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.

Westfield: What can you tell us about Sandman #75?

Gaiman: Sandman #75 is the last one. It's The Tempest. It's being drawn by Charles Vess. Midsummer Night's Dream, Sandman #19, was the story of a performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. This is the story about the act of writing The Tempest, which was the second of the plays that Shakespeare wrote for Sandman.

Westfield: Many folks will probably see this as a sequel to Midsummer Night's Dream. Since that story was so well accepted, do you feel any pressure to live up to that issue?

Gaiman: Oh yes. Actually, it's quite terrifying. The only way I can write it is to forget that. I mean, there was this issue that went out and won every award known to man or beast. One of the ways that makes it easier to do it is that it's not the second in a series, it's the third in a series. The first, of course, was Hob Gadling's Men of Good Fortune, in which the Shakespeare/Sandman deal was struck for two plays. So I was under the obligation to turn out both of them. The other thing, oddly enough, that makes it even scarier for me, is that I always figured The Tempest would be the last of all the Sandman stories, and I've known that since Sandman #12. I always thought it would be interesting, especially viewed as a metaphor for the act of writing and the act of finishing. When Shakespeare finished The Tempest, he stopped. He'd written his plays, he went off to be a quiet country burgher, it was like he'd discharged his obligation to the stories. At the time, it seemed like a nice metaphor.

Of course, now, here am I, at the age of 34, trying to write a story about a rather older Shakespeare at the end of his time. There is a level on which this is going to be read as what it's like to write and finish Sandman. And I'm going, on that level, I'm standing up there comparing myself to Shakespeare. I mean, he wrote many of the greatest plays in the English language, and I've written an above average comic series. On that basis, it's kind of an embarrassing comparison. [laughter] No, I'm not saying I'm as good as him. No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying there are things that all authors, by definition, must have in common.

Westfield: Are there any Sandman stories that for some reason you didn't tell that you would still like to?

Gaiman: There're a few stories that I never got to tell, all for odd little reasons. There are also a few Sandman stories that just didn't work. There were some that I began that I abandoned. I thought briefly at one point, and then decided not to, about what Sandman #74 was going to be. I briefly toyed with the idea of doing something called Roads Not Taken, which would have been a kind of look at the dusty, unfinished or abandoned things sitting there on the hard drive. There was, for example, the story that became Calliope, which was originally called Sex and Violence, which was about a brothel containing a succubus. It was run by an aging, very old, Puck, which would have been Sandman #17. The idea was, we were actually going to meet Puck old long before we met him young. I could never get that story to work. In the end I wrote Calliope instead.

There's another version of the redemption of Richard Madoc, the writer who kept Calliope prisoner. It was a story that worked very well as a prose story, but I never really liked it as comics and never wound up turning it into a comic. It was a perfectly decent story, it just never quite happened. And then there are also the Sandman stories I've never told, just because they weren't part of the sequence that began with Sandman #1 and ended at 75. Which were stories of what he was doing before Sandman #1 and why he was so exhausted. Why he was tired enough to let them catch him.

Westfield: Looking back at the series, are you happy with the story as a whole?

Gaiman: I don't know. I think so. It's very hard for me to tell. It's very hard to be objective. I feel very satisfied with it on a very deep and actual level. If you're asking if I think there's room for improvement, God yes. I find it very, very hard to re-read any of it, and I look at most of it, even things that won awards and stuff, and just think, how could we have gotten away with that? and why didn't I fix that? and how did I let that line go out? and stuff like that. But, in terms of how I feel about it, I feel like somebody that's built a house. I feel very finished. The process of writing The Kindly Ones was very hard for me. The process of writing The Wake was very enjoyable as a, sort of, way of coming to terms myself with what I thought about getting rid of this thing that, apart from my wife and children, has been the only constant in my life for many years. But, it's somewhat like building a house. It felt like I'd constructed something and it was constructed and I was willing, like a builder, when the house is finished, to walk away and do something else. I'm very willing now to walk away and do something else. I'm very pleased and proud that DC saw aesthetic and artistic sense, for once, as more important to them than dollars and cents, and agreed to let it stop.

Westfield: That is pretty unprecedented.

Gaiman: They've let things stop before but normally because they weren't making any money. Whereas Sandman, partly, I have to admit, by dint of not losing any sales during a period when everybody else has, is now a top twenty title. It's second only to the Batman and Superman titles in sales. So from a commercial point of view, it makes no sense letting it go. But they are, which I really appreciate.

Westfield: One of the things I've noticed at different signings and conventions, where I've seen you, is that Sandman appeals to many non-traditional comic readers. Why do you think that is?

Gaiman: I think 'cause it's not about the things traditional comics tend to be about. Which, unfortunately, is still people hitting each other through walls and then those people getting up and saying, "Now you've made me really angry" and getting up and hitting them. Which may well be fun, but it's not really something to base an artform on. Sandman isn't about that stuff. It is a story. It's a story that appeals to all sorts of people like women and college professors and people who don't read comics. What is odd is running into people who will tell me they don't read comics. And I'll chat with them and they'll find out who I am, and they'll say, "Oh god, you're Neil Gaiman. You do Sandman." And I say, "Yeah. You said you didn't read any comics." And they say, "I don't. I read Sandman." And I always say, "No, Sandman's a comic." They have ideas like, it's not comics and I'll be insulted if they say it is. And, of course, I'm not. It's comics. I wish there were lots more comics like it.

Join us again next month when Neil talks about the new Death mini-series, Death: The Time of Your Life, and some upcoming projects.

[Home] [FAQ] [About] [Contact] [Fine Print]
Copyright © 2007 Westfield Company of WI, Inc. All rights reserved.
Products and product artwork pictured at westfieldcomics.com is
TM & © their respective owners.
Product descriptions and other information is largely taken from
publishers' news releases and distributor catalogs, and is up-to-date as possible.
Kevin Grevioux Interview
Peter David and Robin Riggs interview