Saturday, July 16, 2005

Jam 88.3 Neil Gaiman Interview (with annotations)

Thanks to May Anne who posted a link from Nocturne which had an audio file of the Jam 88.3 interview.

Erin*: First of all, hi!

Neil: Hello.

Erin: So how do you like the Philippines here so far? How was it for you?

Neil: I think I probably have an odd perspective on the Philippines right now. Because while I think it’s wonderful, all I think of when I think of the Philippines is three thousand people shouting very loudly to express their enthusiasm and signing the people until 1:30 in the morning. They’re so nice, they’re so enthusiastic and they’re so terribly terribly terribly terrifyingly happy.

Erin: As you probably know by now, you have a lot of fans here. So who is your favorite writer, or what is your favorite book?

Neil: That’s such a hard one. I just bought a book in Italy that I’ve been looking for for some years and I’ve been looking for a copy called Codex Seraphina which is a book by an artist and it’s written in a language that doesn’t appear to bear any relationship to any alphabet that any human being has ever come up with and it’s filled with drawings that make no sense in a glorious way because they appear to make sense. There are plants and a people who, and things that seem some kind of wonderful book that fell here from another planet. And I’ve been looking for one for ages, I’ve heard about it and copies are very few and far between. I finally found one in a tiny bookshelf in Balonia Italy. And right now that’s my favorite book just because it could be anything. I look at the pages and I make up stories, anything that causes me to make up stories is good. But somebody in Singapore asked me if I had to run into the house to save any book, what would it be. And that was scary because I got thousands and thousands of books, many of which I love and, but I thought you know, I’m probably gonna rescue would be a book that I bought in a very old house where they had, three times a year they’d sell books absorbed converted hospital. And the old man who ran it, Mr. McCosh**, looked like Santa Claus’s anorexic older brother. Long white beard and gaze at you over his spectacles. He sold books and every single time it’ll riddle in awe and show at cubicle had been filled with shelves and put books. Three times a year the public could come in. And I was wondering around there and I found a book that was, about two feet long, one foot thick, huge thick leather cover, about a hundred and fifty years old, and when I opened it, it turned out to be like an account book. Writing business accounts in and it was numbered pages, number one to five hundred. And each page sat flat and it was this book from the 1850s and it was completely unwritten in, and I bought it promising myself one day I would write a book in it. And I haven’t dared yet, even making a mark upon the paper. I think I’d rescue that.

-commercial break-

Erin: A lot of people say Delirium was based on singer Tori Amos. Is there any other character that has been created by you that was based on anyone else that you know of?

Neil: Well you know, you sort of, you always steal little things from people. I mean Delirium, lots of people do know that Delirium is based on Tori, but that’s not actually true because I did not actually meet Tori until, I was writing I think I was in the middle of A Game of You when we actually met for the first time. But I met her, and it was like, oh my God, you’re my character! I know you! And after that, I cheerfully installed things that she said and give them to Delirium. My favorite was, once, when we were in, we met in Minneapolis and we were up in her room eating pizza sitting on the floor and she suddenly looked at me and she said, yeah we must jump up and down, up and down, and run around and around. And so we jumped up and down on the bed twenty minutes, that’s what we do. And my new novel, Anansi Boys, for example, there isn’t a character in it who’s based on my friend playing Henry***, who’s an English comedian and actor. But the novel itself wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t friends with Henry and if we hadn’t chatted and if I didn’t have his sort of voice at the back of my head. So Anansi owes a lot to him. There’s an evil agent named Graham Coats who is flat-out naughty character I ever created, who owes an awful lot to an ex-agent of mine, who was not actually as far as I can tell a particularly evil person, that was just completely useless. But there was this point when I started thinking, what if she wasn’t useless, what if she actually been doing this stuff intentionally? What if, actually she was just completely and utterly incompetent. But if she’d been evil, and if the money had been going off to the Canan Islands or something, and then I started creating this marvelous agent who was, you know, built more of his, built more of his plans facing overnight.

Erin: Last question. I’m just amazed by your writing style and how you phrase your words just right. Were most of them inspired from, when you talk to other people or do you just make them up in your head?

Neil: Mostly, they come out of my own head. Every now and then, somebody will say something wonderful and I’d remember it, and use it at the right time. In the film MirrorMask that I’ve been working on, probably the best line is actually stolen from a friend who, because it’s about a girl who works in a circus, and at one point her mother says to her, like all those kids out there, you really are ungrateful because all those kids out there, they’re watching and laughing and enjoying the circus. And she says well, I wanna run off and join real life. And that came out of a friend of mine who used to be in the circus and she told me that you know, it was easier for you people when you got to any big town because they’d run off to join real work. And I go okay, let me remember that. But mostly, the process of writing is a process of sitting and making things up and writing it down, and framing it up with a perfect line, and trying to come up with a perfect line for your character. I’m a great believer in the idea that good writing should be a simple and as elegant and used as few words and uses, you know, just be as elegant as you can possibly make it. I’ve never been a believer in using big words for the sake of impressing people. Especially because if you use big words for the sake of impressing people, you tend to do that thing where you actually wind up not quite knowing what that big word you used means and saying something that isn’t quite what you mean. Which I find a lot of American writers who have gone through their MFA’s and they are now, gone through their creative writing courses and yet reading these things, okay you don’t know what that word means. You think you do, but you’re wrong. You looked it up in a thesaurus, and it doesn’t mean that. I love the idea of communicating. I love the idea of people who, if people who read what you write are going to understand what you wrote, which I think gets even more exciting for you when you do something like a children’s book. Something like Coraline where you’re intentionally writing with a, not huge vocabulary, and you’re intentionally writing with words that, you know trust most a kid will learn while the rest of them will be a few cool words to learn and impress your brethren. But, it’s sorts of the way you deploy those words. And if you can just deploy them like, you can make people happy or you can make them cry or you can make them never forget something.

Erin: Thank you very much.

Neil: You are very welcome. Thank you.


* Also known as Nissie to her friends, Erin wrote a book review for Coraline which won her this contest. She’s cosplayed the character Death in a local convention, and her hobbies include reading, gaming, drawing, writing, web design, and stitching.

** Mr. Melvin McCosh was a bookstore owner (hence the extensive book collection) from Minneapolis. The place is actually the Svithoid Home, a former retirement home that did not have enough rest rooms which caused the health department to close it down, after which Mr. McCosh moved in. During Mr. McCosh’s residency, it was a 42-room mansion filled with stacks of books. He moved out in December 2004 and the place was demolished.

*** Referring to Lenny Henry, a friend of Neil who’s doing the audio book of Anansi Boys. He’s also won the BBC British Personality of the Year Award and the Edric Connor Inspiration to the Black People Award.

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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Philippine Neil Gaiman Writer's Forum Transcript

Aside from the twelve hours spent transcribing a tape that’s only ninety minutes long, it would have been easier on my part if I got people’s names right. But that’s not the case and I had to Google various character and author names, among other things.

The transcript is far from perfect, although I would like to extend my thanks to Ramon de Veyra, Camille Francisco, R. Jordan Santos, Carlos Navarro, Budjette Tan, Banzai Kat, Micketymoc, Wawaya, Luis Katigbak, Astrid, Jinsky, and MeAnn who helped in revising this transcript.

