Exclusive Interview: Neil Gaiman on CORALINE

     February 1, 2009

Written by Silas Lesnick

There are very few people I’ve had the privilege to interview that have had me quite as anxious as Neil Gaiman, a thought that I try my best to dismiss as irrational as I step through the doorway and round the corner where the man, dressed in his trademark black, is waiting with an equally-trademark smile.

After all, through all the ins and outs of celebrity, you could make the argument that no one is quite as open and accessible as Neil. His website, www.neilgaiman.com, has featured a detailed personal blog for years, debuting long before such things were common online occurrences. Even as I sit across from him, he asks that I please wait just a moment while he updates his Twitter (www.twitter.com/neilhimself, currently at just under 18,000 followers that he eagerly corresponds with). How can someone this friendly still be so intimidating?

It is, simply, the man’s body of work and the way that it stretches above and beyond his simple, honest smile that has my heart uncharacteristically racing. When you’re face to face with a man who knows his way around words, you tend to worry that you’re going to say the wrong thing (Which, you’ll see, at one point I do).

This is the man whose “Sandman” — a series I remember discovering in middle school — is arguably the peak of what comic books can accomplish. Book after book, Neil has never failed to impress (winning, just last week, the Newbery Award for his latest, “The Graveyard Book”). Now, with the Henry Selick directed adaptation of “Coraline” hitting theaters, I finally have a chance to sit and talk with the dream king.

Some interviews are just far, far too short.

Collider: Personally, I first wanted to just thank you for using the name Silas in “The Graveyard Book”.

Neil: Are you a Silas?

Collider: I am a Silas.

Neil: Oh, that’s good!

Collider: I also only eat one thing and it’s not bananas.

Neil: (Laughs)

Collider: Congratulations on the Newbery!

Neil: Thank you! It’s so incredibly awesome.

Collider: Well, it’s a wonderful book. I immediately sent my little sister a copy after reading it.

Neil: Well, apparently, for the next couple of days they’re like gold. Any stores that had them sold out when the Newbery announcement was made and the new printing won’t hit the shops until the second printing with big Newbery stickers on them.

Collider: Moving onto “Coraline”, congratulations there. It’s a wonderful film.

Neil: Isn’t it a lovely film?

Collider: The story always reminded somewhat of “Alice in Wonderland”; This version could almost be the Jan Svankmejer version equivalent. Do you see the story as something that could stick around and have, over years and years, more adaptations?

Neil: I don’t know if, as an author, you’re ever allowed to ponder that. The joy for me with “Coraline” is watching the number of adaptations it’s already had and that it keeps getting. I mean, there’s been puppet theater. Places like Poland and Prague have been doing puppet versions of “Coraline”. There’s a musical version coming out in June with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields and the Gothic Archies doing the music. Which all sounds 180 degrees from everything that Henry [Selick] did and still sounds amazing. Coraline is played by a large, 50 year-old lady. The Other Mother is a drag queen. It just sounds awesome.

Collider: You had said, once upon a time, that you had envisioned “Coraline” as your Edward Gorey book.

Neil: I did. I had actually had plans. We had just sort of opened up very, very preliminary negotiations to find out if Gorey would be interested in illustrating it. And the day I finished it, he died. I mean literally. I finished it and the news was that Edward Gorey died.

Collider: Which is such a shame because he would have been perfect.

But the book itself has gone through a number of printed versions with the initial illustrations by Dave McKean.

Neil: One of my favorite versions — I mean, Dave McKean is a genius — but one of my favorite versions is the Japanese version. I would love to get the Japanese illustrations for “Coraline” available over here. I believe the title there technically translates as “Coraline and the Button-Eyed Witch”. But there are just these glorious little illustrations. A little slightly more-Japansese-looking girl. And they look like they were drawn by a kid. I mean, it’s a top Japanese artist, but the style she chose is like a kid’s drawing. It’s just beautiful.

Collider: That sounds amazing. Is it a strange experience for you to go around and see Coraline on billboards and posters everywhere?

Neil: Yeah. Really, really, really weird. In fact, weirder than it was seeing “Stardust” promos. Weirder than it was seeing “Beowulf” stuff.

I guess the “Stardust” stuff felt — I mean the promos, not the movie. I have a very huge soft-spot for the “Stardust” movie — But the “Stardust” promotional stuff they did never felt much like the movie and definitely felt nothing like my book. It was this very odd advertising campaign and there’s Michelle Pfieffer. There’s Robert DeNiro. It’s fine. And “Beowulf” wasn’t mine. “Beowulf” was Bob Zemeckis. That was other peoples’. But “Coraline”… The point where I’m on the street in New York and there’s a poster of the mother and father writing “Help Us” backwards on the glass, that’s my book. I remember that scene. I remember sitting there and, in my notebook, writing it out, putting the P backwards and the S backwards. I wrote it and it was there. And really, really strange. Wonderfully strange.

