Merry Christmas! Neil Gaiman NU107 Interview
Anyway, here’s the NU107 full interview with Mr. Neil Gaiman, several months late. The interviewers are Erwin Romulo, Ramon de Veyra, and Quark Henares. I managed to get a copy of the entire interview, although I can’t remember who I should thank for it. There was also the partial copy from Astrid, whom I’d like to thank again as even the full interview file had missing parts which was only available in the partial interview that I got from Astrid.
So here’s my Christmas present, and if you were wondering what I was doing on Christmas day... (click link)
NU107: Hello, hello. It’s alive. Rico, which is it again? Oh, can you hear me speak, Mr. Erwin?
NU107: I think I can.
NU107: All right, all right.
NU107: Ramon can you speak?
NU107: Oh, there.
NU107: Hello, good morning everyone! Do we, do we have our Metallica tunes interested? (laughs)
NU107: Yeah, into Sandman?(laughs)
NU107: No, we were debating whether it would be Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” or—
NU107: Or the one by Metallica.
Neil: All the Mr. Sandman stuff, of course.
NU107: Well we thought that you might really think us idiots for doing the whole… we decided to just wing it.
NU107: Come in cold!
Neil: The only point that I ever go, you know, these people are idiots, is that moment where, radio, you’re on the radio and they always do, and you guys haven’t, which is really good, exactly the same intro.
NU107: It’s the king of dreams.
Neil: No, no, no, no. It’s the—
NU107: Hello everybody and we’re hanging out with the dream king here. (laughs)
Neil: That was Tori Amos right there for those of you who didn’t get it. Oh no, please don’t. (laughs)
NU107: Well how’s been the booking this evening?
Neil: Actually I’ll still find out. I’m sure it will. (laughs)
NU107: Anyway good morning everyone. We’re here with our very very NU107. The whole NU107 is here.
NU107: The whole.
NU107: In fact in a booth where—
NU107: On normal working days, no one is here.
NU107: Everyone’s late.
NU107: Everyone’s late. Everyone’s late. Everyone’s late.
Neil: Thank you. Get them before—
NU107: These guys come in like, 2 pm.
NU107: Chris is here everyday.
Neil: And they’re in here with cameras.
NU107: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Maybe the work flow of NU would be better if you were here everyday. (laughs)
NU107: No, we’re here with Neil Gaiman, the, uh, fabulous. Fabulous. Fab fab, Mr. Neil Gaiman, who, the multi-award winning writer.
NU107: Maybe we should go into a song.
NU107: Yes, yes. Definitely!
NU107: What would you want to play?
Neil: Well I grabbed my iPod, punched up a hasty, on-the-go playlist, and I thought the first thing that might be fun is a song by Thea Gilmore who’s an English singer/songwriter whose work I love and it’s just one of those songs that hits the chord with you when you’re a writer, because it reminds you of the stuff that you shouldn’t be when you’re a writer and what you really shouldn’t be is safe. So it’s called When Did It Get So Safe?
(plays So When Did It Get So Safe?)
Neil: When Did It Get So Safe.
NU107: So when did it get so safe?
Neil: Well, I suppose. What I like to think, what I hope, what I liked to think is that hopefully it happened. So far, what I came to do as a writer is the moment that I know what I’m doing, I stop and I do something else, and at least for me, that’s an incredibly comfortable way of working. I wrote comics until I was good at doing comics and comfortable with doing comics and then I figured the responsible thing to do at that point was go on write prose, which didn’t mean I could write. I wrote…
Neil: I did Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, to the point where American Gods had won all the awards it could possibly win, I figured that maybe at that point, I should…
Neil: Isn’t that amazing, the phone rings while you’re on the radio?
NU107: Yeah, yeah.
Neil: Aren’t you going to answer it?
NU107: My wife.
Neil: At least she knows where you are.
NU107: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
NU107: Speaking of mediums, you’ve done TV. You’ve done prose and you’re doing a movie. So which, I mean you can’t probably have a personal favorite even though you feel, maybe you’ve done as much in one medium. Which is your personal favorite?
Neil: I do have a personal favorite medium, but I usually get to work on my favorite medium for only once every three years on average. My favorite medium is actually radio plays. Of all media, I love doing radio drama, audio drama, but because everything happens, you have all the advantages of movies and stuff, and you have real drama happening, but you have all the fun of prose and comics and you’re working in somebody’s head.
NU107: And you take a very active role in it. You also, I mean you do your readings right?
Neil: I do readings, and I do performances, but with radio plays, I just get a real director in and a real crew, and I do a couple for BBC now, a couple for US Online thing, and if it weren’t for the fact that I would have to send my children out to dance for the pennies in order to support myself, I would do a lot more of them. But it’s one of those things where you do it for love.
NU107: You should do some more of it right now. I mean like the four of us with Diego.
NU107: We’d make a pretty slick radio play.
Neil: We’d go out of the way with the script.
NU107: Yeah. Uh, you’re doing a movie, which hopefully will, in Hollywood, is up in the air. Any directors you look up to? I know you did film reviews for quite some time.
Neil: I was, I was a film reviewer when I was young. I was a terrible film reviewer but that’s okay. Who do I love as a director? Gilliam I think is, of living directors probably now at the point where he is consistently the most interesting living director I think.
NU107: Terry Gilliam?
Neil: Terry Gilliam. I think he has visions. And other than that, it’s the usual suspects. Peter Greenway, David Lynch.