Those enclosed in brackets [] are personal remarks, such as [tape cut] meaning that was where the tape stopped, and there might be details which I missed during the gap.

Edit 1: Thanks to the audio file provided by Astrid on her website (link courtesy of Luis), I managed to fill in the blanks of the tape cuts, including David Hontiveros’s question.

Edit 2: Thanks to Mr. Andre Quintos’s mp3 of the forum (link courtesy of Budjette), there are some parts in the interview I’ve been able to clarify. I’ve just edited the first fifteen minutes (let’s just say some parts make more sense now), and hopefully I can get to edit everything by end of the week.

Crowd: (applause)

Neil: This continues the Filipino tradition of being the single noisiest place.

Crowd: Whooo!

Neil: You’re also the most enthusiastic and this is one of the best reception I’ve ever had.

Crowd: Whooo!

Neil: The thing is, you have to understand that different countries all react very differently. When I go to someone like Finland, where the Fins have a saying, an introvertive Fins looks at his shoes, whereas the Finnish extroverts, the mad party animals will look at your shoes for a better look at it.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I like to think that when I come on and Fins clap very politely and very quietly, they’re doing the same kind of wonderful yells that you guys do. Right, what am I doing?

Host: We’ll be here with some people on the panel who’ll be joining in for the Q&A so we hope you’ve digested your lunch. If you haven’t had your lunch maybe you could take a seat first. May we call on Ani Almario of Adarna House to join us with Ramon de Veyra. And if Erwin is here or is he still parking?

Ani: For my first song.

Crowd: (laughs)

Ani: Actually we have a list of questions here but what we really wanted to do was have the audience ask their questions for Mr. Gaiman if you could approach the mike. Okay, let’s start with the right-most. Ah okay.

Ramon: Okay so those interested in asking questions please line up at the mikes and then we’ll ask them from the right, my right my left. What was the question you wanted to ask him?

Ani: Well I wanted to ask what was your first impression of the Philippines but now I know you think we’re rowdy, noisy and you know.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Relatively okay. And incredibly enthusiastic. It’s not so much the noise although, well, there was definitely something. I was definitely rather taken aback turning up at the tent and being greeted by a wall of noise. Several thousand people, there was this definite sort of, mostly there’s this horrible feeling that a terrible mistake had been made.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: You get up on stage and they would say Neil Gaiman and somebody would say, call the other two, we thought it was Doreen Cole and they’d go huh.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: There was definitely a certain moment there.

Ani: So you didn’t know you were this big in Manila?

Neil: No, I thought I was about five nine, ten and a half.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I knew that something interesting was going on. Just as I knew something interesting was happening in Singapore, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come of all places. Mostly because I get to go backstage on my website, at, and they let me back there as long as I don’t cross or break anything. And I get to look at the numbers coming in and it tells me we have one person in from Armania this month or whatever, two people are in from Slavania. And then it has all these, normally the places that people are coming in from can be ranked according to size in country and number of English speakers or, you know it makes a certain amount of sense. I also have folk and rhymer [did I get that right?] in translation, and hugely popular in Poland of all places. Well Poland was really quick.

Ani: You’ve been there?

Neil: I went there. Are you kidding? You only discover you’re popular when you get there and you’re being followed around by television crews everywhere you go. And at one point, halfway through my first day in Poland where there were practically riots going on, I survived. Why am I big in Poland? (In Polish accent) Look you don’t know? Big authors, big foreign authors in Poland. There’s J.R.R. Tolkien followed by J.K. Rowling followed by Terry Pratchett followed by Neil Gaiman.

Crowd: (laughs) (applause)

Neil: The thing about Poland is they say, so we love big novels. Now we understand you once did comic books. Tell us about it.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Whenever I get somewhere like Singapore or Manila, they say so, do you ever worry about escaping the shadow of Sandman? Poland.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I link to Poland. And then there’s China where I’m children’s books. That’s the one thing, I can do all these different things and turn up different places but, I was going backstage at my website and seeing okay, the most people in the world technically coming from America. And then the most people in the world are technically coming from Virginia because that’s where all the people from all over the world are AOL.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Virginia IT. And then there’s England, and then going down at you number five is Singapore, by number six or number seven is the Philippines. And I thought either we have a lot of computer literate, computer savvy people who are very bored, surfing the web looking people’s blogs, or I should go on and find out.

Ani: Reading words with pictures.

Neil: Or you might be reading words with pictures, just like reading as far as I can tell. I mean if it’s, it’s part of the fun of signing for people and getting to find out who they are and what kind of mix. I was fascinated by the fact in America, and I’d say in the U.K., the gender mix is pretty much 50/50. Over here, the men were looking rather nervous and in the distinct minority.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Actually it was kind of fun, although it slowed down the signing a bit by the middle of yesterdays where you get rows of thirty or forty women and each of them would ask for a hug because the one in front got one.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And finally you get a guy, he’d say okay, manly handshake.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Kinda breaks the cycle a bit.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Said the other guy, can I have a hug?

Crowd: (laughs) Wooo!

Ani: Have you read any of the local comics books? Graphic novels?

Neil: No but I was just handed my first little stack of cool Filipino stuff including a comic I think you’ve (turns to Ramon) done.

Ramon: A ‘zine.

Ani: A ‘zine.

Neil: A ‘zine. So I’m looking forward to it. What was weird for me is growing up, of course. There were all these great Filipino artists drawing for DC. So, you know the first one I knew was Nestor Redondo.

Crowd: (applauds)

Neil: And Alfredo Alcala. These guys were like, the giants. These were the greats. And so, growing up, by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I knew the Philippines was the place where the really cool artists came from.

Crowd: (applauds)

Neil: God you’re easily satisfied.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: But it’s true. I mean these guys with these wonderful line work, was Alex Niño one of yours?

Ramon: Yes.

Neil: It’s beautiful. Maybe you didn’t know was who was actually from the Philippines because unfortunately they didn’t identify themselves and you picked it up as you went. But just really, elegant lines, a sense of beauty, a sense of proportion.

Ramon: I think Neal Adams mentioned the great Filipino artists were inspiration for the kind of, dynamic-realism, which when he went on to Batman, became inspirational as well.

Neil: Yeah, they took comic art to a different place, and they added a sense of quirkiness, a sense of beauty. When I was a kid, you sort of, there was this really weird moments especially reading Swamp Thing where Berni Wrightson was the best and then they got Nestor Redondo and half of me is going, no dammit, you shouldn’t have let it die. You should have just kidnapped Berni Wrightson and make it keep going and publish them. It’s really perfect. It really was.

Ramon: Some of the issues of Swamp Thing that made, that inspired you to write, I think some were inked by Alfredo Alcala. One of the questions is actually is what about Moore’s Swamp Thing and what inspired you to take up comics.

