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"American Gods won't be like anything that's ever been on television before," says cult writer Neil Gaiman, author of the novels that inspired Hollywood hits Stardust and Coraline, as well as cult comics such as Sandman, and award-winning novels.

American Gods' dark, violent story of Norse deities in business suits battling against a new race of young, cruel gods born from technology is a wilder, harder-edged sort of fantasy than HBO's hit Game of Thrones - and the book already has a fan base so devoted "they tattoo quotes from it on themselves," Gaiman admits.

The series was in development by HBO for years, but has since been picked up by Starz and acclaimed producer Bryan Fuller (behind shows such as Hannibal) – and TV pundits already hope it could be even bigger than Game of Thrones, with its dusty, Breaking Bad-esque depictions of the American underworld, and undercurrent of dark magic.

 
 

Gaiman is to executive produce the new series - and says that the age of Netflix has finally given American Gods its "moment" - with the fashion for big-budget, long-running shows perfect for his strange tale of a wandering conman, Mr Wednesday, who happens to be the Norse God Odin. Perhaps ironically, one of the young gods who Wednesday faces is Media - Goddess of television.

"Ever since the novel was published, once every year or two I would get a call from a famous film director – people you'd have heard of. They'd say, "I picked up your novel, and I think it's amazing. I just have one question. How do we turn this big, sprawling story into a movie?" That's where the conversation ends. But that's what TV series are – they're big. They're sprawling," Gaiman says. "The show is progressing the fastest, the hardest, and the best of any of my current projects – and, of course, it's the one I'm allowed to reveal least about. Everyone we are showing it to seems to want it."

Gaiman admits that he loves nothing more than defying expectations - saying that comic-book fantasy has a "terrible tendency towards adolescent power fantasies." Gaiman's worlds are dark and violent - but wish-fulfillment power-trips are rarely to be found. Gaiman's Odin is an ageing, withdrawn conman - a stark contrast to the flying, cape-wearing Thor imagined by Marvel.

"I think a lot of comics writers are aware that their audience is male. A lot of comics tend to be adolescent or pre-adolescent power fantasies. I wasn't interested in that - and I didn't think I'd be very good at it. I told the stories I wanted to read," he says.

 
 

Gaiman's novel Anansi Boys - about two children of an African spider-God is also currently in production by the BBC. Gaiman's career has seen him hop from genre to genre, and medium to medium, writing journalism and blogging, and writing everything from hugely successful comics – such as his iconic Sandman – to the novel which inspired the Hollywood fantasy hit Stardust. He has two million followers on Twitter - an experience he describes as being "like one of those odd gentlemen in Hyde Park with a megaphone."

Gaiman fans are "incredibly forgiving" he says. "Stardust is nothing like Sandman. It's nothing like American Gods. The only thing they have in common is that they're me. I'm a lucky man. At the end of last year, it got very strange, I was up for two book awards – one for the silliest children's book I've ever written, and one for the most serious adult book I've written. That's not usually allowed to happen. Stephen King isn't allowed to turn around and write The Adventures of Brock the Cuddly Badger."

Gaiman's creative ideas changed the world of comics forever in the Eighties - and helped pave the way for today's world, where most summer tentpole cinema blockbusters are comic-book characters, and ‘serious' actors vie to create new interpretations of Batman. Along with fellow Britons such as Alan Moore, the famously eccentric author of V for Vendetta and Watchmen, Gaiman helped turn comics into something adults could be seen reading.

"I had this idea comics could do something more," Gaiman says. "But I had nothing to back it up. Then suddenly Alan Moore was there, and he was doing it. It was huge for me. Watchmen changed everything."

 
 
 
 

Moore called Gaiman for advice while writing the bleak Watchmen - set against a background of nuclear paranoia, it turned superheroes into anti-heroes. It was listed on Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels, and won a Hugo and Nebula award.

Gaiman went on to win both for his Sandman series - among the first comics to be popular with both men and women, and as different from ‘standard' superheroes as possible. Death, in Gaiman's books, is a moody adolescent girl. Sandman spread, he says, from boyfriend to girlfriend – as if it was "sexually transmitted." It is still in print today. "People would always show their girlfriends The Sandman to show that comics can tell interesting stories – and when they split up, the girls get custody of the Sandman," he says.

"The day I started working for DC Comics, Alan Moore swore he would never work for them again. I called him to ask if I was making the wrong decision, and he said, ‘They're going to fly you to New York, and put you up in a hotel? Do it. Just make sure to order room service.' So I did."