Neil: It’s weird because on the whole, the kind of directors I like are kind of odd and small and culty and off and slightly left off-center and weird, and then the film being shot this September is being shot by Robert Zemecki who is—
Neil: Yeah, Beowulf. Which is being done by, we got Anthony Hopkins starring in it, and Ray Wingstone, and a bunch of really cool people. And you know, looking at this movie which is gonna be the big, action weird-ass movie of 2007, going how did I write that? These are the kind of things I go—
NU107: How did you met like Terry Gilliam and the rest of the Pythons I mean?
Neil: The only Pythons that I know are Terry Jones, whom I know very vaguely. I interviewed him when I was very young; a journalist just like you. I went to his house and I interviewed him and he said would you like anything to drink. I said sure, coffee and he said Chablis I think. And he brought out the largest single wine bottle I’ve seen in my life. I mean we’re talking those kind of bottles that look like a chip pouring bottle and it comes up, we sit there and do the interview, and it’s me, the photographer, and Gilliam, and we get drunk and drunker and we get photographed. Published in the magazine, me popping up from underneath the desk with Terry Jones pushing me down. I remember stumbling away from that interview, and finishing that interview lying on the floor, wondering why the ceiling was going round and round and round. So I think interviewing Terry Jones was very dangerous for a journalist. Terry Gilliam, I know really well because he was going to do the movie of Good Omens.
NU107: Oh yeah, yeah.
NU107: And Watchmen too.
NU107: And he’s supposed to do Watchmen as well.
Neil: The trouble is, that Terry Gilliam terrifies Hollywood. They are really scared of him. I don’t know why they are scared of him, but they are absolutely terrified. And he had the great script for Good Omens, he had Johnny Dept, Robin Williams, Kursten Dunst of the US, and get a studio to cough up $50 million dollars and agree to distribute it. We figured it was a done deal. And went to Hollywood and said okay, who wants the movie? And everybody took one step back.
NU107: You have sketchy relation. I know you were supposed to do Mr. Punch right with Roger Avary also?
Neil: No, that was Beowulf.
NU107: Okay, so that went through at least.
Neil: Beowulf with Roger Avary, we were going to do in ’97. That’s the weird thing about Hollywood, you can never predict anything. We wrote the script in ’97, it was like a small budget action flick but was going to be fun, and now it’s this, we suddenly start in January after we long since given up on it.
NU107: But have you gotten it royally screwed, somebody like your friend Alan Moore who is now really antagonistic towards Hollywood adapting any of his stuff.
Neil: Screwed in what way?
NU107: Alan had to defend a film which he didn’t even… I think he had to defend League because he got sued by some screenwriter who said that elements of his screenplay, and it was a film that he didn’t approve of but he had to appear in court.
Neil: No, I haven’t had that yet. (laughs) You know, I haven’t been deposed, nobody has sued me for ripping off their film I had never seen.
NU107: Yeah, yeah.
Neil: No, that happened to Alan.
NU107: Is Gilliam still keen to do, would you still be interested in doing Good Omens?
Neil: Gilliam would still love to do Good Omens if anyone would give him the money. If anyone listening has $65 million dollars who don’t know what to do with—
NU107: Quark has!
Neil: Terry Gilliam, just write to me, and I’ll put you in touch with him. Terry would love the money.
NU107: Hopefully Brothers Grimm does well. Hopefully it pushes through the nth time around.
Neil: Well the trouble with Gilliam is, he makes films that do brilliantly and are commercial successes and come in under budget and are just fine, Twelve Monkeys and… somehow these films never quite erase the Gilliam terror from Hollywood. He starts again from scratch every time trying to convince them he will not go $200 million dollars overbudget and call them all idiots.
NU107: Like what happened in Brazil where he took out the variety because of an ad.
Neil: Exactly. He made Brazil and won. He fought Hollywood and he won, and they’d never forgiven him for that.
NU107: You’re on your exclusive, we’re on our exclusive interview, we’re very—
NU107: Nervous. Kid. We’re having an exclusive interview with Mr. Neil Gaiman. Can everyone please turn their phones off? In the meantime, let’s play another one of your—
Neil: Let’s play one song. What have I got here? Okay, this is one of those songs that you hear and it’s somehow becomes, it shouldn’t have happened it’s really unlikely, and because of that, it becomes of those things that I play over and over again as I travel. This is the Beautiful Self cover of the Ramones “Blitzkreig Bop”.
NU107: All right!
(plays Blitzkreig Bop)
NU107: Blitzkreig Bop.
NU107: That is the most upbeat, better than your version, the one your band does. I mean happier. But you have a chick singing, so…
NU107: Oh no, this one had the girl from rock thing.
NU107: Well, there you go. Anyway, we’re here on our exclusive interview NU107 with Mr. Neil Gaiman. Thanks to Gweilos. A lot of people have been texting in, we’re raking it in I think through the text messages, and a lot of people are cutting class for you, including a girl who gave you chocolate apparently.
Neil: There are a number of ladies who have given me chocolate. Chocolate is. I left Singapore, when I left Singapore, I actually would like to think possibly the largest personal collection of barbecued pork and ham. I could now go back to America and set up a small, Filipino candy store. And Filipinos in American who are going miss local candy can just come to me and I have boxes of them.
NU107: In Minneapolis.
Neil: Yup. There’s more than any one person will possibly be able to eat, even helped by small children.
NU107: How do you like the dried mangoes by the way?