Neil: Okay, the question what about Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing that inspired me to take up comics. I, we have to back up a little bit. I was probably sixteen going on seventeen when I stopped reading American comics. I loved them, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything there for me anymore. Part of it was growing up. Part of it was just this weird place where, essentially adolescent male power fantasies didn’t do it for me anymore. I discovered girls, I had a band.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And I gave up maybe. No it wasn’t I didn’t like comics. I loved comics as a medium. There just wasn’t any of the stories that was there for me. And I still kept reading Will Eisner’s The Spirit which was being reprinted in Kitchen Sink and finding those because I love the stories, I love what Eisner was doing. But I’ve really given up. I was fifteen or sixteen I wanted to be a comics writer more than anything in the world, now I was going on seventeen and that was silly. But obviously comics were trivial. Then in about the year 1983, twenty two years ago, I was twenty one, twenty two years old, standing on Victoria Station in London and I noticed other comics. Like I noticed there was Swamp Thing and I lost something as a kid and I picked it up very idly and it already had two or three strikes against it because I didn’t read comics, because it was Swamp Thing and how could it possibly stand up to the amazing Berni Wrightson and stuff? And it appears to mention that it was written by a guy from England. Now I knew the English people couldn’t do comics.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Because I grew up in England and we couldn’t do comics. We couldn’t do… you knew the English couldn’t do comics. It’s like asking you know, the English people to dance.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: It’s an embarrassment for everybody. The sooner it’s over, the happier everybody is. So as I picked up the comic, I sort of looked up at the first few panels and it was Swamp Thing #22, maybe the anatomy lesson, maybe the one after that. And I loved it. This was actually, good. And I read it all the way through the end but then I put it back because I couldn’t write on it too. And so the next three months, I read Swamp Thing, each month on Victoria Station. Finally, on the fourth month, I bought my first comic and it was, and what matters is reading it on the train, I’m going this is, this is good, this is really cool. And I was hooked. It really was, just like somebody, it was like you know, an alcoholic who has happily given up booze for five, eight years suddenly being giving the bottle of you know, chateau la fete premier crew. Something like oh my God, this is alcohol! This is as good as it can be, this is great. And I was in love again. And it was that emotion, more than anything, that made me want to write comics. It was that feeling that suddenly, I was twenty three years old and I loved going down to the comic shop every month and finding out, is it in yet? And what topic was it? I was happy. And pretty soon I was buying incredible quantities of comics. It was just like an alcoholic who’s completely fallen off the wagon. And oh my god, give me that, that’s good too. I found Cerebus and I found Mage and I found, and then The Dark Knight, all these stuff had been happening when I wasn’t looking. And I just sort of, couldn’t get enough and rapidly, I’ve become the comic journalist who wrote about comics in order to persuade Forbidden Planet in London to basically give me the kind of account where I could say I’m taking this file and they’d go, oh okay. Because it was natural to face complete poverty from the streets and nothing but a comic collection.

Ani: I think we have someone who wants to ask a question.

Ian: Good afternoon Mr. Gaiman.

Neil: Hello!

Ian: My name is Ian Magaloña and I’ve collected your, I’ve collected the collected versions of Sandman since I was in college. And I would just like to ask, one question I’ve been fooling around in my head, why, could you explain to us what is the sort of undercurrent of change in the whole Sandman saga. I mean you have Delight turning to Delirium, you have Destruction quitting his post, the same for Lucifer. And just a hint over at Brief Lives, I’d just like to ask what is it, I don’t mean it in a negative way but.

Neil: I think that somebody asked me a few years ago, if I could sum up Sandman for them in fifteen words or less. And classical I looked at them aghast and said, you realize you are talking about something rather more than 2,000 pages long that took me nine years to write. And if I could have done it in fifteen words, I would have saved myself so much time and effort.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: But I was in Italy and you know they ask these questions. I said well okay. The Lord of Dreams learned that he must change or die and makes his decision. And that was, I was pleased enough with that that the following morning, on a plane out of Italy I had to write the introduction to the Endless’s Night’s I put that in. I think there’s a line in Brief Lives where Delirium has been asking for the definition of words that don’t exist. Asks Morpheus what the definition is but I think stops because does he know that time is happening. And he says change, stops everything from happening at once. I wanted to do in Sandman a story about somebody who had it to be changeless, changing. I wanted to do a story about somebody who is changed more than he knows by what’s happened to him. The Morpheus that comes out of seven years in prison in a glass cell is not really the same one who went in. He’s a little bit more fragile, a little bit more humble, and he’s changed. Although he doesn’t himself believe it. And really in many ways, everything that occurs after that is because he’s now beginning to change and the question is how much can he let himself change. So I think that’s definitely one of the themes of the giant seventy-five issue arc although the lovely thing about writing a 2000-page story over nine years is that it doesn’t have to be about one. You can have everything in there.

Ian: Thank you.

Camy: Hi I’m Camy from Nautilus Comics and I would just like to ask, because we have a lot of talented comic artists here with Gerry Alanguilan from Wasted, and Leo [Camy currently denies mentioning Leo, stating that she was referring to Gerry] who also collaborated with Leinil Francis Yu for Superman: Birthright, Wilson Tortosa of Battle of the Planets and Dennis Crisostomo of Emma Frost. Now the question here is, is it possible that you can team-up with any of these artists or anyone of them at all?

Neil: It’s certainly possible. The tone really these days is that there’s only one of me. And I’m not Grant Morrison.

Crowd: (laughs) (applauds)

Neil: That and Grant is in the books, and that he writes comics if he writes them, I don’t know. The nice thing is that if I were Grant up here and somebody said we have all these five Filipino artists and could you work with them, I’d say yeah, send them back up and set it up, and I’ve got the comics already written, when can they start working? With me, I’m gonna do one set of comics. I’ll do a comic series for Marvel next. And then after that, which is the second part of the 1602. It’s not another 1602 comic book although they are calling it that, but when I did 1602 I said I would be doing two projects. So I did 1602 and now I gonna do another one. And I think, I got an email yesterday from my editor there which makes it look like the artist is probably settled. The next project I’m probably going to be doing after that I hope will be something for Sandman’s twentieth birthday.

Crowd: Awww.

Neil: And I’m really prefer a bit to do a comic rather than another book. Doing Endless Nights was enormously fun. Anytime that you can be the first person to call the graphic novel for the New York Times Bestseller List, you’ve done something cool. But I also clarify what sort of thing this was. I wanted to do something that was simply a short story collection, and each one for the Endless. And it wasn’t really part of, the Sandman story although I put in oneSandman story that was a very very early prequel to our event just as this is sort of, which was going to be a short story collection. I think it would be fun to do something that’s an ongoing, like six comics or something for the Sandman’s birthday. So but that one I’m bringing up to start worrying about another year. The great thing also about the Sandman’s birthday is it’s slightly flexible. Because Sandman #1 was published in November 1988 with a January 1989 cover date. So we can pick either 2008 or 2009 as our twentieth birthday depending on how late I am. I plan to do it in 2008 and in 2009.

Camille: Thank you.

Neil: You’re very welcome.

Ramon: Do you already have an artist in mind already for this twentieth anniversary project?

Neil: No.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Don’t want to say.

Girl: Um..

Neil: Just talk into it.

Girl: Hi I’m [couldn’t understand name, Giggles I think her name is based from Astrid’s blog entry], I’m from Kabataan News Network. I was just going to ask, you have such a huge fan-base of, you know, fans. You know, of all sorts of ages. So how do you utilize this fan-base for the greater good?

