Neil Gaiman interview (October 2005)

October 3, 2005 | Interviews


He’s got one movie in theatres and more on the way and yet another No. 1 book on the New York Times bestseller’s list.
Neil Gaiman’s life is good.
The 44-year-old author of American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline and the landmark Sandman comic book series hits Toronto on Saturday for a reading and signing in support of his latest effort, Anansi Boys.
But first he talked to JPK about the new novel, making movies, his comic book future and how to tell if something’s truly funny.

JPK: What is it about the relationship between humans and gods that interests you?
NG: “I think it’s mostly because you can do an awful lot with gods. I think they’re sort of hardwired into the human psyche.
“We’ve had stories about them. They are in some ways special and in some ways they’re us — only they’re us magnified. It’s that power of magnification you can use.”

JPK: It seems like this connection between humans and gods has been a running theme with your stories (American Gods, Anansi Boys, Sandman).
NG: “Since I’ve been writing for 20 years, I’ve written so many different things now that anything I do more than once, people can now go, ‘Well, I’ve noticed all of your books are variants on Alice In Wonderland’ or ‘all of your books have gods in them’ or ‘explain the preponderance of cats in your work’ and it’s all true.
“(Often) it just seems like a nice way of telling that particular story.
“Now I guess that means gods are off limits for a couple of years and I’ll have to do something else.”

JPK: From where did you draw the inspiration for Anansi Boys?
NG: “I made it up out of my head.
“And also I’ve always loved Anansi stories, I always loved trickster stories and it seemed like a very good place to start.”

JPK: Is it fair to call Anansi Boys a sequel to American Gods?
NG: “No, not in any way. It would probably be fairer, but much more complicated, to say that American Gods borrowed a character from a novel that I had not yet written as a special guest star.”

JPK: Did you enjoy writing something with a little bit lighter tone?
NG: “I did, but I found out very rapidly why a lot of comedy writers work in pairs. That’s why it was very easy doing Good Omens with Terry Pratchett — you can tell in a second if something’s funny or not because the other guy laughs.
“When it’s just you, you have to go by your own tastes. And if you’re having a particularly gloomy sort of day, when nothing seems funny, but you’re writing a funny book anyway, it can start to come out sort of jaundiced.”

JPK: And yet, you found your funny place.
NG: “I think it’s funny. I hope so. And I hope it’s more than that. I wanted to write something that was funny, but was also scary, was a screwball comedy, but also had magic in it and weirdness and that also got to say things that were big and honest about families and people.”

JPK: It’s a bit hard to put your finger on, isn’t it?
NG: “It is. But that best thing right now about being me, and writing books, is that nobody expects me to do anything anymore. None of my books have been like the other ones. It’s not as if anybody expects me to write Neverwhere, Neverwhere Again, More Neverwhere or more American Gods or even more Sandman, it’s just whatever I’m going to do and people seem very cool with that.”

JPK: Is it nice to be of the stature you are where people will buy anything you write sight unseen?
NG: “It’s a double-edged sword.
“It’s like writing a short story. When I was a young man and I wrote a short story and it was accepted, I would be thrilled because nobody knew who I was and if they wanted to print the short story it was because they really liked it.
“Now, I’m Neil Gaiman. Which means if I do a short story for an anthology that’s asked for one, I can turn in the most terrible piece of garbage and they’d still print it because they can put my name on the cover.
“But it’s also lovely having an audience. That’s the best bit — that there’s people out there who want to read what I want to write.”

JPK: There’s a great running gag in Anansi Boys about a lime. Are you expecting people to be turning up with limes at your book readings?
NG: “Actually there was one reading I did in Chicago a few weeks ago where they’d given me a bowl of limes on the table for decoration.
“So I gave them to people who seemed to particularly need their own lime.”

JPK: How are you feeling as Mirrormask is set to debut in wide release (it came out on Sept. 30)?
NG: “It was always a very small movie. It was never initially meant to even appear in cinemas — the idea was this tiny little direct-to-DVD thing. They gave us $4 million to make it, which it four minutes of the Beowulf film (he wrote the screenplay for and is currently executive producing).
“I love that it went to Sundance (Film Festival), which nobody expected since they don’t take children’s movies and they don’t take fantasy movies.”

JPK: What has the experience of working on Beowulf been like so far?
NG: “It’s done for me. They’ve started shooting.
“Now I’m very much looking forward to going to the set — well it’s not really a set, it’s just a big room (the actors are being shot against green screen and the rest will be added digitally).
“I’m very much looking forward to going to the big room and seeing all the props made out of wire-mesh.”

JPK: Any thoughts on any more of your work being turned into films?
NG: “It seems like everything is. Coraline is being turned into a film now.
“Film aren’t terribly high on my list of importances. A book is much more important to me than a film.
“It’s much more fun to make a film, though.”

JPK: Why is that?
NG: “Because there’s lots of other people around.
“Novels are incredibly solitary. You spend however long you’re working on the novel on your own.”

JPK: Your next book is going to be for children. What’s it going to be about?
NG: “Graveyards.”

JPK: It was revealed recently that your next Marvel Comics’ project is going to be Eternals. Are you excited about that?
NG: “I’m not excited, but interested and looking forward to it.”

JPK: What is it about those characters that interests you?
NG: “I’ve never written immortals in that way.
“What really fascinates me about that is people being alive over enormous spans of time and what that would mean.
“It seems like a really fun place to start.”

JPK: Any comic book plans beyond that?
NG: “It’ll be Sandman’s 20th anniversary reasonably soon.”

JPK: Ugh. You just made me feel old.
NG: “At a recent signing, I had a beautiful adult woman come up to me the other day — and by adult I mean 28, 29, 30 — and say ‘I’ve been reading your work since the eighth grade’
“All of the sudden I felt, not only old, but scarily old.
“But since it is going to be 20 years soon, I think I’ll do something to go along with that.”

JPK: Do you have something in mind?
NG: “I think whatever it will be will be completely different (from the bestselling Sandman: Endless Nights).
“It might be nice just to do a Sandman comic for the first time in ages.”

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