LYNN NEARY, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. And in a few moments, we'll remember the life and legacy of the great John Updike. Neil Gaiman won a huge following with his sophisticated mythologies and sinister milieus, particularly among fans of science fiction and fantasy. Graphic novel readers know him for his Sandman series. Several of his books made it on to the big screen but yesterday, he was recognized for capturing a different audience, young readers. His most recent offering, "The Graveyard Book" was awarded the Newbery medal, the most prestigious American honor in children's literature. If you've read the "The Graveyard Book" or if you just want to talk to Neil Gaiman, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. The email address is email@example.com, and you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. And Neil Gaiman joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program.
Mr. NEIL GAIMAN (Author, The Graveyard Book): Thank you very much.
NEARY: And congratulations. I gather from reading your Web site that you were quite surprise by winning this award.
Mr. GAIMAN: I was and utterly unprepared. Unprepared in the kind of way that you can only be when you've been doing a two-day press junket for a movie in Los Angeles and you finally go, Ok, Monday, I'm not doing anything on Monday, and I did that thing where I have a long hot bath, long after midnight and then climb into bed with the New Yorker and set the alarm for 11 in the morning and put the 'Do not disturb' sign on the door. And of course, two hours later, my assistant managed, I think on her third or fourth phone call to wake me up. That thing where you can sort of sense that a phone is ringing and you answered just to make sure the hotel isn't on fire. And suddenly, I'm being informed that I've won the Newbery which wakes you up fast, I have to say.
NEARY: (Laughing) Now did you weight this specifically as a children's book? Because you have a very wide range - broad audience I think. You know, you do write books for kids or that will appeal to kids, but also you write very adult stuff and how did you see this book particularly?
Mr. GAIMAN: I saw this book as being that weird animal of book for all ages, but having said that, I wanted to make sure that it would work for young readers. My model for "The Graveyard Book" was Kipling's "The Jungle Book." That was the inspiration that was I was - how long ago now? 23 years ago, I was living in a very tall house which was basically all stairs and didn't have a garden. And I had a small two-year-old son who loved his tricycle more than anything else in the world, and I couldn't let him ride the tricycle in the house because he would die. So, I'd take him across the road to a graveyard over the road and he would ride his tricycle backwards and forwards, and I just remember sitting there looking at him and marveling at how at home he looked cycling between the gravestones and thinking, you could write something like "The Jungle Book." And you can set it on the graveyard instead of having somebody - having a small child escape into a jungle and being raised by jungle beasts and being taught the things that jungle beasts know. They could escape into a graveyard and be raised by dead people and taught the things that dead people know.
NEARY: And like "The Jungle Book" where the animals, these ferocious animals were really friendly creatures. These are friendly ghosts.
Mr. GAIMAN: They are. That was one of the things that I decided to do right at the beginning. I thought, I wanted all of the really dangerous things in the book to be alive. I thought, you know, if you're going to tell kids things, you might as well tell them some true and important things. And when I was a kid, I was terrified to walk through graveyards at night. There was actually a shortcut through the graveyard, and we take it and go passed the grave that at the time we believe to be a witch's grave because it was of somebody who've been burned to death in the high street. And I remember the terror of going through the graveyard at night and I thought. I might as well point out to kids that the only thing that really they have to be scared of in a graveyard is alive and breathing.
NEARY: Well, we have a number of people online who would like to talk with you. Our guest is Neil Gaiman. He won the Newberry medal for children's literature yesterday. And if you'd like to join us, the number is 800-989-8255. And we're going to take- let's see. We're going to go to Allison, and Allison is calling from Orefield, Pennsylvania. Hi Allison.