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I really ought to, shouldn’t I? I should mobilize them. Stay where you are, you will be sent your orders.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: So far, the only times that I really tend to use it is for the greater good. It’s very weird. Bear in mind that on a normal day at home, you’re not out there so I don’t actually, I never get the sort of weird Life of Brian moment that you know, flinging open the window, looking out there’s five thousand people looking at you expectingly waiting for orders. So what I encounter is on the website and what I tend to do is where I can, and without getting really boring, I try to sort of use my blog for good and not evil.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: You know, if somebody sent something in and it’s like this update, if it’s this preach-reach thing. If it’s something where I go, you know this is a good thing I should support this. I won’t try and plug it, I’ll try plug it a couple of times for a few weeks because people don’t always come in everyday, they come in every few days. And generally the problem with this is that somebody will send me their thing saying, my friend has this amazing website, would you plug it, or my dad sells the coolest teapots in the world in his website, can you put it up. So I go, I look at them and I go, these are the coolest teapots in the world. Absolute polka dot I like too. And it lasts, I get slash-dotted. In fact, somebody once sent me, just because it amused them, the screenshot of their site. It was a bizarre, news report of some weird, hitting-with-bullet-holes incident in Seattle in the 1950s or something. And they sent me the thing and I want you to know that slash dots sent in 900 people whereas 5000 people came in from so haha, the slash-dot effect.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: But you know, that’s really all I’m doing so far. Obviously, as time goes on and my ambitions become more grandiose, I might decide it’s time to move us all on to the post-human condition. I will announce it on my blog. For the time being, I’m perfectly happy with suggesting that people make good art. ‘Cause that’s really a good thing. And offering occasional advice to would-be writers and encouraging them. And generally being sort of nice, that’s good too. Sets a good example. When I was a young journalist, I learned very rapidly that most of the people at the top of their profession were incredibly nice, incredibly sweet, incredibly helpful. The ones who weren’t were all the same creators. They were the pains in the ass. They were the ones who had to have, you know, the perrier put in the toilet before they went in.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And, uh, you know, I think I’m going to be one of the first-raters when I grow up. Because it’s going to be so much easier. So…

Crowd: (applause)

Ramon: Okay, we have another question.

Girl: Marami pong salamat.

Neil: Thank you.

Rudolph: Hi Neil, I’m Rudolph. Just curious, it’s been eleven years since you’ve done a regular monthly. Do you have any plans of making another regular monthly title, preferably for Vertigo?

Neil: No!

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I really don’t. Because when I was doing Sandman, when I started doing Sandman, it took me about two weeks a month to write a Sandman. That was fine. Then it crept up to about three weeks. Then four weeks a month about by 1992. By the time I finished it, it was a solid six weeks a month. Which is also a reason why we were getting later and later toward the end. And I spent from 1991 ran into, until about when we finished, I’d say about early 1997, 96, apologizing to people. I think it’s nine years not eleven. It’s 2005 now, so yeah, 1996. And I spent all that time apologizing to people. People came up to me, can you write a movie? We have this huge movie can you write it right now and I’d say no, I’m writing Sandman. And my agent would phone me up and she’d say, so have you any more thoughts on doing another novel. It’s been four years since you and Terry and put up Good Omens and publishers want a novel from you. And I’d say, no, I’m writing Sandman. And my daughters would say, so, my daughter at that point would say, so dad, that Coraline story you read, have you written any more of it yet? And I’d say no, I’m writing Sandman. I don’t really, it sort of engulfed my life. Writing a monthly comic, you have an enormous responsibility, not just to the readers but to everybody else working on it. But there’s your artist, he’s getting paid for drawing the pages you write. If you’re not writing them, they aren’t getting paid. Your letterer, your colorist. These are all people, the inker. These are people who just sort of depend on you to, they’re all freelance, they depend on you to pay the rent, buy the groceries. And once there’s also one where which I sort of became a little bit spoiled after not doing Sandman because, the hardest part of doing Sandman was, it was a bit like juggling, and a bit like knitting. I said on the radio this morning, if I’m writing a novel, and I get to chapter six, and I need somebody to pull a gun out of the drawer, I can have a scene, I can go back to chapter two. I just stick in the midway he opens the drawer and he sees the gun. On a monthly comic, that comic has already been on the stands and they saw the drawer was empty. And that is really frustrating as an artist. Actually like now, I got frustrated during 1602. When I plotted 1602 and the original was meant to be six thirty-six page issues. And I put it all together story-wise. And then suddenly it changed to eight twenty-two page issues. And all of the beats came in at the wrong places. And all of the things wasn’t happening right. And I wanted to be the poet that popped out in the last. You know the last issue we got extra pages but it still really wasn’t quite as long, and should have just taken two issues to do it because I couldn’t face the idea of getting this eight issue thing and we’re already up to #4 and it’s really embarrassing to turn around and say it’s actually going to be nine. So I think I’m just not quite as great for doing a monthly comic as once I was. And also, the terrible thing to say is I don’t feel like I have anything left to prove for monthly comics. I did it! I did it really well, I was really really happy with it, I won every award I could possibly win for it.

Crowd: (applause)

Neil: And what is much more important than any of the awards is the fact that here we are, what seventeen years after the first Sandman issue came out, and it’s still all in print and every year more and more people read it. And that—

Crowd: (applause)

Neil: And that’s all considering in 1997, nothing was collected. No ongoing series was collected. They never did anything comic book collected beginning to end. The Cerebus phone books haven’t come out, I think they collected Dark Knight, maybe possibly Watchmen at that point although very limited, you know, a very limited series they were only available was some kind of bizarre nature. Well it’s a pretty long note isn’t it?

Crowd: (laughs)

Rudolph: Thank you.

Neil: You’re very welcome.

Danielle: My name is Danielle, I’m editor-in-chief of Ang Aninag, the official paper of the University of the Philippines Integrated School. As a writer, I’m quite sure that at any given moment, there’s a bunch of ideas floating around in your head. But how do you know which of those ideas are good enough to put down on paper? And which ideas should stay in your head?

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Normally it’s sort of a matter of trying to figure out what has legs. And it’s a matter of knowing the difference between an idea, and sort of the notion, or an idea and something that can keep you interested. I knew, American Gods, when I started American Gods, I began it with the idea of, I was lying in bed and I thought about these two people meeting on a plane and one of them shouldn’t even have been on that plane and now he bumped up to first class and he sits down, the plane takes off, and the guy in the seat next to him turns around and says you’re late. And knows all about him. But that’s cool. I just wondered who these people were and that wasn’t all, but it was two people.

Ani: I just want to build on that question. How do you decide which one gets turned into a graphic novel, which one turns into a work of fiction, and which one turns into a children’s book?

