Neil Gaiman returns to ‘Neverwhere’ (and ‘Graveyard Book’ movie?)

Nov. 29, 2011 | 9:24 a.m.
gaiman3 Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

The prolific Neil Gaiman is well known for his work in fantasy. His writing has won many awards including the Newbery Medal, the Nebula Award and the Carnegie Medal in Literature. (Jennifer S. Altman/Los Angeles Times)

1984 duranduran Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman's first book was his 1984 biography of the British band Duran Duran. (Proteus)

1988 dontpanic Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

In addition to writing for many British magazines (sometimes under pseudonyms), Gaiman wrote "Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion" about the books by Douglas Adams. (Simon & Schuster)

1987 mckeancollabs Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

In the late 1980s and early '90s, Gaiman collaborated with illustrator Dave McKean on three graphic novels. "Violent Cases," about a young boy's experience being treated by an osteopath, was released in 1987. "Signal to Noise," about a filmmaker suffering from terminal illness, was first serialized in a British magazine, then released as a graphic novel in 1992. And in 1994, "The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch" was published. The graphic novels paved the way for Gaiman to work on "Black Orchid" for DC Comics. (Escape Books; Dark Horse Comics; and Vertigo)

1988 sandman Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman made his mark in fantasy with "The Sandman" comics, which ran from 1988 to 1996. The stories chronicle the adventures of Dream, who goes by many names, including Morpheus, and rules the world of dreams. (Vertigo/DC Comics)

1990 goodomens Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman's first novel was "Good Omens," published in 1990. The comedy was a collaboration with fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett. (Guild Publications)

1993 thebooksofmagic Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

In the four-part series "The Books of Magic," first published in 1990, Neil Gaiman explores the magical places and elements in the DC Universe through a young character who has the potential to be the greatest magician in the world. (DC Comics)

1990s marvelman Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman picked up writing the Marvelman comics (released as Miracleman in the U.S.) after Alan Moore finished his run, but the publisher folded before Gaiman could finish his planned storyline. (Eclipse Comics)

1993 deaththehighcostofliving Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman's 1993 comic book miniseries "Death: The High Cost of Living" was a spinoff of his Sandman series. The books followed Dream's older sister, Death. A film version is in the works, with Guillermo del Toro reportedly attached to the project. (Vertigo Comics)

1996 neverwhere Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman wrote the teleplay for the 1996 BBC Two television series "Neverwhere," set in a magical realm called London Below. He also wrote a novelization. (BBC Books)

1999 stardust Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

In 1998, Gaiman and Charles Vess release the storybook "Stardust." The tale was then released as a traditional prose hardcover in 1999. It was then adapted for the big screen in 2007. (Avon Books; Paramount Pictures)

2001 americangods Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman's "American Gods," published in 2001, became a bestseller and earned Hugo and Nebula awards. The story followed mythical gods from across the globe who were transplanted to America when their believers immigrated. "Anansi Boys," a spinoff of "American Gods," was published in 2005, debuting at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. An HBO series based on "American Gods" has been announced for 2013. (William Morrow)

2002 coraline Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman's Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker award-winning 2002 novella "Coraline," about a girl who finds a secret doorway to another world in her new house, was made into a stop-motion film in 2009. The film was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. (Harper Collins; LAIKA)

2005 mirrormask Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman and his friend Dave McKean cowrote the screenplay for the 2005 film "MirrorMask," about a young girl from a circus family who finds herself trapped in a fantasy world. (Jim Henson Company)

2007 beowulf Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman and Roger Avary cowrote the script for the Robert Zemeckis film "Beowulf." (Paramount Pictures)

2008 graveyardbook Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

In "The Graveyard Book," published in 2008, Gaiman told his own version of "The Jungle Book." The story follows an orphaned boy who grows up in a cemetery, raised by the ghouls and beasts there. (Harper Collins)

2009 batman Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman's two-part Batman story "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" was published in 2009. (DC Comics)

2011 doctorwho Neil Gaiman returns to Neverwhere (and Graveyard Book movie?)

Gaiman wrote an episode of the long-running time travel series "Doctor Who" titled "The Doctor's Wife," about the Doctor's relationship with his only steady companion. The episode ran in the show's sixth season, starring Matt Smith as the titular character, and was well-received by fans and critics. (BBC)

The master storyteller Neil Gaiman has mapped many fantasy landscapes, but in the television miniseries “Neverwhere” he presents a dark vision of magical London that feels as close as the next Underground station. “A friend of mine’s mother described it as Narnia on the Northern Line,” Gaiman says, “and I found that to be actually incredibly accurate.”

