of the ingredients, like you still have kings in them, but the king is just the guy down the road with the big house. I love the mixture of the old world and the new world. I can’t think of anywhere else where you really get a great feeling of the continuity over the years.

What interview question are you sick of answering?

*laughing* Put my finger in the shredder why don’t you!

The nice thing is that things change. The interview questions you get sick of being asked tends to change on what you’re out there talking about and promoting. So in the case of Anansi Boys is “Is it going to be filmed?” Sandman movie questions, is there going to be a Sandman movie and how much control are you going to have. At the end of the day I try to explain that I’d rather there’s no Sandman movie than a bad Sandman movie. I guess if anything ever makes a Sandman movie happen is getting a director along whom the Sandman movie is the most important thing in the world, like what Lord of the Rings was to Peter Jackson, where it has that much power and personal connection.

Nobody is going to take Howard the Duck seriously again.

So you either make the movie yourself or you trust someone. There’s not much else you can do other than selling all the rights.

I have a question from uber-fan Alethea Kontis, who interviewed you for Ingrams awhile back.


She wants to know if the rumors are true that you’re really working on a Jonathan Carroll script?

I wish they were! I was approached about five years ago to do an adaptation of Jonathan Carroll’s book The Land of Laughs. I did a treatment for it, went out and had various meetings with various Hollywood people. And it makes me sad it didn’t happen because it’s a great book and I’m a big fan of Carroll’s. There’s not many projects you come across that you hope come back from the dead, but that is definitely one that if it came back it would make me happy.

On a tangent, have you ever karaoked?

No, but that’s not because it didn’t get to the point where karaoke would become important to the book I was writing, I wrote the scenes out of my head, and then I had to get my friends that had karaoked to read it. But no, it was one of those peculiar things where I have not been properly drunk enough and in the right place and environment. The only times I’ve been in those situations and where karaoke happens, the karaoke machine was busted. And I started to decide after awhile that it was some horrible judgment on me.

So what would be the karaoke song you’d choose for your first performance, if it did happen?

It would have to be something that I could remember the lyrics to while drunk. Because even if you’re trying to read the lyrics, you’ll stumble over them, so I’d pick something like Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wildside”.

Not a bad answer.

I think it’d be really funny because it’s not incredibly English, and I’d have to try and do it in a bizarre New York accent.

Guess if I go to a convention where you’re a guest, I’ll have to carry some Lou Reed with me.

You’re damn right!

I understand you worked hard to ensure the voice of the Caribbean women in Anansi Boys sounded authentic. Could you share a little bit about that process?

Yeah, you bet. Actually, the thing that I found weirdest about that is getting told off by people for getting my old southern ladies wrong. And I’m starting to realize that I became aware of and started doing those writerly things I tend to do and rapidly became aware that in Florida you have a huge Caribbean population. You can get Caribbean food and eat curry goat for breakfast, but I don’t recommend it.

Curry Goat?

Yep, goat cooked in curry.

You have this proximity of Florida to that part of the world, and you have a lot of islanders living there. And what I thought was bizarre, I received a letter from someone telling me off because I got the dialog of the ladies wrong. And furthermore, I got the types of food that people would eat at funerals all wrong. The kind of food I put down was the kind of food you’d eat in Jamaica, not Florida. How odd, do they not know that there are people from Jamaica living there? I’m always surprised at how little people know of the world they inhabit.

As a successful short fiction writer, do you get a chance to peruse the short fiction genre markets?

I have to say I rely on the Year’s Best anthologies these days. That’s how I find out what’s out there and who is doing what.

Okay, last question. Who do you think is more Goth? Wednesday Adams or Death from Sandman.

Wednesday Adams.

How come?

Absolutely, Wednesday Adams. Death isn’t particularly Goth. She’s not creepy and she’s cheerful. If you were hanging around Death, you wouldn’t think you’d be hanging around a Goth, but with Wednesday, you have a terrifying little creature that given the opportunity would scare the shit out of you!