Neil: At that point, well at that point, let’s carry on with the American Gods example. I didn’t know what it was. It might have been a comic, I thought it may be a movie ‘cause it seemed like it was moving and it was interesting, but I had that and that still wasn’t a thing. And then I had this idea about these cars that were parked out on the ice every year, they fell down when the ice melted and the idea that there was a child on each car. And I started, I axed those characters, I tried writing a few pages of it as a short story. It wasn’t there. I still didn’t know who these characters were. And then it was 1998 when I was in Iceland. And I was wandering around in a sleep-deprived state in Iceland, looking at a little museum that they had for foreigners, and it showed the voyages across, you know, wayfarer’s voyages from Iceland to Greenland and down to New England, and setting up. And I wonder if they took their gods with them. And all of a sudden, it was like dominos toppling, and I knew suddenly that okay, I knew who Wednesday was, I knew who Shadow was, I knew that this was the thing that that story about the cars parked on the ice, that was going to be part of this. And I knew that it was all coming into this storm coming, and then gods, it was really all there. I went back to my hotel, and I typed up a three-page letter to my editor and my agent saying, okay, this is my next novel, it’s got a working title, American Gods, but I know it’s going to change, and I just sort of described the opening scenes and what happened and gave them sort of the outline of the novel. And then I looked at that until I finished the novel. I was astonished at how close it was. And I knew it was a novel. It had to be a novel. It was too formless and odd that it was too big to be a film, and was also much much too long, it was going to take too long to be a comic book. Because a comic book is going to have to get people’s attention by page twenty two. Only by twenty page twenty two and there’s nothing really much that’s going to happen. Somebody was going to learn that some guy in prison was going to learn that his wife was dead. And be on his way home. And so it felt like a novel. Sometimes, as to what’s a comic and what’s a short story and what’s a novel and what’s a children’s book and what’s a film, what’s a radio play and what’s a poem, sometimes you just know. Sometimes, if its, if it feels right it’s something. Sometimes I’m wrong. I remember there was one thing I was sure was a poem. And I had like five goes at it as a poem and then said screw it, did it as a short story and it was great. Sometimes, the trouble is, probably there are questions I probably could have answered much more accurate and intelligently ten years ago because ten years ago, I was still thinking about it. Now I’m, there’s stuff that I do or I’ve been doing it so long that I feel like I’m one of these master craftsman or whatever who, you say that was really good. How did you get that chair to turn over like that? You go, well, you just put it on, you just like turn it around, and then there’s your chair there. It’s done. Here, look I’ll do it again. Chair, put it in, there you go, you have a chair-ling. Anybody could do it. Anybody could do it if you’ve been doing it for fifty years and you know, you do it by feel. I wound up doing one of these the other day for somebody for a TV outline where some friends of mine had written an outline for the first episode of a TV series, and the people in America that hated it, and they asked me if I could sort of try rewriting it, taking the story idea and making it work. And I did. I put it together, sent it off, and everybody loved it, and if you ask me what did I do, most of it was just trying to keep it interesting, running a little test would this would interest me if I was watching TV or would I turn over. As long as I can keep you know, are these characters all, do they seem to be in the same story? Are they, do they all want something? Or be interested? Do we care? ‘Cause I know unless I care about what’s happening nobody else will. So I’m not sure that it’s, I can’t say to you that people I do turns up as sort of a blue glow around it and it’s going to be a children’s book. On the other hand, sometimes if you have an idea that you go wow, it’s going to be about swapping your dad for two goldfish, you go that’s probably not a thick mid-life crisis novel. It’s going to be a children’s book.

Erwin: The girl in blue.

Sunny: Hi, I’m Sunny!

Neil: Hello!

Sunny: My concern for you is this novel, Anansi Boys, you mentioned that you just took Mr. Nancy from there and put him into American Gods. So what finally made you write Anansi Boys?

Neil: Ummm,, actually, that’s a good question. And for everybody who wasn’t at the giant micro-nuremberg rally we had the other day, the thing about Anansi Boys, the new novel, isn’t really a sequel to American Gods. It’s true to say that I actually borrowed Mr. Nancy from the as-yet-unwritten Anansi Boys and put him into American Gods because I thought it would be fun to put him in and he dies at the beginning of Anansi Boys so I borrow a character from another book. But the thing that actually made me write it was originally, I always thought, again this is actually a lot later on, when I had the idea for Anansi Boys, I thought maybe it was a film. And I tried writing a few scenes on it and they weren’t really good, and it didn’t work, it wasn’t ready. It was like you know, it was like a dish that hadn’t quite gelled or something. So I put it away and went to other things, and then I went back to it at least a couple of times, tried to doodle it out. Again, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. And then I have this idea that it’s probably a novella. It was probably going to be about 18,000 words story. And I met my new editor, my old editor had been to New York at HarperCollins, Jennifer Grell had just left and been replaced by, hang on, Jennifer Hershey had just left and been replaced by Jennifer Grell. In New York all the editors are called Jennifer.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And so we also had a get-to-know-you lunch and it was rather awkward because this is, at my, Hershey had been my editor since 1997 and now it’s 2002 and I’m rather nervously meeting somebody else who’s going to be my editor, we’re having a Greek lunch during Book Expo America. And she said, what kind of things you think you’re doing next? And I said I think probably the next thing that I do might actually be a book of three novellas. Because there’s a Neverwhere novella where I want to write, about how the Marquis got his coat back. And there’s a Stardust novella that I could write, which is called Hellflier, about these people coming to hell in a hot air balloon. And I could do this Anansi Boys thing as well, and I think that’s probably a novella and that’s kind of I suppose technically something I wrote one of each, it would be a novella. What’s Anansi Boys about? So I started to tell her the story. And I sort of got going and I got to the end of it, and she said that’s a novel. And I said really? And she said yes, that’s a novel. I said I don’t think it’s long enough to be a novel. She said it’s a novel.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I said okay. And that was going to be the next novel. And so I did finish 1602, I finished Endless Nights, and started Anansi Boys.

Sunny: Thank you.

Neil: Thank you.

Kristina: Good afternoon my name is Kristine Balanque, I read a review. I actually came across a comment once that your full body of work, your contributions to graphic novels in general, were one of the reasons why graphic novels in general right now are taking a turn for the more overtly literary. So I don’t really know what to make of it, so I’m actually passing on the burden to you, what do you think of that comment? Because for me it’s something under...

Neil: I suspect that whether I’ve existed or not, we’d still be more or less in the place that we’re in right now. I think that, you know, I think really Alan Moore honestly deserves the credit for literary comics. If it wasn’t for Alan, nobody would have actually thought oh my gosh, you can do this stuff right now. He really was the first because, I think that it’s, when I set out to write comics, I’ve been a journalist, and I’ve been a journalist who would try to get his editors to let me write about comics but they wouldn’t. Every now and then, I’d get to do one big article on comics. Which was a time-out and at the last moment they came back to me and they got somebody else, they put like some dancer on the cover and the editor, when I run into them in London, he still says we should have put Watchmen on the cover and I said yes, we should have. There’s Sunday Times magazine where I need to write about comics, where I do this article where I interview Frank Miller, and Dave Sim. And I’m sent all these cool material. And they call me up, no actually they don’t call me up, I phone them up about two weeks later, I said that I haven’t heard anything from you. They said yes, that article you did. I have a sort of problem with it. I said, tell me the problem. I’m sure I could fix it. He said yes, I think your article in comics lacks balance. I said well, in what way does it lack balance? He said well, these comics, you seem to think they’re a good thing.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And I said yes, I do, and I don’t think I can accept the kind of balance you obviously need. And he said, well we’ll pay you a kill-fee then. And I go, the check that was for me at that point was a large amount of money and I would quite happily have not been paid had the article run. Because I did think comics were a good thing, I really do. And it was like being, it was like a novelist being told that books, that novels were, you know, you need balance. You need people saying why are they reading novels when they could be playing football?

