2006-11-03 - NOT AN INTERVIEW WITH NEIL GAIMAN by Hagai Jacobson
This piece was going to be somewhat of an interview with Neil Gaiman, based on a Q&A made for the local fandom press at Icon 2006 in Tel Aviv, held on 9-14 of October (which happens to be the Jewish holiday of Succut). And then when I went to his blog and read about how he is bored of interviews with him, I thought to myself that I should write something that if, by any chance Neil stumbles upon it, he won't skip it immediately.
A beginning of a tale usually includes some background on the relevant surroundings and the atmosphere at place; as such, I will provide some vital information regarding the circumstances of our meeting, which was not planned at all but turned out to be very enjoyable for me, and I hope left an impression on Neil, if not from me than from the entire Israeli experience.
Icon is the annual science fiction and fantasy convention (or festival, or the other way around) held during the Succut holiday in the city of Tel-Aviv Jaffa and is the joint effort of several different fan clubs (The Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, Starbase 972, The Sunnydale Embassy, The Role Playing Society, and I probably left a few out) -- and is all fan-run, all the organizations are non-profit and whatever earnings are made are saved towards future events. For several years now the convention has hosted several guests of honor from the literature and film arenas, and this year the guest of honor of the convention was no other than award-winning author Neil Gaiman.
Research and ideas
On several occasions, Neil talked about research and how his creative process works, telling the audience that he stopped having nightmares once the nightmares figured that he would wake up, all shocked from them, and then think "This might work in a story," and then scribble it down. He also told the audience that earlier today he was on a trip in Jerusalem, and afterwards he thought "This could be a place for an excellent ghost story," so it wasn't really a trip at all, it was research.
He also told the story of how he came up with the idea for his novel AMERICAN GODS, and how a much larger percentage of it is actually based on real-life facts that people believe, and that there is an entire America in the area most people on the East and West Coasts refer to as the "flyover" states that the public who gets their information from the TV is not aware of.
In regard to fan fiction, he diplomatically said that he does not read his fan fiction because if he has an idea and he read a piece of fan fiction that used that idea, he could not use it. He also brought up a story in which a fan came up to him in a convention with a story five times longer than GOOD OMENS, which told the intricate erotic relationship between the two lead characters. Needless to say, he was shocked.
Playing in the sandbox and building a tower out of cards
Neil's SANDMAN characters have been used to some extent by other creators. Some feature more prominently in stories, such as the LUCIFER comics by Mike Carey, some as background to the story, such as the Sandman's appearance during Grant Morrison's run on JLA, and some are just "a tip of the hat." When asked about his feelings about such stories and if he is consulted, he said: "I tend to be consulted, they tend to like calling me consultant, but consultant is a weak and weaselly word. Because really what it means is that you've been shown it. I remember being a consultant on the original BOOKS OF MAGIC and the point that I quit was the point that I said 'This is really crap, can you fix it?' and they said, 'no it's late,' and I said 'So it's going out like that?' So I said, 'Why are you showing this to me? Why am I spending my time giving you comments?' and they said 'Well ... you're the consultant.'" He then made the analogy of writing for DC Comics being like a kid coming to play in the sandbox where there are a lot of toys: you can play with them, and then when you leave, you leave the toys you brought with you behind so that other kids could play with them. He also used that analogy during a Q&A session in regard to his work with the Eternals, explaining that the Eternals were created by Jack Kirby in 1978 and weren't integrated very well into the Marvel Universe, and Marvel wanted Neil to fix that: "Imagine having some really cool, shiny toys in your sandbox that somebody left behind, and then some bad boys came and didn't play so nice with them, and then you come to play in the sandbox and re-paint them to be all nice and shiny again." When asked if he also regards mythologies in the same "sandbox" manner, Neil replied that he thinks of them as decks of cards, from which he tries to build a tower and sees if it will collapse.
Neil is considered to be "the closest thing literature has to a rock star." When I asked him about it, he said that he never got that one -- someone suggested it might be his wearing the shades at night. However he might deny it, Neil has a very strong following, during his stay here I met two people who are "Neil Stalkers," who follow him everywhere he goes on the globe (heck, they reached Israel with him), and whenever Neil gave signatures there was a long line waiting. Ah, and there were bosoms.
"I have no idea why the girls here are so keen about me signing their breasts," he commented in his Q&A session, and then told that in 1992, when girls started to ask him to sign their breasts or other body parts, he did it from a very long distance, "and now I just grab and sign" (while making a little pantomime in the subject). At that remark, one of the participants said that when Orson Scott Card was here, he disappointed them by saying he was a good Mormon and he couldn’t sign any body parts.
Gaiman also mentioned the Israeli fans to be the third loudest in the world (after the Philippines and Brazil), but having a unique enthusiasm that many other conventions lack. I personally think that he liked that during the opening ceremony, whenever the name "Neil Gaiman" was spoken, the crowd burst into cheers.
For his final on-stage event, Neil read from his writing, most of them unpublished selections. He was very natural on stage, asked the lights to be turned down and read to the audience short stories and poems such as "On the Day the Saucers Came," "Orange", "Blueberry Girl" (written per request from Tori Amos), my personal favorite, "Crazy Hair" (which you can see here on YouTube) and more, and between stories he kept the audience captivated with small anecdotes behind each of the stories. In the end he answered a few questions from the audience and then thanked them all for the wonderful hospitality saying that he would certainly would love to come back.
For those of you who can try and catch Neil during his current FRAGILE THINGS book tour, it is highly recommended. Those who can't can look for Neil Gaiman on youtube.com and find some videos of his lectures and readings.
Hagai Jacobson is a lifelong comics fan and longtime COMICS 101 reader living in Israel. Photos by Niv Calderon (check out his work at www.nivcalderon.com ) and Oded Sharon. The Author would like to thank Ziv Kitaro from www.sideshow.co.il for his assistance in the preparation of the article.