Comic-Conís 2007 special guest list spotlights Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is a very busy man. This fall
alone sees the release of Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
(published by William Morrow) and the much-anticipated Absolute Sandman,
featuring fully remastered versions of the classic DC/Vertigo comics
series in deluxe hardcover treatment. The Eternals miniseries from
Marvel Comics, written by Neil and drawn by John Romita Jr.,
continues its six-issue run. And 2007 is shaping up to be the year of Neil
Gaiman films, with three of them due out: Stardust, based on the illustrated
novel by Neil and Charles Vess, directed by Matthew Vaughn; Beowulf,
adapted by Neil and Roger Avary, directed by Robert Zemeckis; and Coraline,
based on the childrenís book by Neil illustrated by Dave McKean, which is
being directed by Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach). Neil will
be a talking about all those projects as a special guest at Comic-Con 2007.
Left to right, Neil Gaiman, artist Charles Vess and†co-screenwriter Jane
Goldman talk about Stardust, the movie, at Comic-Con 2006.
premiered some stunning footage from Stardust at this summerís Comic-Con. Are you pleased
with the film?
So far, yes. I mean I havenít seen it cut together yet, and thereís no special
effects yet or music. But everything Iíve seen Iíve been happy with. It looks
like a remarkable piece of work.
You have three films coming out in 2007. Beowulf is a story passed
down through the ages, and the very impressive list of talent involved with
this film includes Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, and Robert Zemeckis, to
name a few. What compelled you to become involved in this adaptation?
(It started in) 1998, with director Roger Avary, also a writer.† Very briefly,
Roger had been involved in one of the incarnations of the Sandman movie
that didnít happen, and while that hadnít happened, we kind of hit it off
and we liked each other.
So, we were talking on the phone
one day, and he mentioned that heíd always wanted to do a film of Beowulf
but hadnít figured out how to get from, essentially, Act 2 to Act 3. And I
said ďOh, thatís easy, I know how you do that one.Ē And he said, ďHow?Ē and
I told him and he asked when I was free.
I then went out with Roger to Mexico
and we wrote the script for Beowulf, which Roger was then meant to
make. Then it rapidly got set up by Robert Zemeckisí company, and then it
never happened, for a number of reasons.
As time passed, eventually Roger got
the rights back, and he was ready to go and set up the film as a sort of little
live-action $25 million film when the phone rang and it was Robert Zemeckis
and Steve Bing saying Robert really wanted the script and wanted to do it
as a giant CGI movie. That of course interested both of us, and then they
started offering us wheelbarrows full of money and we started to see the attraction
that we missed earlier. Which is true, but there was a level on which Roger
had sometimes said the only people he would let Beowulf go for would
be if Terry Gilliam or Bob Zemeckis themselves had wanted to do it. And Bob
really wanted to. Eventually, what we did was we said yes, we flew in to Santa
Barbara, and had long meetings which was just us
and Bob sitting around the table and figuring out how weíre going to turn
what had been a live-action script into an animated movie. Which
in Bobís head, at that point, was going to resemble an animated sort of Frank
Frazetta movie.† So that was the plan at that point.
They shot it November 2005, with
actors in motion capture suits with this amazing cast. And I, of course, was
on tour for Anansi Boys and missed almost all of it. I got down there
for a couple of days and got to meet Ray Winston and Angelina Jolie and Crispin
Glover and got to see Angelina and Crispin performing, and Crispin is quite
remarkable. He is the best possible Grendel. Nobody else acts like that.
It takes two years from shooting
to release, and in a couple of monthsí time, Roger and I will go back to Santa
Barbara to see the film as it currently exists and see if there are any changes
or rewrites and weíll do it then.
And itís scheduled to be released next year?
Yes, it will be out on November 22, 2007. Next yearís big
Thanksgiving movie.† I donít know if people are going to like it or
not, but I do know that you wonít be able to miss it. This is going to be,
I think, the first really big adult animated film released by a major motion
picture house [Paramount] with a full promotional budget. I mean, it will
be PG-13 or R. So, just from that perspective, I think itís really special
and Iím very happy to be involved.
Coraline, your childrenís book with Dave McKean, is being adapted into
an animated film with director Henry Selick. Do you think this particular
book worked better as an animated film?
NG: This is one of those things where before the book was even published, Henry
Selick read it, because my agent read it and sent a copy over to Henry, who
was a friend, and said to him that he thought heíd want to see it. And Henry
just loved it, bought it immediately, and took a couple of years to decide
if it was going to be live action or animated. Itís going to be stop motion,
and itís Henryís script.
Heís got a lovely little cast including
[Dawn] French & [Jennifer] Saunders, Dakota Fanning, Ian McShane, and
Terri Hatcher, who plays the Other Mother, and songs by They Might Be Giants.
Letís talk about a film youíve been involved with for a while. Is there anything
going on with the adaptation of Death?
than it appears to be on again, it began life at Warner Bros., and wandered
over to New Line, and now seems to have wandered back to Warnerís. Guillermo
del Toro is now working as executive producer on it, and
heís determined that it will [be made].
Are you still slated to direct it?