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Or that films are inherently bad. Sturgeon’s law, Theodore Sturgeon said that 90% of science-fiction is crap but then 90% of everything is crap. 90% of everything is crap but I had this feeling he was very hard to identify with 10% of comics. At that point it was good, so when I became a good writer of comics, one of the things I wanted to do was write the kind of comics on the whole would persuade, would sit there in that 10% and helped to persuade idiot editors, and librarians, and booksellers, and those people. Yeah, it’s real.

Kristina: Thank you very much for clarifying a lot of things.

Crowd: (applause)

Erwin: To Joey of Twisted Halo.

Crowd: (applause)

Joey: I’m really just a fan. I’d really like to know if there’s hope for us to find out like what happened Christmas Clair [can anyone shed light on this, probably didn’t hear it right], or what happened to Delight. Or what happened to Thessaly Marcus. Or we can go back on those themes like on the 20th Sandman or anytime soon, because I’m a big fan and I really want to know what happened!

Crowd: (applause)

Neil: I probably would but the other problem that, one of the problems with writing Sandman is as you probably saw from the Endless Nights that was considered a ten-page story that I did for Miguelanxo Prado, the Heart of the Star, is all very well to go back and actually clarify, actually give somebody the answer to one of the things I have my questions that will always open up three or four other questions. So while I might very well go in and tell you the story of Eleanor or the story of what happened when Delight become Delirium or whatever, and it would have answered those questions, I don’t think that anything will leave all questions tied up. Because that’s part of the fun. And honestly, I like it that people wonder, I like it that people get to, there’s a level of which I almost feel people are contributing to Sandman on a level that’s much more interesting than sort of writing Morpheus/Corinthian slash or whatever. That they eventually sort of wonder about these stuff, that they got their own stories about how Delight became Delirium. I think that’s cool.

Joey: Thank you very much.

Neil: You’re very welcome.

Crowd: (applause)

Franchesca: Good afternoon Mr. Gaiman, I’m Franchesca Illinois. I think this question would help a lot of aspiring writers and or graphic novelists present here. Now as a writer and a graphic novelist, what was probably the greatest obstacle that you faced, one that almost made you give up?

Neil: I think, the biggest obstacle I faced as a writer was, again, I think was the, not doing it. Everything else pales in comparison to believing myself a writer and not writing. Because I would have died believing that I was probably a writer, but never knowing. Having said that, what would have been the biggest obstacle since then? I don’t honestly know if there was one because mostly I figured that it was all up to me. The great thing about being a writer is that nobody does it for you. There’s nothing there. When I started, I did one thing that looking back was incredibly sensible, and which I recommend to any of you who are starting out fiction writers. Which is I just became a journalist. And I became a journalist by the express method of getting up one morning and saying, you know, every story that I send out just comes back. And the children’s book that I wrote just comes back to me. Either I have no talent, which I do not choose to believe, or I just need to know how the world works. I want to understand publishing, I want to understand the world. I need to know. And I got up the next morning and said right, I’m a journalist. And I got on the phone to a bunch of magazines and started pitching stories. I’m pitching them my news, I’m pitching them interviews. At once one of them said yes to an interview. I called up the publisher and said I’m from so and so magazine, give me an interview with this person and they said, oh okay. And suddenly I was doing interviews and within a couple of months I had a career as a journalist. And that was incredibly useful because I got to understand how publishing worked. I understood publishing magazines, I understood book publishing as I was doing a lot of stuff with publishers. I understood the mechanics of it and being a journalist you learn a lot of wonderful things about, for example the economy. People would say to me how I got so good at doing, speech and comics where you only have thirty five words in any word balloon and a lot of that came from the times that I was a journalist and transcribing interviews, and then having to take a 6000-word transcription and turning it into a 3000-word article. And you’re trying to get it down to how do people’s speech patterns work so you can get an idea of how they talk without actually using their words. That kind of thing. So that, I think that was a big obstacle, sending out stuff but they just kept on coming back. You know, you’re collecting the rejection slips. And then deciding to not bother with that anymore and to do it my own way instead, which ended.

Franchesca: Thank you.

May Anne: Good afternoon, I’m May Anne. Your fans of Sandman and your other works, and some of these fans are inspired to write or draw something and I’ve heard some authors about their views on fanfiction. I would like to know, what’s your view on fanfiction and do you believe that it is a futile exercise on the writer’s creativity?

Neil: No, I think there’s nothing futile about creativity, ever. And you know, I know I made a joke about Morpheus/Corinthian slash but I’m sure that’s an exercise of creativity too. It’s clear, I tend to avoid the subject of fanfiction where possible only because I have learned that there are no right answers. I was once asked from my website by somebody who wrote in and said I want to be a professional writer, currently I’m writing fanfiction, do you think this is a good idea or not? And I wrote a whole article about how cool I thought fanfiction was, how creative it was, and the terrific stuff that have come out of fanfiction, and I finished talking to this guy who just said he wanted to become a professional writer but was doing fanfiction. I said but you are going to have to bear in mind that one day, once you finally do it, the training wheels are going to have to come off the bike and one day you’re going to have to write your own stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been so deluged with hate mail. That one paragraph got quoted on everybody’s livejournal, on everybody’s thing, and everybody agreed that I was mean, and evil, and stupid.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I got email informing me that fanfiction was the highest possible aspiration, that I was a glorified fanfiction writer, that I did not, and it went on, and on, and on. And just because I had said one day, the training wheels have to come off your bike. He did ask me if this was a good way to become a professional writer. It wasn’t a) is it good to do fanfiction or whatever. Every now and then, I’d still get snotty email from people whose seen that paragraph quoted on someone’s livejournal and have decided to turn me off. At which point I decided I was better off than them and everybody doing fanfiction was mad. But, that’s not true, please don’t quote this on your livejournal.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: I think there’s nothing at all wrong with playing in other people’s playground. It’s fun. It was part of the joy of doing DC comics stuff for me. People still say, so in the early days of Sandman, DC comics must have made you put in the Justice League or John Constantine. Well, I wanted to put them in. It was fun. I got to play in their sandbox. So I got very bored really quickly, but really frustrated once you started, you know, I’d write a scene with the Joker and be told no, he’d just thrown himself in the Hudson River and is believed dead and we’re not putting him in comics for eight months, do you want to make him the Scarecrow? I go, okay. But that’s not the way to run a railroad so you mix up your men. I just won the Hugo award for best short story for a Sherlock Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft fiction. If that is not fanfiction, I don’t know what is. I think it’s fine. Anything that exercises creativity is good. I do think that if you want to become a professional writer, one day you’re going to have to move on. Please don’t tell anybody I said that on your livejournal.

May Anne: Thank you very much.

Andrew: My name is Andrew, and I’m going to ask a question which follows up on other people’s questions, but probably there are a lot of young writers here and I just want to ask, what’s your advice for young writers in terms of learning the craft, work ethic.

