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ďMad days...Ē

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.

'Stardust' panel at Comic-Con 2006 Left to right, Neil Gaiman, artist Charles Vess and†co-screenwriter Jane Goldman talk about Stardust, the movie, at Comic-Con 2006.

CCI: You premiered some stunning footage from Stardust at this summerís Comic-Con. Are you pleased with the film?

NG: 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.

CCI:† 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?

NG: (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.

CCI: And itís scheduled to be released next year?

NG: 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.

CCI: 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.

CCI:† Letís talk about a film youíve been involved with for a while. Is there anything going on with the adaptation of Death?

NG: Other 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].

CCI:† Are you still slated to direct it?

NG: 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 completely unpredictable.

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' ©2006 DC Comics

CCI: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.

CCI:† 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.

CCI: 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 or Asgard?

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?†

John Romita Jr.'s artwork on 'The Eternals' This is what Neilís talking about:
John Romita Jr.ís incredible artwork
on The Eternals.
©2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.

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.

CCI: 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?

NG:†† 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 well.

CCI:† Maybe we can get you some beach time in San Diego next year.

NG: 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.

 

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