Neil: Dried mangoes, really cool. You guys have the best mangoes. It’s really nice getting to taste things like mangoes, and even bananas. Oh, this is what they’re meant to taste like. Because around the rest of the world, you get these things and they’re shipped green and they’re gassed and they sort of ripened and you taste it, you get the idea vaguely that you are eating a banana-ly substance or something vaguely mango-ish. Where here, oh I get it, this is mango.
NU107: Oh so ripe mangoes you haven’t—
Neil: I’ve had ramp, out here I’ve been eating dried, eating ripe mangoes, mango juice of breakfast.
NU107: There’s a funny question here. Do you listen to dark music or something? (laughs)
Neil: Do I listen to dark music? Yes, some of it, but I tend not to. The wonderful thing about having an iPod, I have a 60 GB iPod and it’s full.
NU107: Oh wow.
Neil: And when they bring out 120 GB iPod, it’s probably full. I love all kinds of music. I will sometimes, when I’m writing something that’s particularly dark, go on find some really dark and appropriate music. The worse it got was writing all that hell stuff in Sandman, when I went and dug out, and this was back in Final Days, I dug out Leery’s Metal Machine Music, which played nothing but Leery’s Metal Machine Music in the background while writing hell for several days. And I want you to know that Leery’s Metal Machine Music was actually made for anyone who needs to write hell.
NU107: (laughs) Which is actually interesting because Sandman kind of looks like Peter Murphy, right?
Neil: All of the characters who Sandman’s thinking page, Peter Murphy is probably the only one who really has the justification, but he’s a mad king second, because the first thing I did a few sketches, I sent a few, [Sam] Kieth sanded a bunch of sketches, we picked that was the closest to the character, and we sort of carried on from there. When Mike Dringenberg the inker got the drawings, he said oh, it looks like Peter Murphy. And we all went, who’s Peter Murphy? He said, lead singer of Happy House. Used to be in the Mat Phil commercial. And we went oh him, right. And so Dave McKean based the drawing of The Sandman on the very first cover of the very first issue on Peter Murpy.
NU107: So I was wondering about your other works. What was the soundtrack tune, to a very specific work, what you were listening to?
Neil: Stardust, the soundtrack was mostly feel nice bands. Lots and lots and lots of folk rock because if you’re writing something for Charles Vess, and you’re writing something that’s very, very set in faerie and very English, folk rock is perfect. So lots and lots of feel nice bands, and lots of Tori Amos for that one as well. I started writing Stardust in a house that Tori was renting in London that was actually a bridge. The house was built into this bridge over a canal. And that was where I began to write it. American Gods, lots of sort of American music. There’s this singer/songwriter named Greg Brown who’s like sort of a middle-American Lou Reed and instead of singing about transsexual drug addicts dying of overdoses, he sings about small farms in Iowa. And lot of Greg Brown, and also the other thing that really kept me going and kept me saying through American Gods over and over again was the Magnetic Fields 69 love songs. Which is 69 different songs in 69 different genres. No two songs are alike by the incredibly talented Steven Merritt who I think is probably our greatest living songwriter at this point.
NU107: Oh yeah? How about The High Cost of Living? I was reading it again last night.
Neil: The embarrassing thing about that is I wrote it in 1991, 1992 and I don’t remember what I was listening to when I wrote it. I do remember that when I was writing Anansi Boys, the new novel, it sort of went backwards and forwards because it’s lot of reggae, a lot of weird world music, a lot of African stuff. And you know, you just go and try to find the soundtrack that’s appropriate, the soundtrack to the movie in your head and you make that.
NU107: Definitely. Erwin?
NU107: Well, no I guess we should give him a lot of our music.
NU107: Do you listen to a lot of Filipino albums by any chance?
Neil: Only 6 or 7 so far so I’m sure there will be more. I was reading in the bath this morning, I got out of bed, had a bath and I was reading Filipino mythology and folk tales in the bath this morning thinking this stuff is so cool, why didn’t I know about this before or I would have used it.
NU107: What was the best gift you got here so far? I mean everyone in the Philippines is probably giving you something.
Neil: I don’t… you can’t say the best. Well the stuff that’s so cool is that everything’s personal, everything’s so beautiful and people make little art and they give you things and they give them from their soul and they care. And I… mostly I just sort of faintly touched. You know, you got a signing line, the signing lines we got here are impossible. Normally when you’re an author, you just say okay, I’ll sign for everybody. But you can’t sign for 3000 people, physically you can’t sign for a thousand people. So you do your best, which signing on Saturday night ‘til 1:30 in the morning, and we did over 700 people yesterday with 5 hour signing and again, I think we did nearly about 600.
NU107: So do you go into the trance, ready?
Neil: No, it’s not about trance. It’s more like running a marathon. You just know that you’re gonna have to keep going, and you know that you want it possible to be a bright human being here because when number 500 comes through just as you were for number 2.
NU107: Yeah because everyone of them is just very excited to meet you.
Neil: And especially here out here in the Philippines, they’ve been in line up to 6 am in the morning.
NU107: Or 5 am.
Neil: Exactly. So they’re not just excited to meet me, they’re also exhausted. And every now and then some of the girls who’ve been standing for hours and you know, are sort of getting more and more wound up, and sort of get to the front and knelt down, and you sort of give them a hug and say, okay.
NU107: Something I’ve noticed is that most of your fans are women. Which probably wasn’t the case when you started out right?