Gaiman's Sandman became a huge hit for the company – and was one of the first comics to find success mainly as a series of hardback ‘graphic novels' – helping comics to sneak into ‘proper' bookshops for the first time.

Unlike the bearded, reclusive Moore – who has claimed to have magical powers, and has disowned every Hollywood adaptation of his comics, including the hits Watchmen and V for Vendetta – Gaiman mingled easily with the world outside comics shops. His first book was a biography of Duran Duran. His wife is a rock musician, Amanda Palmer.

"Writing is so much fun, but it's ridiculously lonely," Gaiman says. "I think if I hadn't had that willingness to go on stage, we wouldn't have got together. The second time I ever met her, I ended up on stage with her in Koko in Camden town, waving a tambourine and doing backing vocals. I can't sing. I can't even play a tambourine."

Gaiman's latest work is, he claims, an entirely new art form – fusing music, art, and comics.

 

"For some reason, it has not as yet been traditional for authors to go on the road with a string quartet and a bunch of paintings, and perform a short story. I've seen a huge gap in the market, and I'm intending to fill that. Giant things projected behind me, and a string quartet, and I can be with an audience," he says.

The author continues to confound expectations – he recently wrote a series of reportage articles based on refugee camps in Syria – and says he may use that experience in future novels, or comics, or even episodes of Doctor Who. He is increasingly comfortable, he says, with his role as a "voice" on the world stage, talking to two million fans at once, dozens of times a day.

"My wife lives for that moment when someone comes up to her and says, "Your music saved my life. I was about to kill myself, and one of your songs stopped me in my tracks," or whatever. For years, I used to feel shifty and awkward when people used to say, "Your Sandman story got me through the death of my son, or my mother, it got me through this place, or through my divorce." I felt guilty because I didn't write it for that. I did it because I like to tell stories. But now I don't need to apologize. What I love about my fans is that they're along for the ride. I feel that I owe them entertainment - whatever it is - that's good. That's what I do."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Feature:  

Neil Gaiman on American Gods

gaiman_main_mobile

1_quote

“American Gods won’t be like anything that’s ever been on television before,” says cult writer Neil Gaiman, author of the novels that inspired Hollywood hits Stardust and Coraline, as well as cult comics such as Sandman, and award-winning novels.

American Gods’ dark, violent story of Norse deities in business suits battling against a new race of young, cruel gods born from technology is a wilder, harder-edged sort of fantasy than HBO’s hit Game of Thrones – and the book already has a fan base so devoted “they tattoo quotes from it on themselves,” Gaiman admits.

The series was in development by HBO for years, but has since been picked up by Starz and acclaimed producer Bryan Fuller (behind shows such as Hannibal) – and TV pundits already hope it could be even bigger than Game of Thrones, with its dusty, Breaking Bad-esque depictions of the American underworld, and undercurrent of dark magic.

odin_mobile

Gaiman is to executive produce the new series – and says that the age of Netflix has finally given American Gods its “moment” – with the fashion for big-budget, long-running shows perfect for his strange tale of a wandering conman, Mr Wednesday, who happens to be the Norse God Odin. Perhaps ironically, one of the young gods who Wednesday faces is Media – Goddess of television.

“Ever since the novel was published, once every year or two I would get a call from a famous film director – people you’d have heard of. They’d say, “I picked up your novel, and I think it’s amazing. I just have one question. How do we turn this big, sprawling story into a movie?” That’s where the conversation ends. But that’s what TV series are – they’re big. They’re sprawling,” Gaiman says. “The show is progressing the fastest, the hardest, and the best of any of my current projects – and, of course, it’s the one I’m allowed to reveal least about. Everyone we are showing it to seems to want it.”

2_quote

Gaiman admits that he loves nothing more than defying expectations – saying that comic-book fantasy has a “terrible tendency towards adolescent power fantasies.” Gaiman’s worlds are dark and violent – but wish-fulfillment power-trips are rarely to be found. Gaiman’s Odin is an ageing, withdrawn conman – a stark contrast to the flying, cape-wearing Thor imagined by Marvel.

