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December 29, 2008

Neil Gaiman and the stuff that dreams are made of

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Neil_gaimanA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Neil Gaiman, who is one of the signature talents over the past two decades in comic books as well a writer of increasing renown for his novels and work in Hollywood.

I posted a three-part Q&A from that interview right here on Hero Complex (it began here, continued here and then finished up here) but I also used the conversation as the foundation for a feature on the 20th anniversary of "The Sandman." That feature ran (finally) this morning on the cover of the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times. It won’t have many surprises for readers who checked out the full Q&A, but here’s an excerpt for everyone else and those Gaiman die-hard fans who just can’t get enough when it comes to this sparkling storyteller.

–Geoff Boucher 

Even in casual conversation, British author Neil Gaiman sometimes sounds as if he’s narrating some dark fairy tale — his sentences slither across old stone floors or flit on gossamer wings. He also happens to live in a rambling Minnesota manse that looks, Gaiman says, as if it were "drawn by Charles Addams on a day he was feeling particularly morbid."

So it’s no surprise that fans of the fantasy novelist have whispered for years that Gaiman bears more than a passing resemblance to his signature creation, the Sandman, the spooky comic-book character that debuted 20 years ago and brought a new literary ambition to the pop medium.

"He’s a lot like me, only with an immortal’s superpowers and no sense of humor of any kind," Gaiman said. "Hmm. So in fact, he isn’t anything like me at all, but he does have very messy hair. That was a great point of correspondence between me and the character. He’s much paler than I am too."

Gaiman came up in the comic-book world, but his prowess as a storyteller took him far beyond its bordered pages. His bestselling novels "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys" helped establish his credentials with the critics, and the sly 1998 fantasy "Stardust" was adapted to the screen in 2007. His other Hollywood pursuits have included the Robert Zemeckis computer-animated epic "Beowulf" (Gaiman co-wrote the script) and the February release "Coraline," which director Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") is adapting from Gaiman’s novel for young adults.

But despite that career climb, it is the character of Sandman that follows most closely at the feet of the 48-year-old Gaiman like some staircase shadow. Far from a superhero, Sandman was a supernatural lord of dreams, going by several names, including Dream and Morpheus. In 75 monthly issues that spanned seven years, the spectral being brought readers into often nightmarish worlds like some cross between Rod Serling and one of the Christmas spooks from Dickens.

Gaiman said that he came to the premise with a sort of "1,001 Arabian Nights" motivation.

"It was an idea of trying to take something very literally: What would it be like to live in dreams? A lot of that came out of terror. I was a young writer and had never written anything monthly. I needed a story shape that could take me anywhere, because my fear was: What if I run out of stories? So I thought, ‘I will have somebody who has existed since the dawn of time, so that gives me the entirety of human history to play with for stories.’"

                                            READ THE REST OF THE STORY

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Photo of Neil Gaiman in Manhattan in 2007,  by Jennifer S. Altman for the Los Angeles Times. Photo of Alan Moore, circa 2001, in Northampton, England, shot by Graham Barclay for the Los Angeles Times.


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