A Talk With Neil Gaiman - October 1995

Sandman, one of the most critically-acclaimed comics of recent years, draws to a close this month. Content Editor Roger A. Ash recently spoke with Sandman writer Neil Gaiman about the final issue and the series as a whole.

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Westfield: What can you tell us about Batman/Wildcat?

Beau Smith: This is the first time Chuck Dixon and I have got the writing thing together since 1989 when we did the Black Terror mini-series at Eclipse. We've been dying to work together again, but, as they say in the movies, the right project hadn't come up yet. Like the Black Terror, Wildcat was one of my favorite childhood super heroes and another one that I always thought sat in the back of the bus - no one ever really gave him enough attention. If you look in the past 20 years of DC history, every time they come up with a crisis, they're trying to kill him off! They've crippled him; they've made Wildcat into a woman; they've said he died of old age; they've done a million different things and finally I said I wanna get my hooks into this character. When I was writing Guy Gardner and we came up with the bar Warriors that Guy ran, I checked around DC and said, "Hey, can I have Wildcat as the bouncer or the head of security?" And they said "yeah, sure. We haven't tried to kill him this month." So I got him over there and the main purpose of that was just to get him out of everybody else's hands and keep him safe until I could come up with something for him.

Being a boxing fan, I boxed golden gloves back in the '70s, I've always wanted to do a story about a character like Wildcat whose roots come from it. Chuck and I said, I remember those old Brave and the Bold comics where they always had Batman and Wildcat squaring off. Let's do the '90s version of that. Chuck was all up for it, so we came up with this premise through Lockup, who's this Batman villain that came up, I believe, in Batman Animated Adventures, who was almost like a toss-away villain. He wants to capture criminals and put them away. His goal is to make enough money to be able to build his own prison facility, so when he captures all these people, he'll have a place to put them and they won't get out. We also introduce a new villain in this and his name is the Fabulous Ernie Chubb. A lot of people snicker when they first hear that name. Why isn't he the Protractor, or something like that? To be honest with you, the name Ernie Chubb came up in 1983 when my son Nick was born, and like all babies in their first year, they're kinda pudgy and fat. So I used to call him the Fabulous Ernie Chubb. And every time he'd try to walk, I'd say "The Fabulous Ernie Chubb will now attempt to walk!" And Nick's into comics now, and he's 13 and when I was writing this, I said, "I gotta give this guy a name. I got it! Not only will I embarrass my now cool 13 year old, but it'll be a new and different name for a villain." Ernie Chubb is like 6 foot 10, and weighs well over 300 pounds. He's this big massive wall of a man. In most cases when you've got somebody that size, you think, this guy's a real dumbbell. The thing with Ernie Chubb is, he's a Rhodes scholar. He's as intelligent as he is strong. You're talking about a guy who can crush a cinder block in his hands. He's also got the biggest ego in the world. He is a guy who was in professional boxing. They basically banished him for life because he was way too brutal. So basically, what you're looking at is Ernie Chubb and Lockup have captured such villains as the venom induced Willis Danko, KGBeast, Killer Croc, just to mention a few, and they're making them fight in what they call The Secret Ring. The Secret Ring is this big, domed steel cage where they make them fight to the death. There's no audience there. What they do is, they put them on tape and live feed to all these decadent, rich, bored millionaires all over the world who watch this and have big parties and watch Pay For Pain so to speak. It's the gladiators taken up to the '90s. Through Oracle and Robin, they catch wind of it and Batman and Wildcat go to shut this down. The unique thing that Chuck and I wanted to do, rather than make this just a big fight fest, was to reintroduce the readers to Wildcat and also remind them just how Batman works. Both Batman and Wildcat have the same goal, but they go about it two totally different ways with the same result. Batman, who is probably the smartest mind in the DC Universe, can figure anything out. He's going through this intellectually. Wildcat's the guy who, if the door's locked, you bust it down. Batman would pick the lock. So, you've got two different versions here and you're following both of them on this pathway to this goal.

