Often times Comic-Con can feel like a mass inundation of marketing. (Avengers! Godzilla!! Hunger Games!!! Dexter!!! Breaking Bad!!!! See! Watch! Buy!) Film and television is so omnipresent, you sometimes forget that it’s a comic convention. The actual comic-related panels tossed aside in small tiny half-filled rooms. It’s ironic that while Comic-Con has grown into a massive event like no other, the actual comic panels remain exactly as fringe as they always were. Which is why it was a breath of fresh air to watch a panel honoring one of the great comic writers, Neil Gaiman, overstuffed with zealous fans lined up for hours outside just as if they were there to see the unraveling of the new X-Men cast.
Gaiman, the genius behind The Sandman series and novels such as Stardust, American Gods and Coraline, was on hand to discuss his career, the success of his newest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the return of Morpheus & The Sandman series and the status on film adaptations of his work. For a full recap of the event, hit the jump.
The panel opened with moderator Jonathan Ross congratulating Neil Gaiman on the success of Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman’s first New York Times Best Selling Novel since Anansi Boys. Gaiman stated he had “a weird feeling” about the book’s success. It was “odd” that something so “personal” to Gaiman would become so popular. Gaiman revealed, “I was surprised by the positive reaction. I liked [Ocean at the End of the Lane] and I thought [my wife] Amanda would like it… but I thought the [reception] would be the equivalent of [people saying] ‘That’s nice – but when are you going to write another American Gods.’”
The novel began as a short story after Gaiman’s wife lyricist/composer Amanda Palmer went away to work on an album. “I’d been with [Amanda] for four years but never when she was making an album,” Gaiman said, “When I write a book, I can become very self-centered. Only the book exists… Amanda was very much the same way. I’d get an occasional [curt] text message: ‘I love you. Album’s going well.’ but not much else… I thought I’d write a short story to make her love me… and then it just kept going. She came back from making the album and I was still writing. I sent an email [soon thereafter] to my publisher: ‘I seem to have written a novel. Sorry.’”
Gaiman writes in long hand first and then types up all his novels. The “physicality of touching the paper” helps aid the writing. Each day Gaiman uses a different pen with different ink so he can know how productive he was. He keeps all his hand written treatments on a shelf in his home after he has completed the work. Gaiman was quick to note that he doesn’t like to be boxed into one label – comic book writer, adult novelist, children’s author, etc.… “People shouldn’t be able to predict what I’m going to do next,” he opined. “Shortly after I won the Newbery for The Graveyard Book, I did an interview for Sara Benincasa where I sat in a bath for an interview… A bunch of [gossip sites] ran articles with the headline ‘Famous Children’s Author in Bathing Scandal’. I thought… wait… I’m not a children’s author. Have they even read that chapter of American Gods?”
Next the conversation turned to Gaiman’s new Sandman comic, the first since 1995. Per Gaiman, the prequel has been in the works for quite awhile. At the 20th Anniversary of Sandman, Gaiman went to DC Comics and pitched the project. Unfortunately DC and he couldn’t reach an agreement; but a couple years later when new management took over, DC approached Gaiman again to return to the Sandman series.
The new edition titled The Sandman: Overture is a prequel to the series. The first issue of Sandman opens with Morpheus, the king of dreams, captured and imprisoned for seventy years in a basement. The prequel will tell how Morpheus became so weak and exhausted that he could be captured in the first place. The series will be six issues long released bimonthly. Gaiman offered the following tidbits: a) the prequel will open in 1916 and b) it will focus on the consequences depicted in Endless Nights when the very universe was conceived.
The pressure of continuing such a beloved series weighed heavily on Gaiman. “It’s genuinely scary,” the author confided, “When I wrote Sandman, I was writing to about 150,000 readers, which in of itself is a little nerve-wracking. Since then the books have sold millions of copies… Now I have twenty million people in my imagination over my shoulder…” When Gaiman started out writing he used to wonder if “[he] had any talent at all”, now that he’s become so widely praised and acknowledged, he wonders if he “still has any talent left”. The self-doubt never goes away.
Gaiman offered that the new Sandman series has not come easy for him. “There’s always the issue of repeating yourself. You come up with an idea, only to realize you’ve already done something quite similar beforehand.” The comics he said “were coming much slower than [he] would like”, but that when the book tour for The Ocean at the End of the Lane is over, he hopes “it’ll come much faster and easier.” The creative process, he said, is a combination “worrying and drinking”; adding later that his biggest worry about success now is that the “[the publishers] won’t tell me if it isn’t good enough.” Which is why Gaiman stated it’s imperative that he has a group of friends who he can send his writing to for legitimate feedback and criticism.
Finally in film adaptation news, Gaiman offered that Joe Wright is attached to direct an adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the script to which is being written now. Ron Howard is attached to direct The Graveyard Book and filming is tentatively scheduled to begin next year. In addition, John Cameron Mitchell is working on an adaptation of How To Talk To Girls At Parties. As for an American Gods TV series, Gaiman said that he still remains “hopeful” about its prospects.