Interview: Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon

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NG: I think the fan base is literate. You need to be reasonably bright to get the jokes and to really follow what's going on. That, by definition, is going to exclude a lot of people who will then get rather irritated at us for being pretentious and silly and putting in things they didn't quite get. But it's also going to mean that some of the people who do get the stuff will probably be fairly bright.

JW: Especially, I think, living in any fantasy or science fiction world means really understanding what you're seeing and reading really densely on a level that a lot of people don't bother to read. So yes, I think it's kind of the same thing.

But I also think there's a bit of misconception with that. Everybody who labels themselves a nerd isn't some giant person locked in a cubbyhole who's never seen the opposite sex. Especially with the way the Internet is now, I think that definition is getting a little more diffuse.

NG: I know that our fan bases overlap enough to be able to say fairly confidently that the joy of signing for me, and the joy of signing for Joss, is you can't tell who's your fan any more. When I started doing Sandman, I could look at a line of people lined up to get my autograph, and I knew who was my fan and who was somebody's mum there to get a signature. It doesn't work that way anymore. People say, well, there's the Goths or whatever, and you always do get a few beautiful Goths and people always remember them, but they may be one of a hundred in a line. Mostly they're people. They're us. That's what they look like.

JW: They're a lot more attractive than I am, actually, which kind of disturbs and upsets me.

TIME: When I was growing up, only the geeky and socially marginal people were into stuff like Spiderman and JRR Tolkien. But in the last five years they've become the biggest entertainment phenomena around. How did it get so nerds are suddenly driving popular culture?

JW: I do think you can definitely see indications that Hollywood has woken up to the market, to the idea of this community as a way to put out their product. But fantasy movies have always been huge. It's not like Star Wars —which came out when I was eleven—was a tiny art house flick. So I'm always sort of curious at the marginalization of the people who adore them.

NG: I think also, the thing that's odd is that we're now living in a second-stage media world anyway. One of the reasons that both Joss and I can do some of the stuff that we've done over the years is because you're working in a medium in which enough stuff has simply entered popular culture that it becomes part of the vocabulary that we can deal with. The materials of fantasy, of all different kinds of fantasy, the materials of SF, the materials of's pop culture. It's tattooed on the insides of our retinas. As a result, it's something that's very easy just to use as metaphor. You don't have to explain to anybody what a vampire is. You don't have to explain the rules. Everybody knows that. They know that by the time they're five.

JW: We're getting to a point where you don't have to excuse them, either. Where popular culture as a concept is itself popular, so it isn't as marginal if you say, oh, this has a fantastical element to it. People are okay with that. Part of that is the post-modern sort of we're-in-the-know, everything-is-referencing-everything. Which can actually be annoying after a while. But part of it is also an understanding that what's going on in society that is popular is maybe worth looking into.

NG: We're also in a world right now in which mainstream fiction borrows from fantasy. A world in which Michael Chabon wins a Pulitzer with a book with a load of comics characters in it. I no longer know where the demarcation lines are. My stuff gets published in some countries as fiction and in some countries as fantasy. It's just where they think it will do best in the bookshops.

TIME: One of the best novels I read this year was Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. They don't come much more highbrow than Ishiguro, but this was set in an alternate universe where humans are being cloned and having their organs harvested. Not only can Ishiguro do that, he can do that and hardly anyone even remarks on it.

JW: It's Remains of the Clone! It's absolutely just his sensibility, with that one little twist that you have to call it science fiction or fantasy to an extent. Nobody would not consider it a serious classical novel.

TIME: I almost miss the stigma that used to attach to these things. Now everybody's into Tolkien. And I feel a little like, hey, I've been into that stuff my whole life. And in fact, you used to beat me up for it.

JW: I miss a little of that element, the danger of, oh, I'm holding this science fiction magazine that's got this great cover. There a little bit of something just on the edge that I'm doing this. That's pretty much gone. Although when I walk into a restaurant with a stack of comic books, I still do get stared at a little bit.

NG: I always loved, most of all with doing comics, the fact that I knew I was in the gutter. I kind of miss that, even these days, whenever people come up and inform me, oh, you do graphic novels. No. I wrote comic books, for heaven's sake. They're creepy and I was down in the gutter and you despised me. 'No, no, we love you! We want to give you awards! You write graphic novels!' We like it here in the gutter!

JW: We've been co-opted by the man.

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