Neil: Definitely wasn’t the case. I started writing Sandman it was all boys. But Sandman very very rapidly went out and got a female readership. And suddenly it became about the only comic, the only mainstream comic in America where you had a 50/50 male female readership, and I would get these comic store people who look liked the comic store guy on The Simpsons coming up to me and going, you know man I got to thank you, you brought women into my store. No women had ever come into my comic store and then Sandman came out and they come in. And they sort of go if you changed your t-shirt and swept the store, they’d come back.
NU107: There’s a joke that you have a large female readership because most of the girls got copies of Sandman for their ex-boyfriends and suddenly they were really reading into it because of the great female characters I think also like Hazel and Papa Claus and…
Neil: I think it’s possibly that. It’s definitely true that Sandman has been spread over the years sexually. You know, it’s boys whose girlfriends say oh I don’t read comics, and they say here, read this. And the girlfriend comes back and says do you have any more? Give me to them now. Now! And then they go away and read them, and when they break up with the boy, they take the Sandman.
NU107: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. I know three people concretely who have their ex-boyfriend’s Sandman.
Neil: But I also think, it’s very interesting, both in Singapore and here, I think for the first time ever in each place, I see probably more women than men. And I think a lot of that also comes because we now have a world in which you have a female comics readers. If you go back ten years, there weren’t even. Now with manga, you got a generation of girls growing up reading comics, and it’s not a weird, strange thing to do. And when they’re sixteen or seventeen, they look around and the mangas that they were reading doesn’t quite do it for them in the same way that I get a lot of male readers because they’re seventeen and eighteen, and suddenly the comic books that have people hitting each other through walls don’t do it for them anymore. There’s a moment through which, there’s a moment where adolescent power fantasies no longe rwork for you. That’s the moment I can come in and can own your soul.
NU107: (laughs) I guess we should play another song.
Neil: Okay. I thought we were talking about movies a lot, and I’d thought I’d play my favorite song inspired by a movie, which is a song by Tom Russell called “Touch of Evil” about the Orson Welles song “Touch of Evil”.
(plays “Touch of Evil”)
NU107: Everyone heard that, your plan. You were talking into the microphone.
NU107: We do it on our radio show, the last song is always a David Bowie song. Because he’s David.
NU107: We’re here on our exclusive interview with jam session I guess, with Neil Gaiman playing.
NU107: Are we going to bring out the kazoos? (laughs)
NU107: Louie Louie right? Ramon has some interesting questions, I’m sure you miss your family.
NU107: Yeah, one of the things we were discussing in preparation for this was that you’re one of the most interviewed people which we know, so we couldn’t come up with any questions that haven’t been answered before so we wanted to ask some personal stuff if that’s all right. Like how did you meet your wife?
Neil: She was staying in a house that was owned by my father. She was a student and my father wound up buying a house he that didn’t want because he ran a small mail-order business out of my grandmother’s garage and one of the neighbors complained so he actually had to get a shop in order to continue running his mail-order business and the shop that he bought came with a house, which he didn’t want. So they lent it out, and whenever I was in town on Saturdays, I’d go over there for a cup of tea because it was a lot quicker than walking home and I, my wife was staying there. My wife to be was staying there and that was how we met. And that was actually scarily more years to go more than I like to think about. It’s very very weird some of these thing with time because you actually don’t notice time passing, and then you suddenly turn around and you realize that, I sort of looked at my son the other day, because he graduated from the George Washington University studying computer training that I do not understand, and he’s now going off to do a Masters in PhD in a computer thing so I will completely not understand anything he’s in. And I look and you know you’re the same age now that I was when I started being a writer. And you’re the same age that you were that I was when you were born. And it was suddenly, sort of weird moment, oh my God, life is past. You sort of, people tell me I’m prolific and I don’t think of myself as a completely prolific writer. But slowly shelves and shelves of stuff, they sort of just get longer and longer. And my writing career and my son’s life and now these thing in shelves. It’s fun, it’s certainly…
NU107: How was the first meeting. I mean do you remember first meeting your wife?
Neil: No but I remember the first time I noticed, I don’t remember the first time I met her, but I do remember the first time I noticed you. She was, it was actually one of those why miss you’re beautiful moment. She’d had these dreadful glasses that did her no favors at all and one day they got broken so for a week she walked around with no glasses on and suddenly, it was like whoa! She of course didn’t know that I was staring at her going whoa! She couldn’t see anything.
NU107: And you have three kids, is that right?
Neil: Michael, Holly, who’s twenty and a bit more and is currently in South Africa, which is really peculiar, the idea of, you know a few days ago, I was in Singapore, on the phone to my wife who just got off the phone with my daughter who was in South Africa at a wild life park watching frog-shooting stars thinking the world has become a much much smaller place than it used to be for me. And then there’s Maddy who’s the littlest one. And she’s ten and she’s really funny, she’s I think the one who may, probably most likely to turn into a writer herself if she doesn’t grow up to be a stand-up comedian. And I actually got to do something to impress her. I never impress her. Nothing I do ever impresses Maddy which is actually kind of fun. But we were in London a few weeks ago and we had dinner with a magician named Darren Brown who’s one of the best magicians in London, in England, and possibly the world. And Darren, when it was done, when it was over we went out for dinner, and Stephen Fry, the English actor and comedian from Black Adder, the voice of the book in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came over to talk to Darren, and Darren said this is Neil Gaiman, and Stephen Fry said oh Neil Gaiman! Yes, I’m a huge fan of yours, the era of the graphic novel has dawned upon us at last, has it not my boy? And he turns to Maddy and says and you young lady, shake my hand. What is your name, and she says Maddy. I’m Stephen Fry. He goes away. It was very very sweet. And she looks at me and she goes I just met Stephen Fry and I didn’t let him know I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Okay, I understand. Cool dad thing.