“I think a lot of comics writers are aware that their audience is male. A lot of comics tend to be adolescent or pre-adolescent power fantasies. I wasn’t interested in that – and I didn’t think I’d be very good at it. I told the stories I wanted to read,” he says.

sandman

Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys – about two children of an African spider-God is also currently in production by the BBC. Gaiman’s career has seen him hop from genre to genre, and medium to medium, writing journalism and blogging, and writing everything from hugely successful comics – such as his iconic Sandman – to the novel which inspired the Hollywood fantasy hit Stardust. He has two million followers on Twitter – an experience he describes as being “like one of those odd gentlemen in Hyde Park with a megaphone.”

Gaiman fans are “incredibly forgiving” he says. “Stardust is nothing like Sandman. It’s nothing like American Gods. The only thing they have in common is that they’re me. I’m a lucky man. At the end of last year, it got very strange, I was up for two book awards – one for the silliest children’s book I’ve ever written, and one for the most serious adult book I’ve written. That’s not usually allowed to happen. Stephen King isn’t allowed to turn around and write The Adventures of Brock the Cuddly Badger.”

Gaiman’s creative ideas changed the world of comics forever in the Eighties – and helped pave the way for today’s world, where most summer tentpole cinema blockbusters are comic-book characters, and ‘serious’ actors vie to create new interpretations of Batman. Along with fellow Britons such as Alan Moore, the famously eccentric author of V for Vendetta and Watchmen, Gaiman helped turn comics into something adults could be seen reading.

“I had this idea comics could do something more,” Gaiman says. “But I had nothing to back it up. Then suddenly Alan Moore was there, and he was doing it. It was huge for me. Watchmen changed everything.”

3_quote

Moore called Gaiman for advice while writing the bleak Watchmen – set against a background of nuclear paranoia, it turned superheroes into anti-heroes. It was listed on Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels, and won a Hugo and Nebula award.

Gaiman went on to win both for his Sandman series – among the first comics to be popular with both men and women, and as different from ‘standard’ superheroes as possible. Death, in Gaiman’s books, is a moody adolescent girl. Sandman spread, he says, from boyfriend to girlfriend – as if it was “sexually transmitted.” It is still in print today. “People would always show their girlfriends The Sandman to show that comics can tell interesting stories – and when they split up, the girls get custody of the Sandman,” he says.

“The day I started working for DC Comics, Alan Moore swore he would never work for them again. I called him to ask if I was making the wrong decision, and he said, ‘They’re going to fly you to New York, and put you up in a hotel? Do it. Just make sure to order room service.’ So I did.”

Gaiman’s Sandman became a huge hit for the company – and was one of the first comics to find success mainly as a series of hardback ‘graphic novels’ – helping comics to sneak into ‘proper’ bookshops for the first time.

Unlike the bearded, reclusive Moore – who has claimed to have magical powers, and has disowned every Hollywood adaptation of his comics, including the hits Watchmen and V for Vendetta – Gaiman mingled easily with the world outside comics shops. His first book was a biography of Duran Duran. His wife is a rock musician, Amanda Palmer.

“Writing is so much fun, but it’s ridiculously lonely,” Gaiman says. “I think if I hadn’t had that willingness to go on stage, we wouldn’t have got together. The second time I ever met her, I ended up on stage with her in Koko in Camden town, waving a tambourine and doing backing vocals. I can’t sing. I can’t even play a tambourine.”

Gaiman’s latest work is, he claims, an entirely new art form – fusing music, art, and comics.

warsaw

“For some reason, it has not as yet been traditional for authors to go on the road with a string quartet and a bunch of paintings, and perform a short story. I’ve seen a huge gap in the market, and I’m intending to fill that. Giant things projected behind me, and a string quartet, and I can be with an audience,” he says.

The author continues to confound expectations – he recently wrote a series of reportage articles based on refugee camps in Syria – and says he may use that experience in future novels, or comics, or even episodes of Doctor Who. He is increasingly comfortable, he says, with his role as a “voice” on the world stage, talking to two million fans at once, dozens of times a day.

“My wife lives for that moment when someone comes up to her and says, “Your music saved my life. I was about to kill myself, and one of your songs stopped me in my tracks,” or whatever. For years, I used to feel shifty and awkward when people used to say, “Your Sandman story got me through the death of my son, or my mother, it got me through this place, or through my divorce.” I felt guilty because I didn’t write it for that. I did it because I like to tell stories. But now I don’t need to apologize. What I love about my fans is that they’re along for the ride. I feel that I owe them entertainment – whatever it is – that’s good. That’s what I do.”

– Be sure to check out our exclusive video coverage of Comic Con 2014, where we quizzed the crowd about their juiciest internet secrets.

 
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