Batman and Wildcat do get captured and they are put into the ring against each other. I won't go any farther than that, because it will spoil the ending, but you will get to see Batman and Wildcat face off and there is a huge secret uncovered about Batman and Wildcat's past together. Sergio Cariello's doing the art on it and Art Thibert and Danny Miki are inking it.

Westfield: How was it working with Chuck Dixon again?

Beau: It's great. Not a lot of writers write together, you don't see that very often. Chuck and I are both too cantankerous to work hardly with anybody, but we work well with each other. What we do is, if an issue is 22 pages, we end up both writing 11 pages each, but it's not you write the first 11, I'll write the second 11, we write in sequences. And even though both of us have a general idea of where we're going, we don't tell each other what we're going to do. Chuck doesn't know until he gets my script, and I don't know what he's doing. We try to paint each other into corners, which brings out the best in us. For example, I could get these pages from Chuck and he's got Wildcat hanging by his ankles over a pit of alligators and he's blindfolded. How am I going to get out of this? I in turn do that, and then I'll leave him with Batman, Robin and Alfred are all about to fall over the waterfall in a barrel. We do this to try to bring out the best in each other, and it works really well.

Westfield: Is there any possibility of this leading to a Wildcat series?

Beau: That's what I'm hoping for. We're now basing Wildcat in Gotham City and hopefully making him a part of the Batman Universe. If the mini-series gets enough attention, we'll either follow it up with another mini-series of sorts or if it's really a lot, possibly a monthly series.

Westfield: Moving along to The Tenth, what can you tell us about that?

Beau: The Tenth in very general terms, is not a super hero book, it's not a horror book, but it has a combination of both. Tony Daniel and I want it to have the creepiness of something like Millennium or the X-Files. I'm not saying it's that type of thing, but that creepy, eerie feeling. Rhazes Dark is this wonderful Jonas Salk-like character to the world. He's built this town called Springdale which is a real retro '50s Utopia. In reality, Rhazes Dark is immortal, he's been around for thousands of years and he's as evil as sin can get. His true goal is genetic holocaust which will end up in his world domination. He's working under the guise of using nuclear radiation like no one's ever used it before. He's made great advances in curing cancer, Aids, things like that, and has built this city in the Colorado mountains where everyone in the city works for Darklon Corporation. And the waiting list for people to work for Darklon is unbelievable because in the city, you don't need money. Everything is paid for and taken care of by Darklon. If you want to go to the movies, you just show your Darklon family card and you go in. There are a few little stipulations as far as if you have someone visit you or you go out for an extended period of time, they do want information on that, but nothing that casts a shadow of being sinister. In reality, Rhazes Dark is building an underground complex where he plans on launching these nuclear bombs which will go into various large parts of the world and mutate a majority of the population into these beings that will serve him. Granted, he cannot do everybody in the world, so he has tried nine times through genetics and radiation to invent the perfect field general to lead his army to capture the rest of them who are out there. He's failed nine times because he's used, let's call them bad eggs, and most of them end up psychotic killers or having something wrong with them so that they just cannot lead. So he decides at this point he's going to have to get somebody with a spark of good, hopefully with a military background, who will be able to do this. And that is number ten, or the tenth. What he did not anticipate was the soul of this guy being basically very good and resisting it. The catch here is, if the Tenth does not have a steady flow of outside plasma into his system, he turns very sadistic, very brutal, beyond animal-like, and will destroy anything to get blood whether it's good or bad, it doesn't matter. Let's say he came across a deer in this form. He would drain it and after he had the plasma in him, he would calm back down to his semi-human form and have to live with the fact that he killed, whether it's an animal or a human, to survive and there's nothing he can do.