NU107: How old is she now?
Neil: She’s ten. And very very funny. The other cool thing that I’ve done for her, she became an Archie comic fan. And because I’m Neil Gaiman, when the people at Archie Comics found out that my daughter was a huge Archie comic fan, they put her on their complimentary comic list. I get the big complimentary comics from DC, and she gets the envelope of comics from Archie. She’s much happier than I am by the way.
<NU107: Would you ever do an Archie comic?
Neil: If she told me to, I would.
NU107: Has she read The Day I Swapped My Dad?
Neil: She written all, she quites like it. To be honest, would I ever write an Archie comic? If it was a matter of impressing her, yes I would. But actually what’s much more likely is she’d go and write an Archie comic. And then they’d print it because they can say Gaiman on the cover, and it actually it would be Maddy, which would be much more fun.
NU107: All right. I have a fanboy question here. You always talk about Alan Moore but you never really talk about the other Vertigo writers. Among your fellow writers in that imprint, what do you think of them actually.
Neil: The trouble is, for example, Pete Milligan, I only know very vaguely. You know, Pete and I know each other to say hi to, but we don’t really know each other very well. Garth Ennis and I like each other, don’ know each other well. Grant is a good friend of mine, Grant Morrison. And you know, whenever I’m in Glasgow I’d go out to dinner with Grant and, Grant’s so funny because I remember Grant. Again, I’ve known Grant now for twenty something years so I remember him. When I first met him, he was this very skinny guy, a little bit older than me, used to wear long trench coats, and had this huge muck of black hair. And that’s always how I think of him. And incredibly shy you know. You couldn’t hear for the first three years of knowing Grant, you had to lean in really close to hear what he was saying because he’s spoken in this very precise little Scottish accent very very quietly, (in Scottish accent) and it would just come out with these stories for Batman and Arkham Asylum where I got Batman in drag butt-fucking the Joker and that kind of thing they do.
NU107: (extreme laughter)
Neil: So in Singapore, this would have got you off the air, and we’d all right now be, the police would be, we’d all be on the way to jail.
NU107: We’d all be getting butt-blanked. (laughs)
Neil: That’s the kind of thing Grant would say, to be the terribly wonderfully appalling thing in a very precise Scottish accent and very very quiet. Didn’t say this isn’t Grant, Grant has begun this, shaven headed, chaos magician of the twenty first century you know, glittering creature of, and whenever I run into him, I ask him what are you doing now Grant? (In Scottish accent) Oh I’m now, you know, off to Iceland, or I’m giving these talks to major corporations on drugs and chaos magic and they’re uh, they’re paying me enormous amounts of money to come and just tell them they’re idiots. Okay.
NU107: That’s really interesting because that’s one of the common themes of Morrison’s work, is reinvention of the self. So I didn’t even know that he was... shy. I always thought—
NU107: He’s a rock star!
<NU107: --shameless in the best sense of the word.
Neil: That’s the fun of knowing all these people for so long. You know, I knew Alan Moore before he was a magician.
NU107: How did you meet him?
Neil: I remember him, how did I meet Alan Moore? I sent him, I sent Alan Moore, I sent him—
NU107: Ghastly Beyond Belief
Neil: Very good. You done your homework. I sent Alan Moore a copy of my first ever book, which was a book called Ghastly Beyond Belief, the book of science-fiction and fantasy quotations which I wrote with Kim Newman, and I was a huge fan of his and I’ve been following his work, actually gotten several jobs beneath his nose I’ve gotten several jobs over the years because he would say, who would do this. I’d say Alan Moore’s great, get Alan Moore. But fine, I had something out, I sent it to Alan, and the phone rang, and a deep noise after that, (deep voice) you bastard I just lost two days work reading your book. I just phoned up to say thank you. Really? And we were friends. It was one of those sort of incident-bonding moments and I was going to a horror convention in Burningham and I mentioned to Alan that Nancy Campbell and Clive Barker would be there. And he said I’m a fan of those but I wouldn’t really want to come unless I knew ‘em. I said I know everybody, I’ll introduce you. I turn up at the convention, I look up, there is something looking enormously like a yeti in a suit. Really nasty, red suit. I mean expensive, great leopard skin shoes, high built, and then there’s this lush of hair, erupting. And that was Alan, incredibly devised and quite possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met. I don’t know anybody, I’ve met a number of great comedians and I think that Alan is funnier. But that was before he was a magician. And I remember when, he actually hasn’t changed. But he wears more rings and, a little bit spookier now. But I do remember when he became a magician, it was his fortieth birthday and the telephone rang, and a voice said hi Neil, it’s Alan. Listen mate just phoning up to let you know that I just turned forty, and I thought you know, better have me midlife crisis early so I’m becoming a warlock.
NU107: (laughs) Grant practices magic and Alan does too, do you or?
Neil: Nah, I write. I think that’s all the magic I need.
NU107: Damn strange.
NU107: He’s one of the people who showed you how to write a comic script?
Neil: He did. I mean that sort of became rather blown up in context when people go, well Alan showed you, you know it’s as if he took me somewhere and showed me the dark secret. It was actually during that convention I turned to Alan and I said, look I don’t know, what is a comic script? I always wanted to know. Come on, let me show you. He grabbed a notebook, and wrote page one, panel one. So you write it, and then you say whatever you can see. We are all looking at a room with a man in it, and you write down everything in it that you possibly want the artist to know, and if somebody is speaking, you write their name. Luther, ow, that hurt. That’s what he says. That really hurts, do you wanna see? Meanwhile, and next pan. And that’s how you do it. And that was Alan’s, I mean comic script.
NU107: I can use this? What you just said? We’re in the same room together.
Neil: You can use that, you bring out a comic of your own. Ow that hurts. Luther’s cringing.
NU107: Well we’re going to end soon, sadly. But, okay the future. You’re doing a movie and that probably is, are you terrified or?
Neil: No, I made a short film a couple of years ago to find out what I thought of filmmaking. I made a short film about John Bolton, which in some ways is a documentary about artist John Bolton, and in some ways really isn’t. But I made it, essentially a small student film to just find out whether I liked directing. Because there are things I’m really good at, like making up stories, and there are things I’m completely crap at, like putting up shelves. And I needed to figure out. You know, is directing a film like putting up shelves or is it like making up stories? I just felt it was a lot more like making up stories. You had the power of because I say so, which was what I found frustrating when I write scripts for other people and you write a script and then you know, the point that I knew that Neverwhere, the British production of Neverwhere was doomed on CD was the point when I was talking to the costume lady. And she said, this is Doors Parker, her little, you know, pink parker. And I said but she’s gonna be wearing a big leather jacket. And the girl said yeah there’s too much leather in the show already. I thought, and in the script I wrote, she was the only person wearing any leather. And the costume lady looked at me like, you’re the writer. You know, I look after the director and we know what we’re doing. And it’s the power of because I say so. So what I love, you know what I really love, I think most of all about, you know the movie stuff is, you don’t have to like it. Nobody has to like it except me. But at least it’s what I wanted it to be. With Mirrormask, it’s a slightly different thing. Because with Mirrormask, it’s not my film. And there’s no point in it where I go, you know, that way because I say so, but I felt very much writing it, that I was just there to make, to visualize, to help Dave McKean. You know, Mirrormask is Dave McKean’s film from beginning to end. It’s his story. I got there, I got to work on him in his story, I got to part, part stuff for him, I got to put together dialogue but it’s a Dave McKean experience and that’s what that film is.
NU107: Has he done the casting already or?
Neil: Mirrormask is tied out.
NU107: I mean Death’s the nature?
Neil: Death with, it’s casting but it’s casting in that weird Hollywood way right now, which has nothing to do with, the weird Hollywood method of casting which has nothing to do with really who you wanted things and how, it had to do with, if you imagine that you need, let’s say, a hundred points in order to start your movie. You’re like collecting chips or dice or cards or something in order to start your movie, and you need a hundred of them let’s say. And you discover that you could have, actor A is 30, actor B is 40, and actor C is 50 and that gives you your hundred points and you can start casting. But you don’t really want actor A, so you want, you know you want actor B, the actor, it’s the thing of getting to the point where you can get a green light for the casting job. And that’s really a lousy way of explaining, everybody’s gonna be going, we know he makes it. But you’re trying to accumulate enough points in Hollywood to get the green light. And that’s sitting at the back control at that point. Just okay, if you want actor A, you’re going to have someone more famous here in this part. Then you go, what if I have somebody there? Sooner or later you have enough sort of oomph to get the movie actually happening.
NU107: You wrote the script for Death and you know, onwards. Was it, how, is it close to the book or did you have to expand it?
Neil: I obviously had to expand it because the joy, that was the joy of me, if you took Death: The High Cost of Living and you filmed it, you’d have a great thirty-seven minute film. Maybe forty minutes but it doesn’t get any longer than that. Because that’s as long as the serial is. So, which is why I was interested as opposed to Sandman, where the first thing you looked at is what do you draw out. You know, it’s too big. If you’ve done Sandman, you’d have a hundred hours of material.
NU107: They’re not bringing in script doctors to muddle the script I guess?
Neil: No, no. It’s just me.
NU107: Have the studios asked for anything, like to be put more girls or something like that, are they interested in concepts so far?
Neil: Not so far.
NU107: That’s great.
Neil: We had one exec, we had one exec that was quite sure that it was the next Princess Diaries but then she went away and was replaced by the guy who was the exec on Lord of the Rings who understood what exactly this was and was completely happy with it.
NU107: New Line.
Neil: It’s with New Line.
NU107: Fantastic. Thank God for small world.
NU107: Do you have a final cut in the project?
Neil: No. You get final cut on the movie when you’re
NU107: When you have a few more under your belt?
Neil: You have to be, these days you have to be more or less have to be a Stanley Kubrick to get a final cut. I’m sure, he’s there.
Neil: I’m sure Spielberg and Lucas has a final cut but there’s not a lot of directors who have final cuts. At least at Hollywood-size film, you can always have final cuts on a smaller independent or you can do what Dave McKean did, and get final cuts on Mirrormask which nobody else has a clue how to make what he did, how to do it, or possibly to change it. There’s never money to do it anyway, so.
NU107: You were talking about Death, well we were talking about it, I just remembered Mad Hettie and all of these great characters and you’ve done a lot of really fantastic characters over the years. Which one, I mean, it’s probably hard to say, it’s like saying who your favorite kid is, but do you have any characters you made that you really identify with or really love?
Neil: I think when I was writing Sandman, the characters I identified with most were probably Lucien the Librarian and Mervyn the Pumpkinhead. They were actually, in terms of identification with characters, because the lovely thing, especially Mervyn, was that he was allowed to say any of those things that I was thinking could possibly write. So those moments where you go boy, you know, Morpheus is really just being a complete pain in the neck. You know, self-pitying teenage twerp there isn’t he? I can have Mervyn Pumpkinhead come on and say great, so I see what happens, he has a broken heart, and it starts raining here and we’re the guys who get wet and we have to clean it up. That was always nice, having him around.
NU107: Well Morpheus is an interesting character in the sense that you know, he’s not really one you would really tend to like, you know. I mean you want to follow his story but he is yeah, a bit of a, you know, he always bitches about his past relationships and is giving everyone a hard time just because he’s having a hard time himself. So when you started, did you, did you know that the character would be going that way?
Neil: Oh yeah. No, I always knew that. For me the joy of him was trying to write a character who wasn’t human, who did not have a human value system, was completely in many ways self-absorbed, would always try and do the right thing if it was pointed out what the right thing was. But then had absolutely no, just didn’t have human values. And that for me was so much part of the fun.
NU107: Was DC ever scared that the character might be unlikable and you know, sort of...
Neil: Yeah, yeah yeah. No they, in the, they dumped my first outline for it and that was a big worry, would the character be liked and would be problematic and I sort of vaguely promised them that he would get a human girlfriend at some point, and they really loved that because they thought that would humanize the character, and I didn’t tell them any of the unfortunate consequences. I never told them that they would never actually see themselves. So when he actually did get a human girlfriend, it was actually between two issues and they broken up when you met them.
NU107: And he burns the other one. He sent another one to hell. (laughs)
NU107: Sandman is one of the most epic thing you’ve ever done. Still, are you planning on doing some, I mean it’s probably very exhausting to do something so long, and so drawn out but are you planning on doing another?
Neil: By the time I finished, Sandman was about eight years of my life. Nine. It was actually from the point when I started writing Sandman to the point where it finished, it was, it was a solid nine years of something that was two weeks of every month when I began and six weeks of every month by the time I finished. And at that point I promised myself that I would basically just do things I could finish by tea time for awhile. I’m not yet at the point where I want to buckle down for another, you know, decade-long building or something. In many ways, I could probably do now in prose what I did in comics if I wanted to just because we’re now at the point where, between things like the Lemony Snicket books and the Harry Potter books, and to some extent Stephen King’s Green Mile, you now have an audience that actually, a book reading audience that actually understands the nature of serial fiction. Which of course was the complete joy of doing Sandman, it was serial fiction. It came out monthly. Having said that, the thing that I love about being a novelist right now is if I get to chapter six and I suddenly realize that I needed a gun in that drawer in chapter one, I can just go back and put a gun in the drawer in chapter one and nobody ever knows that it wasn’t there in my first draft. When I was writing Sandman, it was like this incredibly complicated game of, it was like playing a game of chess while jumping out of a parachute you know, out an airplane. Because if I got to issue thirty six and the gun was not in the drawer in issue three, it couldn’t be there in issue thirty six. Because everybody had already bought and read issue two. So, you’re always building in things for the future, knowing sort of what you’re gonna do, but not quite how it would work until you got there but having to plan ahead and it was sort of a strange sort of mixture of juggling, improvisation, and incredibly skillful planning.
NU107: So none of that for awhile I guess.
Neil: It’s nice right now doing things, I’m getting rid of other things. As I said, by the time I finished Sandman, I felt like I was sorely decent at writing comics I had the idea that there are some comics I could write or at least I was very good a writing Sandman. I’m now ,I’m enjoying writing prose for a bit and I’m just getting to the point, with Anansi Boys, it’s the first one that I actually look at and I go, I think you’re a fairly decent novel. American Gods won a million awards and was everybody’s favorite book except for the people who hated it but I still wasn’t sure that it really worked. There were a lot of things I would have liked to have got better if I had five or six more years to work on it. And I didn’t. With Anansi Boys I think it’s good. It’s funny, it’s light, I wanted to write a book, especially after <>American Gods which is big and dark and gloomy. I thought it would be nice to write a book that would make people feel happier when they finished it. So it’ll be out in September.
NU107: At Fully Booked.
NU107: Fully Booked, Fully Booked. There you go. They have a lot of… Promenade, Gateway.
NU107: With a nice new store in Rockwell.
Neil: Where I signed yesterday for hour, after hour after hour after hour. And right at the end we saw a hundred people who actually hadn’t passes or anything, hanging around really patiently in the heat, and I said okay, look if we just do one, if I don’t have to personalize anything, if it’s just one signature for each of them, I would do them. So we cleaned out the people who’ve been waiting.
NU107: Yeah, last question then before we—
NU107: Ramon I think?
NU107: Go ahead.
NU107: I guess you’ve achieved so much already. What do you think is, what’s there left for you? I mean what excites you to achieve?