Thatís the plan. I very much hope it happens. I donít know. The thing Iíve
learned about Hollywood is that [things] either happen or they donít. And
when they do happen, itís almost always in a way that surprises you and is
Stardust happened because
Claudia Schiffer loves the books and Matthew Vaughn (her husband) walked off
X-Men 3 because he didnít think the script was ready and he felt like
he wanted to make a film in the UK. So I think those two things meant that
he was very ready to do something fast and that was what he wanted to do.
Absolute Sandman affords the opportunity to make a very popular series
even better. How involved are you in the project, and how do you feel about
what youíve seen so far?
NG: I have a copy of it on my table, and itís far and away the most beautiful
thing that I think Iíve ever seen. Itís absolutely, astonishingly gorgeous.
Itís hard to explain how gorgeous it is to be holding one. And itís
600 pages long and its shiny paper and we got to recolor almost all of it.
We didnít recolor the two stories at the end because we liked themóthere wasnít
anything to fix. But we recolored the first 18 issues. I mean it was lovely,
itís just this big, remarkable, rather intimidating book.
[People ask] whatís your favorite
Sandman book and in the past I could say ďWell, A Game of YouĒ or whatever.
But now itís Absolute Sandman Volume I.
How many volumes will it be in?
NG:†Four, I believe, coming out over the next three years.
Originally I was the one being kind of grumpy about that, saying
itís really slow and why canít we move faster on it. Except that
recoloring takes time, and I believe Colleen Doran wants to recolor
one of her stories, and thereís little fixes we get to make all
the way through. I mean itís quite lovely.
You seem to be very comfortable writing about gods in your novels,
and right now youíre playing with one of Jack Kirbyís sets of gods
with The Eternals. Any urge to visit Kirbyís Fourth World
NG: No, not really. Because they were Kirbyís, and they
were wonderful. With The Eternals, I was given a very specific mission
by Joe Quesada. And it was a fun sort of mission. The mission was: ďWe have
The Eternals, Jack created them, [and] immediately after that they were sort
of folded rather ham-handedly into the Marvel Universe, and theyíve been part
of the Marvel Universe ever since, except not really, and not very well. And
would you be interested in taking those characters and making it so we all
remember why we loved them?Ē
The problem with folding the Kirby
characters into the Marvel Universe is that the entire rationale for the Eternals
is these are the people who inspire the tales of gods. The deviants are what
people believe to be demons. Which is all very well, except
youíre in a universe that really does have demons, and really does have gods.
So how would you make these characters interesting and seeing that pulling
them back out of the Marvel Universe was not an option because over the last
30 years the things that Jack created in The Eternals have become part
and parcel of the Marvel Universe?†
This is what Neilís talking about:
John Romita Jr.ís incredible artwork
on The Eternals.
The game then became, okay, letís
reinvent this, letís try to get it closer to what Jack created while making
it work so that when I finish issue 6, people will be able to say ďOh, thatís
who the Eternals are, theyíre not gods, and theyíre not superheroes, theyíre
these things. We understand what they do and what part they have in the universe.Ē
And itís been really fun.
I have to say the other part that
is amazingly fun, although Iím driving the poor guy
nuts, is working with John Romita Jr., which is just amazing. I mean, I give
him things to draw and he gives them back and Iím like ďWhoa.Ē I love the
fact that I can make impossible things to draw and then he draws them, and
that is amazing. I mean, really impossible things
to draw. Iíll describe things to him and then Iíll get them back and Iíll
think ďOh my god, thatís kind of what I was thinking of, only itís cooler.Ē
So thatís really wonderful. Iíve just seen pencils for number 4 and thereís
stuff in it that absolutely drops jaws. Great fun.
Itís almost impossible to picture a busier time than right now and 2007 for
you. But whatís on the horizon beyond the next year or so?
Oh god, I donít know. I have these mad plans for some kind of holiday or break
or something like where maybe I go and sit on the beach and I donít bring
the phone. I mean the trouble is I say that, and then in reality I do what
I did last year, when I went off with the family on a Christmas holiday and
we went off to the Caribbean and I had two days of ďLook at me Iím on holiday,
look at me Iím on holiday,Ē and then by day three I found a notebook that
I hadnít known that I brought with me so I started sitting on the beach writing
a short story and spent the rest of the time very, very happily mostly sitting
on my deck chair writing this story. So maybe I donít really holiday terribly
Maybe we can get you some beach time in San Diego next year.
Oh, itíll never happen. To be honest I have no idea what will happen between
now and then. I know Iím sort of nightmarishly busy now, and I would like
to be significantly less nightmarishly busy.
Iím fascinated by the way San Diegoís grown. I still
think of myself as a young comics person, like I
havenít really been around compared to my elders and my seniors when I came
on to the scene. And yet I remember my first San Diego, which was 1989, and
there were, I believe, 15,000 people there, and I remember thinking this one
was a bit big. There was an awful lot of people.
Now I remember that convention in
its little area, which wasnít even the big convention center, and being there
and it being all sort of 1989, and it being just a few of us and it being
about comics. And I look at the convention that exists now and the last three
times Iíve come in, film companies have flown me in, Iíve done a panel and
gone away again.
Which is the main
reason I decided to do the proper guest spot next year. Otherwise Iíll
be on a panel for a movie which will be a wonderful thing, but that will be
my entire trip to San Diego. And there will be people going ďOh,
Gaiman...doesnít he ever stop and sign things?Ē
So I think at least this time I can
stop and sign things.