ALLISON (Caller): Hi. What a thrill to talk with Neil Gaiman, my favorite author, next to P.G. Wodehouse. I hope you don't mind.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GAIMAN: I don't mind at all. I'm an enormous fan of P.G. Wodehouse.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLISON: I wanted to tell you I have read my eight-year old when she was younger, "The Day I Swapped My Dad for a Goldfish" and "Wolves in the Walls" and then, we read "Coraline" and when "The Graveyard Book" came out, we bought it the day that it came out and read it. And she said to me when we finished, now I've read a Neal Gaiman book about people who are dead. She's seen my husband and me read other books by you, she said, now I can read all the rest of his books just like you and dad read.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLISON: I said, well, maybe not quite yet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GAIMAN: Definitely hold off on "American Gods" for a few years.
ALLISON: Yeah, well, I think so, and maybe on some of the "Sandman" books.
Mr. GAIMAN: Yes.
ALLISON: But, I wanted to let you know that not only do you have devoted adult fans in my family but an eight-year-old who is an adult fan in the making. And I can't wait till your Batman issues hit the stand.
NEARY: All right. Thanks for bringing that up, Allison, because that was something I was going to ask Neal about. Thanks so much for calling, Allison.
ALLISON: Oh, good. Bye.
NEARY: So just tell us a little bit about the Batman project that Allison just mentioned.
Mr. GAIMAN: Oh, the Batman thing. I got a phone call about 10 months ago from a senior person at DC Comics saying, how would you like to write the last ever issues of Batman comics and detective comics?
NEARY: (Laughing) Wow.
Mr. GAIMAN: Because we're going to be - Batman is going to be killed, and we would like you to do the last issues. And when somebody says something like that, you say, yes, because I couldn't think of any reason why not. So I got to write a two-part story and I can't tell you what it's about. But I can tell you that I felt like at the end that I had actually written the last Batman story and - or at least my last Batman story. And Andy Kubert, who is drawing it with Scott Williams' inking has done the most astounding job. I would keep asking him to do a panel in the style of a previous Batman artist going all the way back to Bob Kane in 1939. And everything I would ask him to do Andy would deliver, its beautiful stuff.
NEARY: Great. Well, let's take a call now from Dale(ph) calling from Norfolk, Virginia. Hi Dale.
DALE (Caller): Hello. How's it going? I just want to say again, it's an honor to speak with Neil Gaiman. I'm a high school English teacher and I can't wait for the day that we can see "Coraline" canonized as a piece of literature for our young adults to read because it's such a wonderful vivid piece of literature. And I just wanted to share that and say that I hope a day when our kids can read it in the classroom and see that happen. And thanks for bringing back to science fiction and fantasy. As a kid, I loved it and I got to read "American Gods." It's such a powerful book with so much imagery and illusion and great literary. You really know how to work the literary device. And my question for you is what is your motivation? Where does your motivation come from to write such great books with such historical backgrounds and such wonderful elements of fantasy and science fiction? And I just want to say thanks.
NEARY: Alright. Thanks for your call, Dale.
Mr. GAIMAN: You're incredibly welcome. And I should - I guess mention on "Coraline" that of course there is the film of "Coraline." Henry Selick's amazing stunt motion 3D film comes out on February the 6th. The inspiration is normally just wanting to write the kind of thing that I would want to read. With the children's books, there's normally a kind of been up until now, a kind of strange little caveat in that I'd be writing the kind of stuff that I would have wanted to read when I was a kid, but also, I'm writing stuff for my kids to read.
Mr. GAIMAN: And of course, now they're getting older and...
NEARY: Go ahead.
Mr. GAIMAN: I was just going to say, now, I'm sort of going, well, this is going to be very strange. I'm going to have to wait until I get grandchildren or something, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GAIMAN: Do more children's picture books.
NEARY: Well, I guess I was wondering - you know, you play with so many different forms of storytelling. And, how do you decide what story fits into what form? Or does it all come to you as one? I mean, there's a graphic - when you think of an idea, do you say that's a graphic novel right of the bat?
