dialogue with Neil Gaiman


When Neil Gaiman made his first trip to San Diego's Comic-Con International in 1989, the British writer was just being noticed for his work on the DC Comics series "The Sandman." Gaiman has returned in subsequent years to promote projects and remains a fan favorite. This year, Gaiman will attend the convention, which kicks off Thursday, as a guest of honor. He also will be talking up his upcoming projects: Paramount's upcoming "Stardust" and "Beowulf" and Focus Features' "Coraline." He recently spoke with Noel Murray for The Hollywood Reporter about his impressions of the ever-expanding event.

The Hollywood Re- porter: If you weren't a guest of honor and didn't have something to promote, would you go to Comic-Con?

Neil Gaiman: Not at gunpoint, no. (Laughs.) You're saying, "Would you voluntarily go to a gathering of 150,000 people, all of whom want to talk to you and get you to sign stuff?" It's like asking a maggoty log if it would like to go to a woodpecker convention.

THR: Could you wear a disguise and go incognito?

Gaiman: I'd probably last about 45 minutes, until the word started to get around that for reasons not quite understood, Neil Gaiman had dyed his hair red and was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Look, the first convention I went to in '89, there were 15,000 people there, and I remember thinking then that it felt a bit big. But I did make long-lasting friends at that event, like (artist) Charles Vess. That was wonderful and enormously important. Wouldn't trade it for the world. Having said that, it's now 150,000 people. If I weren't me, but I were a comics fan, would I go to Comic-Con? Of course. Where else is there to go? The most interesting thing about Comic-Con is that you've got this comics convention going on, and it's probably not that much bigger than it was when I went in '89. (Laughs.) But the comics convention is now the tail on the dog of Comic-Con, which has become a media event. Movie people now refer to it casually as "Summer Sundance." It's become this amazing marketing tool because studios look at it not as an opportunity to reach 150,000 people but as the place where all the media are going to be.

THR: Would you credit the expansion of Comic-Con entirely to Hollywood, or does the growing Internet community have just as much as to do with it?

Gaiman: I think it's everything, up to and including location. If the convention center were twice its size and if San Diego had twice the number of hotel rooms, the convention would be twice as large already. There'd be 300,000 people there by now. Did Hollywood make it grow? No. Hollywood just saw something there — the gathering of the geek clan. But we are in a weird world these days where you're trying to sell movies with comics and fantasy themes, and you're dealing with the initial word on the Internet. And as was discovered last year, you can't actually make a movie for the Internet, otherwise you wind up with (2006's) "Snakes on a Plane." "Buzz on the Internet" can honestly sometimes be 200 people talking very loudly. Having said that, I'm really pleased that we got to come out last year and show the fans some "Stardust" footage. We had 8,000 people in a hall, all worried about whether this film was going to be something that Charles Vess and I were comfortable with. And Charlie and I and the screenwriter Jane Goldman got up there and talked about it, and at the end, we had 8,000 people whose minds were kind of put at rest.

THR: Did you worry about it backfiring on you, if the fans didn't like it?

Gaiman: Oh sure. The time that I saw it backfire worst was when I was on a Vertigo panel and (Vertigo editor) Karen Berger announced to a hall of 4,000 people, "The biggest news item I've got is that Warner Bros. is going to make a John Constantine movie (2005's 'Constantine')!" And the whole hall erupted in cheering. And then she said, "And he's going to be played by Keanu Reeves!" And the whole hall went, "Oh … ." And that was it. It ended at that moment for that film, and honestly, if anyone from Warner Bros. had been in the hall, they should've gotten on the phone to say, "The Keanu Reeves thing is not going to work. Can we give him money to go away?" But nobody did, and the fans had washed their hands of "Constantine" before it came out because they knew it wasn't the thing they wanted to see. Generally speaking with comics, the closer the movie is to the source material in terms of look and feel, the better it works. And the more studios assume that you can put Batman in a pink costume and nobody will notice, the more everybody notices. They never quite figure that one out. So it's worth reminding people that in addition to all the movie stuff at Comic-Con, there's a really quite wonderful comics convention going on where they can learn something … if they can get a hotel room.