He ends up with two college-age girls, one whose mother is an agent for a covert part of the government that realizes what Rhazes Dark is really doing and has her in there as a scientist and she is the one who releases the Tenth from his captivity and tries to bring them down. They, of course, kill her. Now it's up to the Tenth and these two girls to try to bring Rhazes Dark down. One of the girls, Esperanza, has latent mental powers, which we won't go into completely until the regular series, but it comes in very handy. She's also the living IV for the Tenth in the fact that to keep him under control, she periodically gives parts of her blood to him and this bonds them close together. The other girl, Zerina, is really affected by this because she feels the life is being sucked out of her friend and she doesn't know how much more of this she can take. This four-issue mini-series is them trying to uncover and bring down Rhazes Dark. In the meantime, the Tenth has to go through some of the first nine soldiers that didn't turn out quite right. In the first issue we'll see Killcrow, who is one of them, who is a scarecrow-like character who uses all these crows as his transit eyes. He can send them out and what they see, he sees. They are, needless to say, meat and blood eating crows.

Westfield: Is this planned to go on as a regular series once the mini-series concludes?

Beau: We're planning on four issues then laying off probably two months and then going into a regular ongoing series.

Westfield: Is this set in the Image Universe?

Beau: At this point, we really haven't made that clear one way or the other. If we do address that, it'll be in the regular series. The possibilities are there. There are a lot of great books in the Image stable that would work with this.

Westfield: How is it working with Tony Daniel?

Beau: The book is owned by Tony and me, Tony being the majority owner. He created and pencils it and I write and develop it. This is the first project Tony's ever done that he's owned. He's very excited about it and he's doing some of the best stuff he's ever done. From my standpoint as a writer, some of the best experiences I've had have been working with Mitch Byrd, Flint Henry and Brad Gorby, and the fact that when we work on projects, we talk every day. Tony and I talk every day.

Last year at Pittsburgh Con, we were both doing the Spawn booth and he goes, "I've got all these characters, Beau, that I've had in my sketchbook for a long time. I'd really like to do something with them. When I get time and you get time, would you consider helping me develop these and then write the book?" I said, "Yeah, I'd be glad to," 'cause he's a good guy with talent and it'd be great to work with him. So a few months back when Guy Gardner ended and he finished up his work on Spawn, we both had the time and he said, "Beau, I've got these characters, what can we do to make this coherent? I've got an idea of what I want to do with them." I took Tony's ideas and developed them even further. He presented me with a skeleton and I started trying to put flesh on it. Tony and I are both really into the characterization on this. It's always nice to work with somebody who's so juiced up, and since this is Tony's first creator owned project, he is juiced. It's a lot of fun.

Westfield: You're also writing Wynonna Earp for Image. What can you tell us about that?

Beau: Wynonna Earp as a whole is my chance to do the kind of movies I've always wanted to do, only these things are in print. I get to work with the old west history, which I'm a real buff on - especially Wyatt Earp, who's one of my favorite cowboy characters. But it's a weird cross. In the first issue, we deal with trailer trash drug runnin' vampires and werewolf bikers. That's a movie right there within itself. Vampires have always been these urbane, sophisticated, Vampire Lestat-types. Now we get into these Jethro Bodine types who can go out during the day, they've got tans, and they've also got an obsession with the Andy Griffith Show. In the first issue, Bobo Delray, who is the leader of this vampire cult, kills a rival drug pusher for the simple fact that he disrespected Aunt Bea. In the second story arc, we deal with a side of organized crime that no one else has ever dealt with before - the Egyptian Mob. They've come to New York and have decided to basically take over all organized crime. To punctuate their insistence of taking everything over, they've brought over with them an ancient mummy who was one of the Pharaoh's biggest and best enforcers. So you see organized crime members killed off by a mummy assassin. So right there I've got the old Universal monster corps - the werewolf, the vampire, and the mummy - and in the third story arc, she goes to Louisiana and basically runs up against something like the Creature From the Black Lagoon, only it's the Bayou. In a new version, not exactly that of course. I would never steal. In the next story arc we're tentatively planning a crossover with my Parts Unknown characters. If you like movies like Two Days in the Valley, Fargo, From Dusk til Dawn, Near Dark, this is the series for you.

Westfield: Do you have any other projects you'd like to mention?

Beau: I've got a couple other projects at DC comin' up in late '97, I'm still doing Parts Unknown at Knight Press and a new series Ronna: Brains, Beauty, and Bullets also from Knight Press, which is based on a real person, and a couple other things that are still in the development stage.

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