“Neverwhere” aired in 1996 as a six-part, three-hour series on British television and now it’s reaching the U.S. in a new 15th anniversary home video collection. The story hinges on a meeting between two people and an act of kindness; a Scot named Richard Mayhew (Gary Bakewell), a businessman in London, stops one night to help an injured girl named Door (Laura Fraser) and then finds himself transported to a different version of the city that feels like a world away. The series then toggles between London Below and London Above, and Mayhew finds himself struggling to find his place in either.

“The genesis of ‘Neverwhere’ was my love of London,” Gaiman said. “Lenny Henry, the executive producer, set it into motion. I bumped into him in London and he said, ‘I want to make a fantasy TV series and my only idea is tribes of homeless people in London.’ I thought about it and I went home and I sent him a long fax. In it I said I didn’t want to do tribes of homeless people in London because I don’t want some kid who’s being abused in Liverpool running away to live on the streets of London because she’s seen how cool it is on television. So I said let’s make it a metaphor, let’s take it one stage further. If we do that, then we can take it someplace very special.”

That special place also gave Gaiman the setting where he could weave threads of cold, hard reality into his elsewhere tapestry. “I could talk about homelessness, mental illness, being lost in a big city but also talk about the power that cities have and I could do all of that while, at the same time, telling something that is a fantasy series.”

Gaiman, best known for the bookshelf success of “Coraline,” “The Graveyard Book” and “American Gods,” has a conflicted history with the “Neverwhere” series. The show was shoehorned into 30-minute episodes — the model for producers was, no surprise, “Doctor Who,” the forever hit as far as British fantasy and sci-fi — and Gaiman chafed as he watched his vision whittled down by time constraints, budget issues and creative cross-currents. The writer put out a novel of the same title to “answer” the series and present his version of “what it should have been” — but time has softened his view and he now sees what fans of the show loved when it aired.

“It’s been pleasant to revisit it and see what is there in it, and there’s a lot,” Gaiman said. “Time changes the way you see things or allows you to see things you missed.”

The 51-year-old British writer has lived in Minneapolis since 1992 and, with success across comics, film, television and novels, he has become one of the signature figures in contemporary pop culture of the fantastic. That success and the ticking of the clock on the wall have made him reflective about the gains and losses that face an author as the decades pass.

“The difference between young writers and old writers is that when you’re a young writer you may not have the craft, but you’re saying everything for the first time, so everything you’re saying is new,” Gaiman said. “As an older writer — especially if you’re an older writer like me, who never enjoys repeating himself — it gets to be much more of a trade-off. On the one hand my craft and skill is all crafty and skilly, but on the other hand I’m no longer in the glorious position where everything I say I’m saying for the first time.”

Gaiman’s creations have also reached the big screen, of course, most notably with “Stardust,” “Beowulf” and director Henry Selick’s sublime “Coraline,” but he (and his fans) have been frustrated by the lurching progress toward a film adaptation of “The Graveyard Book,” the 2008 bestseller that won Gaiman the Newbery Medal and the Carnegie Medal.  There was plenty of fanfare when Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game,” “Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles”) was announced as the director of the planned film, but the financing fell apart during an especially grim year for Gaiman.

Now the author says there’s new hope of a silver-screen life for young Nobody Owens and the spectral denizens of a London cemetery who watch over him.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say much because huge, cool, strange, interesting things have been happening in the background with ‘The Graveyard Book’ movie, but I do not believe I’m allowed to tell you any of them until official announcements, actual press releases, come out …. Suffice to say, interesting things are happening,” Gaiman said.  “I’m really pleased, too. I’m old enough, cranky enough and frankly rich enough and the thing that makes me happy these days is really good work. I took more visceral thrills in ‘Coraline’ than I did in ‘Beowulf,’ even though ‘Beowulf’ was the No. 1 movie [the week it was released] in the U.S. and around the world while ‘Coraline’ was just this little plucky trier. I was in awe of what Henry and his team did with ‘Coraline’ and stuff like that becomes more and more important to me as I get older — that the movie should be good, that I should be proud of it, that I should love it.”

Gaiman is also the writer behind “The Sandman,” the sprawling and singular DC Comics/Vertigo epic that began in January 1989 and continued for another 75 monthly issues. The tale of Morpheus, the god of dreams, would lend themselves to a surreal dark fantasy on the big screen and Gaiman has said it’s just a matter of time before it happens although now it may be going the path of television. For years, fans have been debating who might best portray the ruler of the mystic realm known as The Dreaming, with names such Christian Bale, Peter Weller, Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston rising up in the speculative swirl at different times.