Neil: That’s a really good question. Okay, advice for writers. One, read everything you can. And read the stuff that has nothing to do with the stuff you like to read. Read out, if you just like romance or you just like horror or you just like fantasy or whatever, don’t just read that. Read other stuff. Read anything you can get your hands on. Nonfiction is particularly good because you don’t actually wind up normally getting ideas or good fiction from fiction. You get it from weird histories, you get it from biography, you get it from, you know you pick up a book called Lives of the Great Financiers. Suddenly you find peculiar anecdotes, oh that’s so cool. The first story, no not the first story, the second story I ever got published back when, just the fact that I got a piece of fiction published meant more to me than anything else in the world. I’ve never allowed it to be reprinted, but it was initially I cut the decent bits in it but it was my redoing as a fantasy story, Poncy the great conman when he sold the Eiffel Tower to a bunch of scrap metal dealers and I read that as a fantasy. And it was the first story that I did. This is good. I just have something over here. This is okay. So that’s the first thing is read everything if you want to be a writer, just like if you want to be a good film maker, watch everything. Steal from everyone.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Write. Learn how to write. You do it by, somebody once said you got a million words of shit inside you and you better get them out on the table. And that’s true. You start with your million words of shit. Assume that you’re not going to strike gold in the beginning. I remember reading an article about some of the guys like Robert Sheckley, the American science-fiction writers in the 50’s, they wanted to be writers, they had a rule that they had to write twenty pages a day. And it got. Even if they just had an idea for a story, they just had to write twenty pages. And part of me thinks that’s absolutely mad and stupid. A part of me sort of admires it. I’ve never done that, but setting yourself page counts is really good. I do have a rule which I would commit to all of you, that when I sit down to write, I’m allowed to do one of two things. I’m allowed to not do anything, or I’m allowed to write. And that’s a really useful rule, and I actually got that from Daniel Pinkwater, the American children’s writer. It’s a really good rule for an aspiring writer, especially these days when computers are entertainment systems, are the Internet, are everything, and that’s your typewriter too. So unplug your computer from the Internet so that nobody can send you an urgent email while you’re writing. And deflect your log book. Or grab a pen and a piece of paper because that’s great too and if you drop it, the words will still be there. Which may not be true for your computer.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And help yourself a few, that you can, you know you could have spent the day, spend an hour a day maybe, each day when you can sit there in front of it and you’re allowed to either write, or not do anything. And trust me, sitting there not doing anything gets so boring by five minutes you’re ready to write. If you’re not allowed to be interrupted by a game of solitaire, or instant messenging your friends, or whatever, then you have no other option. It’s astonishing how much writing you can get done. Anansi Boys I got written but this stuff wasn’t happening, there was too much noise, too many people calling me, too many people wanting to talk to me. And finally, I started going down to my local coffee shop. Every afternoon, I’d go in there and order a cup of the worst tea you have ever drunk, sit in a corner with a notebook and I’d just write. And that was how the book got written.

Andrew: Thank you.

Neil: You’re very welcome.

David: Hi, my name is David. First of all, thank you for the elegance of your writing.

Neil: You’re very welcome.

David: And for keeping myth alive for my generation and the generation after.

Neil: I think that myth is much more resilient, myth doesn’t need me.

Crowd: (laughs)

David: My question is you explored the Alice in Wonderland template in Coraline, in Neverwhere, in Mirrormask, and a part of it in A Game of You. What is it about the idea of an ordinary person jumping to an extraordinary world, fascinating for you that is recurring in your body of work.

Neil: The biggest problem with being an author with a body of work, and I am now guilty of authoring a long enough collection to have a body of work on my name. If people can actually look behind and look, you look back at it all and see things. While you are so convinced that everything is so different from everything else that no, the next one you do will completely astonish everyone and then you’ll look back, oh damn, fix in to the whole platform. Alice in Wonderland was one of those things that I more or less knew by heart by the time I was seven. I could quote poems from Alice by the time I was seven. I read it over and over and over. And it seems to be a perfectly logical, you know, it has an ongoing Alice Through the Looking Glass particularly, which is, the way stories ought to be. And I often find that, I’ve gone back and done stuff that’s s a little more Alice-y than I thought it was. With Coraline it was very overt. In Coraline, I actually did the conversation with the cat as a sort of a little homage to Lewis Caroll, where the cat is explained to have, well you know, people have names because we don’t know who we are but cats don’t have names because they know who they are. And well, there isn’t anything essentially a quote from Carol but it was the kind of book that he would have written. But again, why, as soon as you write it, and others like you look back and ah! there's a thing.

Crowd: (laughs)

David: Thank you.

Guy: [Identifies himself as Micketymoc] Hi, I won’t say who I am because I’m supposed to be at work.

Neil: (laughs) Quick, quick yell, give me a quick yell if you have to be at work or at school.

Crowd: (yells) (applauds)

Neil: The entire economy of the Philippines is exploding.

Guy: I do have a question. Most writers have these kind of traditions which they, like some writers have been known to have rotten apples in their drawers, or write only facing a certain direction. Do you have a tradition of your own, or certain conditions of your own that you set yourself before you write.

Neil: If I’m doing a novel, I love to have fountain pens. I like having two different colors of ink, say purple and brown or brown and green, or something like that, and a couple of different fountain pens. And that way, each day I know a pen, like the red pen or the green pen with the green, and that way I can tell how much I wrote each day at a glance within that fountain pen. And I really like writing, I really like notebooks, and I really like fountain pens. That’s for novels. And that’s mostly to try and stop myself writing novels on the computer because I’m very very aware that when I write on a computer, there’s no difference between a first and second draft, what you get is an ongoing and improving first draft. And very often an ongoing and improving and expanded first draft that appears, when you have a good idea you just add it in. The great thing about doing a drafted handwriting for me is that because I’m not a huge fan of typing, it’s alright, I can type. I’m the fastest hunt-and-peck typists I have. But because it doesn’t delight me in any way, if I get to a bit that I wrote that’s rubbish, I’m not going to type it in. If I get to three pages, you know, that’s all crap, I’ll skip to page four. And I like that because if I typed it in, I would have tried to fix it. I would have done something to keep it, I would have worked it over. And I, back in about 1987, I edited my first anthology of short stories. And those short stories that came in were 3,000-word short stories. In ’96 I edited my second anthology. But people were using computers and all the stories that came in were 6,000- to 9,000-word short stories with 3,000 word plots. And I thought you know, this is all because everyone’s using computers and I’m guilty of it too. Stories just sort of bloat a little bit because you never delete. Why delete when you can fix and right something else. So, but that’s pretty much it for my rituals. And honestly if somebody says go write on the computer I do. And I always write scripts on computers because I like Final Draft, the scriptwriting program. So it’s quicker to work on that when it is going to do first draft on something anyway.

Guy: Thanks a lot.

Michael: Hi good afternoon my name is Michael Geiss [did I get the last name right?] from Summit Magazine and I’m confident saying my name because I’m with my boss right now. Anyway you seem to have lots of projects in your hands right now, you have a couple of strips in the works and a book you’ve just finished in your tour around the world. I was just thinking how does your family cope with it, and I’d just like to ask what in the world’s in the British water system because there’s you, there’s Alan Moore, there’s Grant, there’s Frank, I figure there’s something in your water that you’re keeping from the rest of the world.