Neil: There’s nothing in the same way that they used to be. I don’t have that wonderful, sort of burning drive. It’s like the burning drive to get awards. When you’re a kid, and you read about things like the Nebula award or the Hugo award, it’s the coolest thing that you could ever possibly imagine and I can remember getting my first Hugo award for American Gods, and getting up there and giving a very short speech which began with a very rude word, and then me saying I got a Hugo. And it was the coolest thing that ever happened. And then I got my second Hugo for Coraline and then I got a Hugo for best short story last year. And now it’s like—
NU107: A Study in Emerald
Neil: A Study in Emerald.And now it’s like, this is really cool. I got three Hugo’s but I don’t actually have a burning desire anymore. I begun to two or maybe three Nebula awards, and I have. It’s great, and people say did you really won an Oscar or something? No, not particularly. I’ve got lots of awards that are really nice. It got to the point where my wife made me go get a special cabinet just to put them in because they were cluttering the place up and people would sit over them and stuff so now they’re going into a cabinet. There’s definitely no kind of, when I was little more than a kid working on Black Orchid and I finished writing Black Orchid I was in the early days of Sandman, maybe Sandman #1, #2, #3 at the outside I was working on, but I think I had just written #1. And I remember taking the plane to America and Dave McKean entrusted me with the art for Black Orchid to take it to America, to get it shot. And we didn’t have, there was no back-up plan. It hadn’t been scanned anywhere in England, I would always take it with me. And I thought you know, I really, I remember just being absolutely terrified, in the middle of the Atlantic when the plane would go down. And the Black Orchid arc they would never redo it, you know, they would just move on to the next thing and Sandman #1 they might bring it out they might not, but you know, nobody would really know what Sandman was going to be because even if they brought out this one comic as a memorial or whatever, that was the biggest thing I had intended, and should have been boy this would be really terrible if my whole career didn’t happen. And the plane went down. I’m not worried. These days I’m not worried when the plane it goes down. I left behind, ,you know, a shelf of really cool stuff and three cool kids. And if I wind up, this looks more really interesting stuff that I wanna do, and lots more mistakes I wanna make. And I want to screw up and I want to do interesting stuff and maybe I’ll do, you know write something original that’s just going to be an audio book and maybe I’ll do this do that. But it’s, but there’s no feeling right now of having left something huge, unfulfilled. I’m a writer, most writers around the world can’t make a living writing. I just, the hard horrible fact of the case, writers do other things because we can’t make a living. And a writer has got to spend his entire adult life, being paid for making things up, and writing them down, and people giving them awards, and I arrive at places like the Philippines, and you know, I get this sort of micro, incredibly cheerful Nurenberg rally welcome with this wall of sound and three thousand people just screaming and, people passing by going is he a rock star? No, he’s a writer. I mean how cool is that?
NU107: Yeah that’s like Beatles with Ed Sullivan. When you came in I wasn’t expecting raaah!.
Neil: So right now you have all those people hanging around the lobby. Most of them with books in hand. Maybe I’ll sign them as I go out.
NU107: If. Sorry.
Neil: No, it’s great. I’m incredibly fortunate. And I also know as I set up that rally, that most, in many ways it’s luck because I happen to write stuff that people like to read. And if they didn’t like to read it, I’d still be writing the same stuff. It’s not like I have a brilliant sense of the market place, it’s not like I was going, okay what the world really needs is Sandman, you know, twenty years ago what the world needs is this single Sandman, and then it will go huge, and then it will be ten volumes, and it will and then there’ll be this huge manga explosion and then everybody will pick up on it and then, you know, you don’t really think like that. I write the kind of stuff I like to read and that’s as simple as that. And you know with my children’s books sometimes I write the kind of books I either would have liked to read as a kid or like my kids to read. You know, it’s very very straight forward and people like to read it. If what was fashionable now was police procedurals, I’d still be writing the same stuff I write.
NU107: Or superhero comics. As you said, you have a hard time writing that sort of thing.
Neil: I’m rubbish at superheroes. I always cheat. I can, I can sort of, with Black Orchid, maybe I can do science-fiction and make it look like superheroes. And with Sandman maybe I can do cool, mythic horror weird stuff and make it look like superheroes. You know, with 1602, okay maybe I can do historical fiction and make it look like a bit like superheroes.
NU107: Okay, there you go. A lot of people texted in they just want to say that you’ve changed their lives and they’re very very happy and some of them went to your book signing and just want to say thank you for being just the nicest guy.
Neil: That was so sweet. I got on this morning and I probably had a hundred messages from people who’ve been to my book signing and all of them are the same. There were these lovely long messages saying when I got to the front of the line, I didn’t say. And then what they wanted to say when they got to the front of the line instead of breaking down into tears or squeaking can I marry you or whatever.
NU107: Thank you Mr. Neil Gaiman. Somebody texted and asking who are you interviewing? Are you interviewing David Bowie? For those who’ve just tuned in, we’re interviewing Neil Gaiman, not David Bowie.
NU107: Who has a signing yet this afternoon.
Neil: The Neil Gaiman signing, not the David Bowie signing.
NU107: Where’s the signing?
NU107: Fully Booked, Gateway. What time? 4:30, be there at the activity center right?
NU107: With three hundred people lined up.
NU107: Okay, so don’t go.
NU107: Do go, but admire from afar, and buy the books, share the love. Send your psychic messages. Mirrormask the big hard bound, it just came out, Anansi Boys coming out in September. And you can get the whole Sandman library at Fully Booked. And Neverwhere.
NU107: Thank you to Jaime Daez and Gabby Delarama and Christian Sisima of NU who made this possible.
NU107: So what’s your last song sir?
Neil: I’ve been thinking about it. I think I was gonna play “Horses” but I think by Tori because that was the saddest song but I thought actually, another song because it’s completely inappropriate in every way. “Papa was a Rodeo” by the Magnetic Fields.