Mr. GAIMAN: Sometimes I'm wrong. Normally, I have a very good idea when I get an idea of what kind of thing it is. I go, OK this is a novel or this is a film or this is TV or whatever. Occasionally, I'm wrong. "Anansi Boys" which was my last novel for adults, I originally thought it was probably a movie. I was trying to think of ideas and had this idea for something that I thought was a movie. And I tried writing it as a film script and it never really got off the ground. And it wasn't until I mentioned the idea to my editor, at Harper Collins at William Morrow, lovely lady named Jennifer Braille(ph) over lunch and she started waving her fork at me and saying, that is a novel. And I said, are you sure? And she said yes and she was waving her fork and I went away and started try to write and discovered that she was right and it was.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Sometimes you need - sometimes you need somebody else to tell you what it is you have to do, I guess. Let's take one more call. We're going to go to Nick and Nick is calling from McCall, Idaho. Hi Nick.
NICK (Caller): Hey, how's it going?
NICK: Huge fan of the "Sandman" comics. I was wondering what Neil likes in the comic world right now?
Mr. GAIMAN: What do I like in comics? Right, God theres so much out there. I loved "The Umbrella."
NICK: What do you think of the new Vertigo "House of Mystery" series?
Mr. GAIMAN: I've been enjoying that. I've loved - there's a comic called, "Umbrella Academy", which I enjoyed no end, that Dark Horse published. There also - that thing where you windup following creators in some ways more than comics. I will anything, for example that Eddie Campbell ever does. I will buy and delight over. Anything that Alan Moore writes, I will delight over.
NICK: Just reading through the league of extraordinarily gentlemen again. And yeah, he's an astounding madman for sure.
Mr. GAIMAN: I think Alan is the master. I think - I mean, he was the person who inspired me to start writing comics. I looked at what he did in "Watchmen" all those years ago and in "Swamp Thing" and when - this is being written with as much passion and intelligence and ferocity as anything in literature or on the stage or in film. I didn't you could do that. I want to do that. And that was what comic started.
NEARY: Thanks for your call Nick. And I just want to remind our listeners that you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I wanted to ask you Neil about "Coraline" the movie, and tell me a little bit more about that animation and at any point did you - had you imagined it as a film that would not be animated?
Mr. GAIMAN: Well, I had loved the film "The Nightmare Before Christmas." I remember going and seeing it and being incredibly impressed. And despite the fact that the title of the film was "Tim Burten's The Nightmare Before Christmas," I had noticed that it was actually directed by Henry Selick. And I thought this is astonishing. And when I finished writing "Coraline," I asked my agent to send it to Henry Selick, who read it and got back and said, I would love to direct this. I would love to do it. And initially, Henry actually wrote the script as a live action film and was going direct it as live action. I was rather disappointed. I loved Henry as a director but really had wanted it to be amazing stop motion.
NEARY: Hmm hmm.
Mr. GAIMAN: And we had lots and lots of setbacks which actually meant that eight years later, he got to make the stop motion film of his dreams and he got to make literally the most ambitious stop motion film anybody has ever made with hundreds of sets, with over 40 animators. And they shot it in 3D, and it's the best 3D ever.
NEARY: That's amazing, a 3D. Those moves are always fun to watch, I think.
Mr. GAIMAN: This is as good as I've ever seen it. This is like those old view master reels when you were kid. Everything is just sort of crystal clear. And Henry uses it very differently. It's not about throwing things at the audience, it's just about things receding from you and feeling as if you're actually watching a whole round things happening. But it worked out so much better than I'd hoped. He's got these glorious casts, people like John Hodgman and Teri Hatcher is the mother and the other mother. And it's this wonderful strange thing that - again, I think kids will like and I think adults will like. And if the book is anything to judge by, adults will find it much, much scarier than children do.
NEARY: Great. Well, good luck with the movie and congratulations on your Newbery medal for "The Graveyard Book." It was great to have you with us Neil Gaiman.
Mr. GAIMAN: Thank you so much.