Neil: I think, well what I keep on waiting for is the next generation of young English writers to come along. I want, the ones who, there’s Grant and Alan and Pete Milligan and Jaime and I who are long in the tooth now. You know our hair is growing. In fact Grant Morrison’s head God knows what color it is. And Alan could be any color underneath it. So we’re all getting old and I think we need a new generation of young English writers to come along and maybe it won’t be a generation of young English writers, maybe it’ll be a generation of young Filipino writers. I think that what you had, what produced Alan and Jaime Delano, Grant Morrison, me, you had a generation that had grown up reading American comics but reading American comics has this strange sort of postcards from this mythical world. They weren’t archives, they weren’t, we were fans but you knew you were being a fan of something strange and alien created by other people in another culture. And you sort of added that stuff in to whatever you happened to be interested in, whether it was seventeenth century enlightenment poetry or old magical writings or avant garde drama or whatever. There was sort of a level on which, you just, comics was something we all sort of happened to believe was a really cool medium in a place where not a lot had been done yet. Novels are intimidated. I put a novel on the shelf, it’s up on the same shelf as Jane Austen’s novel, as Charles Dickinson’s novel, as Thomas Pynchon’s novels. It’s up there, people have been writing novels, people have only been calling them novels for three hundred years but they’ve been writing novels now for about a thousand years and these are the really good ones. That’s really intimidating. But we’ve only been doing comics for about a hundred years and most of it is rubbish.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: It’s not just rubbish, there’s so much that nobody had done. So the joy of writing something like Sandman or even writing something like Mr. Punch was the feeling that I was taking my machete and heading off into the jungle. This was absolutely unknown territory. Nobody had done this in comics and I got to be the first one and if I made an idiot of myself, I made an idiot of myself. I didn’t care ‘cause nobody had done that before.

Erwin: Okay we just have time for two more questions. That gentleman over there and maybe there, so sorry, because he has to go to Gateway in Fully Booked.

Crowd: Awww.

Erwin: So if you want to ask him any more questions you can do so at his blog, or you can go to Gateway and see if you can squeeze in once there. Sorry.

Neil: What a nasty.

Guy: Hi. I was wondering if…[Couldn’t hear what he was mumbling, something about movies.]

Neil: I normally write one for the books would you believe but maybe I get to see one maybe every twelve years these days.

Guy: My question is, having fantasies enter the mainstream film like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy movies, wouldn’t it be more successful than being ingrained in fictional pop culture than other like genre like science-fiction, which is due to extreme exposure through Star Wars trilogy or is there a chance of overexposure?

Neil: I always thought that Star Wars was a fantasy series anyway. You know the fact that it says a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. I sort of okay. Do I think is there a danger of overexposure? Possibly, I mean what it is a danger of is more of the Sturgeon effect. You know, is, that was the 10% good stuff and people need to bear the 90% crap, which is as equal as a bunch of crap SF calling Star Wars. You know, Space Hunter or Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. 3D! But I think that, I think that fantasy is part of the discourse now. I think that fantasy now has become part of the cultural landscape. I think the world of which Susanna Clarke’s novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel can become an international best-seller is a world in which fantasy has already penetrated the heads of people in a way that I never dreamed of as a kid. So I think, honestly I think it’s a good thing. I like genre. But what I even like more than genre is the idea that people could use some of the tropes and the pictures and the images and the themes of a genre to tell their own stories with. I don’t think you have to be stuck using fantasy but go and use anything you want for fantasy. It’s all up for grabs. Have fun with it, that’s what I think. The last question. Okay, you know this must be a really good question.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: You can’t ask a mediocre question, you have to ask the startling question. This is the right way we’re going. I don’t want to sort of make you feel you have an awful lot of responsibility.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: Just pretend I didn’t say anything. Just go ahead with your question.

Girl: Well thank you very much. Anyway my question is more of from a writer to a writer. More of an aspiring writer to one as successful in giving us entertainment and inspiration. Most of your characters are very whimsical. I’m three quarters through Stardust and there’s no single character there who’s serious. And to think that there you transformed Death from this sickle-wielding dude into a babe, is something. I was wondering if those were inspired by people around you and if they come after you after you did those characters.

Neil: Nobody has ever identified themselves from a short story, from any character I’ve ever done, except for one short story I did years ago about a guy and his girlfriend, and every single ex-girlfriend of mine quote and quote said that’s me isn’t it?

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: And I said yes.

Crowd: (laughs) (applauds)

Neil: I think the process of being a writer, you are always stealing people. You steal people that you meet at the bus stop. There’s a guy I saw when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, and I was on a bus, and I think in my head was the Warty Man because his skin was covered, he’s the nearest to an alien I’ve ever seen. Every inch of his skin was covered with these weird, bumpy warts and he sat there alone at the back of the bus. And I stared at the Warty Man and one day, I put the Warty Man into a story because he just sits there and the story never comes along. Yet for me to write needed him in it. So one day I put him and what it’s going to be like to go through New York your entire life knowing that people are going to sort of terrified of you and weirded out by you and you look like an alien. You sort of do that with characters too and you do that with everything. I loved, but you do it in a sort off-handed way. There’s that guy called Graham Hilts in Anansi Boys who’s actually, in some ways, as things goes on becomes one of the nastiest characters I’ve ever written. Incredibly bad to the bone and just gets worse as the book continues. And Graham Hilts was inspired, in many ways, by an agent, a former agent of mine.

Crowd: (laughs)

Neil: He’s an agent and he’s deathly ripping off his clients. As far as I know he didn’t rip me off. She nearly had the single-most inept of book-keepers and staff that was. It got to the point, sort of, you know sighing I don’t really care if this is evil or stupidity, I’m off and at one point she forgot to send me any money first a year or so and that contraption that never send them off in thirty days, I think you and I need to be completely separated and you have a choice, either I call the police or we never work together again and she said we’ll never work together again and I said that’s good. But, the actual character of Graham Hilts is actually taken from a couple of nice people that I knew, like speaking in cliché’s was from a terribly nice co-producer I knew who’d just would speak in cliché’s. Absolutely she’d come in, so another day another dollar? Every cloud has a silver lining. No use crying over spilled milk. The rest of it you sort of screw it yourself. Because that’s what characters also do. It’s the moment that you, whether you’re stealing a character from life or from a beat, or just growing up in a squiggle, the moment that they walk down a corridor and do something, they’re themselves and from that point on you follow what they do and trust the character. And you try report what actually happened rather than making stuff up. There’s often a weird point in the novel where you suddenly go you’re waking us up. And you try to avoid that if that means not stopping for the evening and just thinking about it or turning it over in your head ‘til you go to sleep and do that. Because what you want to write is that thing where you go this is what happened. When someone says why did that happen, you say I have no idea. But that’s what happened in the book.

Girl: Thank you very much.

Neil: You’re very very welcome.

Crowd: (applause)

[Neil is congratulated and handed a plaque of appreciation.]

Neil: I’d like to thank all of you for this incredible position. I had no idea what to expect from the Philippines, and would also like to thank the British Council for their hospitality, they’re doing an incredibly good job in telling the world what stuff Britain is doing and expanding and getting English culture out there and obviously you need a little bit more Brit culture in your lives. And I’d just like to say thank you.

Crowd: (applause)


Ramon de Veyra’s blog:
Camy’s blog:
Andrew’s blog:
May Anne’s livejournal:
Gerry Alanguilan’s blog:
Micketymoc’s blog:

Wawaya’s blog:
Banzai Cat’s blog:
Luis’s blog:
Astrid’s blog: