Thursday, July 14, 2005

Partial NU 107 Neil Gaiman Interview Transcript

Special thanks to Astrid, whose site I downloaded a copy of the radio interview, as well as the interviewers Ramon de Veyra, Erwin Romulo, and Quark Henares.

Unfortunately, my active listening skills aren’t as keen as I want them to be, hence I am not able to distinguish between the various interviewers, despite knowing them personally (well, I don’t think Quark remembers me…).

Neil: You know 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 not fit her well 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 tickets is that right?

Neil: That’s right. Michael, Holly, who’s twenty and a bit more [couldn’t understand] 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 is a much much smaller place than it used to be for a moment. 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 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 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.

NU107: Would you ever do an Archie comic?

Neil: If she told me to, I would.

NU107: Really?

NU107: Has she read The Day I Swapped My Dad?

Neil: She has, 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. And they can say Gaiman, cover, and it actually it would be Maddy, which would be much more fun.

NU107: All right. I have a fanboy question. 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, 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 is 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 Baman and out for Sandman where I got Batman in drag butt-fucking the Joker and that kind of thing they do.

NU107: (extreme laughter) NU!

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 such thing 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 himself. 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 his 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 wouldn’t really want to come unless I knew. 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 looking thin 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. And he wears more rings and, a little bit wee thinner. 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 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 his notebook, and wrote page one, panel one. So you write it, and then you say whatever you 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 pam! And that’s how you do it. And that was Alan’s, I mean comic script.

NU107: I can use this? [couldn’t hear next comment]

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 a show 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 sample with him, I got to put together dialogue but it’s a Dave McKean experience with that sort of filming.

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 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? 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 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 to film.

NU107: They’re not bringing in script doctors to muddle the script a bit?

Neil: No, no. It’s just me.

NU107: Have the studios asked for anything, like to be put more [couldn’t hear] 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 did 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 copies on the movie when you’re, you’re kinda in this position, you have to be, indeed you more or less have to be a Stanley Kubrick to get a final cut. I’m sure, I’m there.

NU107: (laughs)

Neil: I’m sure you still bag me because it is still a final cut but there’s not a lot of directors who have final cuts. At least at Hollywood by itself, 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 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 went 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 months 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 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 we must 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 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 up the people who’ve been waiting.

NU107: Fantastic.

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 first time you get an award. 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 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, Ed Sullivan. When you came in I wasn’t expecting (makes a sound, raaah!).

Neil: So right now you have all those people hanging around the lobby. Most of them with extra field books somewhere and 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 a 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 mandrake 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 do a bit of 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 sat 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, 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.

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