This is the first time I’ve ever felt like I was involved in a promotional campaign that had any imagination. It’s lovely. It’s funny and it’s strange and a world in which I get a film crew showing up at my house. They had this script where they wanted me to talk about mothers and I read it and said, “Honestly, this feels like the kind of thing that Hitchcock should have done on the set of ‘Psycho’, but it’s not really ‘Coraline’.” So I said to them, “Could we do buttons?” expecting them to go away and type it up and they said, “Could you write it?” So I sat down and wrote my script for buttons. They shoved it straight into the auto-cue for the teleprompter and I did the buttons.

Collider: There’s a million projects I have to ask you about, beginning with the “Death” movie. Is that still moving forward?

Neil: I don’t know. The biggest setback that “Death” took, honestly, was New Line being in the situation that New Line is in. “Death”, by definition, cannot go walkies. It’s a Warner Brothers project. It has to happen at Warners. We get lots of inquiries from outside and we have to say, “No, we can’t. We have to do it within Warners.” I have been waiting now and what I hear is that, what remains at Warners, still wants to do “Death”.

Collider: And you would still be directing?

Neil: I would still be on-board as director. But there’s definitely a sort of “wait and see” going on. But it would be good if it happens.

Collider: Now is that true for all of “Sandman”?

Neil: “Sandman” is different. I don’t know. I get told different things and the truth is that I have no idea where we’re at. I heard rumors that, at one point, HBO was trying to get a hold of it and trying to do a big mega-series. But until deals run through, the trouble is that, with things like that, I don’t control them. I don’t own them. And that, honestly, is one of the reasons why, when people say, “Why don’t you go back and do some new stuff for DC comics?” the answer is, “Well, because I don’t own it.” And I will do it on occasion. I’ve just been doing this wonderful Batman.

Collider: “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Neil: Aw. I’m so proud of it. You know, I don’t know whether or not what I did was any good or not, but I do know that it has gotten work out of Andy Kubert and Scott Williams that is jaw-dropping in its brilliance. I asked them to do the impossible and they gave me everything I asked for. It’s amazing.

Collider: Does it all play as a tribute to Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”

Neil: No, not at all. It’s not even my title. It was one of those things where — My title for it was just, “Batman: The End”. I don’t know how it became “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”. I didn’t object in the beginning because what Alan did with “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was he did the last “Superman” and the last “Action Comics”. That was the deal. What I’ve got to do in my story is the last episode of “Batman” and the last episode of “Detective Comics”. That’s really what it has in common with Alan’s. And what it has in common with Alan’s as well, I guess, is that Alan got to write the last Superman story. And in Alan’s last Superman story you get to go, “This would be a nice ending for Superman”. If you had to finish a Superman story — if the Mort Weisinger-era Superman had to finish, this would be a good way for him to finish. What I tried to write was something that would give that same level of satisfaction. If you’re reading the last-ever Batman story, this would be a satisfying Batman story.

Collider: There’s a frequent rumor that you’re going to be writing an episode of “Doctor Who”.

Neil: Yes, there is.

Collider: Is it going to happen?

Neil: I’ve certainly heard the rumors.

Collider: So no confirming or denying?

Neil: (Big smile) It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Collider: Well I hope I get to see it. On the same front, Neil LaBute is going to do “The Graveyard Book”

Neil: Jordan. (Laughs) There’s too many fucking Neils, I know. But honestly, it is Jordan. Neil LaBute would be really weird. That would be a very, very strange version.

Collider: Sorry, just a mental —

Neil: No, it’s okay. I’m just suddenly trying to imagine what that would be like. “Women, be quiet!”

Collider: Maybe the deal should be that anyone whose first name is Neil gets to do their own version.

Neil: That would be cool. I think we should do it. Neil Diamond’s “The Graveyard Book”. Neil Armstrong’s would be amazing. But yes, it would be cool. It will be cool. I’m very, very excited. He’s chugging away on the script. I think I’m going to get to see him in Dublin at the Dublin film festival where I’m presenting “Coraline” so I’ll find out how it’s going on his end.

Coraline hits theaters this Friday, February 6th. To check out six clips from the film, click here. To read Silas’ review of the film, click here. And to read the interview with Gaiman done by our partners at Omelete, click here.

Latest News