Neil Gaiman is coming to speak in Chicago on Friday, and if that doesn’t ring a bell, you might be surprised to hear that this rather lanky, funny, pale, middle-aged Briton who lives sometimes in Scotland and sometimes in the Wisconsin, can fill the 3,900-seat Auditorium Theater with just her presence and a small stack of writing. Gaiman is, for the most part, a writer. Although that’s like saying Stephen King is a writer. After all these years, it’s much closer to a cultural ecosystem, bridging TV, film, comics, children’s books, adult novels, cosplay costumes, social media chats, Netflix , Amazon, DC Comics, God, Devil, Angels, Trolls, Ghosts, Fairies, Alternate Realities and Norwegians.
“I used to be a cult author,” he told me, “and I’m a cult author now, but I have a cult so large it feels like something like a smaller religion , and I think I like it that way.”
Yeah, he’s just a fantasy writer.
But then: if you haven’t read his bestseller “American Gods,” you might have caught the TV adaptation, which ran for three seasons; if you haven’t read her children’s classic “Coraline,” maybe you’ve heard of the stop-motion film version; if you haven’t read his novel “Good Omens” (with Terry Pratchett), maybe you’ve listened to the hit series; if you haven’t read his “Jungle Book”-esque “The Graveyard Book,” you might have spotted him on a list of beloved Newbery winners; If you haven’t cracked a number of “The Sandman,” the DC comic he made for three decades, you might be watching the next Netflix series.
Neil Gaiman can seem to be everywhere – one of those artists whose worldview dominates yours, or one of those artists who float forever in the corner of your eyes.
Either way, one of the reasons it constantly fills large halls is because:
It represents a creative life, well lived and within reach.
Years ago at a comic book convention, I saw a crowd of his fans moving behind him as he walked through a room. And I remember someone yelling, “Neil, where do you get your ideas? A tired question that every entertainer of average or serious fame will occasionally ask, except here a remarkable thing happened: Gaiman stopped, turned around, then responded.
We ask him that all the time, he told me recently on the phone from Scotland. That and the question of process – the dreaded question of process, which takes some form of:
“Neil, what is your process to like?”
“The answer you get depends on whether the interviewed author is tired or has a quick, prepared response,” he said. “But when someone actually asks me, I answer. I try to explain how writers come up with ideas. Because one of the things that I like the process – which is half magic enough – is to try to demystify it to a point where people could do something creative themselves. It changes lives, but people are intimidated.
His own work, after all, is a prime example of a famous artist cobbles together worlds of influences and ideas from disparate sources, choosing generously and intelligently, then applying his distinctive fingerprints to the results. Who is most artists.
A typical Neil Gaiman story, if there is one, brings together classic fairy tales, folklore, and genre bits, then replaces any antiquated language that might exist with accessible narration, and occasionally adds a contemporary setting. “American Gods” tells the story of an America where the folk legends that immigrants brought to this country were real, then pushed aside. “Coraline” is “Alice in Wonderland” told at the age of distracted parents. His 2017 bestseller “Norse Mythology” revisited the tales of Thor, Ragnarok, Loki and more with a modern ear for neglected weirdness and humor.
It created, in a very real way, what Ray Bradbury, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and others built for previous generations – a self-contained, familiar yet fresh dreamscape.
When I tell him that, you can almost hear the grimace through the phone.
He starts talking, he stops, he regroups, he goes into a long story to illustrate the other side of these comparisons: “When I was a young journalist (in the 80s in England), interviewing a lot of writers, I’ve met people from my point of view, great writers, bestselling authors and the conversation would turn to the book they didn’t publish because they were a novelist who wrote, say, horror, and couldn’t get anyone to publish his novel about the French Revolution. I said to myself, I never want to be as successful doing one thing as never doing any other. Which was difficult. Getting publishers to take adult novels seriously while I was winning awards for “Sandman” was tough. Getting ‘Coraline’ published when I was seen as an adult author was difficult.
“I love to write, but what I love more than writing is doing different things. I love being the writer who doesn’t just write one type of book. It hasn’t been the career of CS Lewis or Tolkien or JK Rowling. If I did – let’s say I wrote a new “American Gods” once a year – maybe I’d be more famous for Stephen King. bored to death and grumpy.