“I used to love casting games, but these days I love them less and less because the Internet is so ridiculously small,” Gaiman said with a weary sigh.” All it takes for me to agree with someone on Twitter that, yes, Benedict Cumberbatch does look a lot like Morpheus and the next day I read it on every movie gossip website. It’s really strange. So I rather reluctantly bowed out of all the fun. As far as casting games, the thing that used to make sad was the people in Hollywood that would come up with something so completely inappropriate. ‘Hey Neil, it’s such-and-such from Warner Bros., and we’ve got great news; we’re going to make ‘Sandman’ and we’ve got Arnie.’ ”

The true challenge for Gaiman is picking his path as he explores the spooky mansion of his imagination. He’s created so many memorable rooms and filled them with so many memorable characters that a good chunk of his fans want him to double back and explore them again. But like Morpheus he’s more interested in moving on to the next dream and the next dreamer.

“There’s this thing I’ve been promising people for a long time, including ‘Neverwhere 2,’ because there was so much more of the story and so much more of those people’s lives that I knew and it would be a good thing at some point to go back and tell that story. But I can’t imagine myself becoming a one-novel-a-year person. And one of the things that I’ve done over the years to keep myself interested is tend to go off and do other stuff and some of it is very unlikely. That’s how I’ve learned things, too. With ‘Neverwhere,’ I look at it and it was such a huge learning process for me. I did ‘Neverwhere’ and really learned how to write screenplays and how to write television; all of the original scripts were too long, people talked too much, they talked much, much too long. It would have made a great stage play but that’s not television. I didn’t have the confidence that you could do things with a line or with a wink or a nod of the head. I was very proud a couple of days ago when my ‘Doctor Who’ episode, ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ was nominated — and lost — a British Writers Guild award. I thought, ‘That’s a wonderful thing,’ and it was ‘Neverwhere’ that taught me how to do it and do it well.”

To learn more about Neil Gaiman’s career, check out the photo gallery produced and written by Noelene Clark at the top of this post. Be sure to click the CAPTIONS ON option.

— Geoff Boucher


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9 Responses to Neil Gaiman returns to ‘Neverwhere’ (and ‘Graveyard Book’ movie?)

  1. lorna says:

    I;d have preferred the Benedict Cumberbatch name check to say he was perfect for the role (which he is) rather than just looking like Morpheus!!

  2. hmolly says:

    I used to think Benedict Cumberbatch should be Morpheus but as the Sandman project is a TV series I;d rather he focused on big feature films like Marvel's Dr Strange.

  3. Ellen B. says:

    Neverwhere is a fantastic series, of course. My friends and I have bought DVDs of it over the last several years, so I'm curious what this "new" announcement is all about?

    I'm not sure whether all American audiences will be able to appreciate it, as it has the old British SF style: special effects on an absolute shoestring budget supplemented by fantastic Shakespearean character actors and odd settings such as the British Museum and disused tube stations to give it a little more realism. In other words, making do with very little in order to tell a good story.

    Subtitles also help, unless you are used to certain Scottish and Cockney accents. But oh, the voices are such fun.

  4. china says:

    Thats hilarious that the checker thinks Benedict's surname is a swear word. If it was a choice between Benedict as Sandman or Doctor Strange then I;d go for Strange. I wouldnt want Benedict stuck in a long running US TV series. They churn out episode after episode.

  5. Randall says:

    Neil Gaiman is a lying Scientologist who gives millions to the cult. Scientology continually promotes Gaiman because he is a cash-cow. His father created a multi-million dollar vitamin business and now this goofy comics writer is plastered over their blog network. Gaiman is a hack writer who buys twitter followers and who is performing amateur theatricals with his revolting skank partner, Amanda Palmer. Gaiman is overrated and abysmal.

    • LuthienNienna says:

      Owch. Jealous much Randall? And where did you get your facks? Whackopaedia?

    • WillPowers says:

      I was neighbors with Neil Gaiman when I lived in St. Paul, MN he is not a Scientologist. His parents were, he has chosen a different path and if you read any of his works it would be evident to you the mythology of christianity that influences his work. All religions are a cult by definition- from Websters and Oxfords; cult; noun-formal religious veneration. His mother started the vitamin biz called G&G not his father, he was a real estate developer. Check your fact. You need some help with your anger issues Randall.

  6. Vim says:

    Cumberbatch would make a superb Silas in a movie version of The Graveyard Book. A vampire and a half he'd make.

  7. Neil Gaiman continues to pay Scientology

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