He arrived at this state of mind, in part, because of… Duran Duran.
As a journalist in his 20s to early 80s, he was offered the chance to write a quick biography of the band. “Who came out at the height of Duran Duran mania. I was delighted. I did it for the money. Without Google, you’d go to the BBC clippings office and ask “How much for everything in the Duran Duran stack?”. and they said ‘£60!’ and you would say ‘Great!’ and the next day they would hand over a stack of photocopies. This is how this book was written. I took my £2,000 and paid my rent and bought an electric typewriter. I was calculating the (sales) figures: if the first edition sold out, I would get £10,000 and I’ve never had £10,000 in my life. And then he sold that first impression. And a week later, the publisher involuntarily goes bankrupt. I had spent three months of my life writing a book that I wouldn’t want to read and I didn’t even have the money for it. So I thought that in the future I would only do things that would make me happy. Because then if I didn’t make the money from it, at least I would have this thing that I created. It’s the best way to write.
Decades later, as much a brand as a writer, it’s different, of course.
Especially for a speculative sci-fi/fantasy/comics/horror/dystopia writer.
He once said he longed for the days when science fiction, fantasy and superheroes were one low form, disrespectful, not taken too seriously. When he could do something as weird, dark, and risque as “Sandman” — about an existential protagonist named Dream, and his siblings (Death, Destiny, Desire, among others) visiting Earth and beyond — and say to himself that he was original and, yes, one day someone will notice what you did here.
“It was like working in the shadows back then.”
And now, “People (asking) when ‘Sandman’ was released by Netflix, and I think, listen, when Netflix releases ‘Sandman’, no one on this planet will know – don’t worry, okay? won’t sneak past you without you knowing it’s there.
Indeed, the more famous you become, the better your chances of finding work that you were doing when you were less famous. In some cases, his work, now ideal for streaming services and fantasy-hungry audiences, deserves contemporary scrutiny: “Anansi Boys,” his 2005 novel inspired by African folklore, is currently being shot. right now in an upcoming Amazon series, and so on. the production, Gaiman said, made sure to hire directors, writers, actors and crew of African and Caribbean descent.
“There are places where I (look at my older books) and I think ‘You did the right thing, Neil from the past, by writing this story at this time. You had a platform and you you used for this band. But at this point, this band, they can speak for themselves and it’s not for me to speak for them. Whereas ‘Sandman,’ he said, ‘he has well-aged in how it relates to race, gender, sexuality, and just the general feel of the world. There is less polishing.
As free as it may seem, creative life does not exist in a vacuum.
Gaiman, who hasn’t been to the United States in three years, has been wondering lately about his audience, an audience that has long felt a rich closeness to the author.
Somehow he received a response in 2020 when he was roundly criticized online (and by Scottish police and UK politicians) for breaking lockdown protocols and leaving his home in New Zealand to get away. home on the Isle of Skye, to the northwest. coast of Scotland. In a my culpaGaiman apologized on his blog, saying he had “freaked out” at being stuck in Auckland with a mountain of TV productions waiting in the UK.
Hence the biggest drawback of a creative life:
The great unfinished work, unwritten and undone, that bubbles up in your brain.
“I wish there was more of me now,” he said. “I’ve reached the point in my life where if I do something, something else won’t happen. I love doing television, adapting and building and learning how to do it. Yet, I have painfully awareness of an unfinished novel in my bag that I should be writing — instead of the other novel I’m reading. So I’m also looking forward to not doing TV so I can get back to (writing a new novel). things can be finished in the cracks. I feel proud of myself now for writing an introduction to a book. I think, ‘OK – well, at least I wrote this essay then.’ But then I realize, other than the one I wrote for a Doctor Who book, I haven’t written a short story since 2020. I forgot how much I loved that. OK, I have to do more! I will do more!
“Instead, I wrote 12 more TV episodes.”
“An Evening with Neil Gaiman” takes place at 8 p.m. May 13 at the Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive; tickets are between $73 and $96 at 312-341-2300 or www.auditoriumtheatre.org