Interview: Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon

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NG: We're in this weird world. Anansi Boys is coming out, and it's a funny fantasy novel, and it's being published as a mainstream thing. It should have been 10,000 copies just to people who love them, who would have had to go to a science fiction specialty shop with a cat in it just to find it.

JW: But ultimately I prefer this, just because . . . well, it's not as though I'm only trying to reach one tiny segment of people when I write. It's not like I want to have the clubhouse with the No Girls sign. I appreciate the people who are stepping into genre a little bit because they realize there's more there. For me, ultimately, even though I miss my twenty minutes of actually being cool and marginalized, I think it's more gratifying ultimately to be in this world.

TIME: Have either of you guys considered going straight, doing a non-genre project?

NG: My mind tends to work in this way. Every now and then I'll do little things, a short story or something, that doesn't have any fantastical elements, but mostly I like the power of playing God and I like to imagine things. You can imagine. It's the power of concretizing a metaphor. Taking something and making it real and making it happen and seeing where it goes. It's a special kind of magic.

TIME: Joss, I realize when I said that that you've actually done plenty of non-genre stuff.

JW: But it's funny, I keep having to remember that. I always say, I will never do anything that's not genre. People go, well, what about Roseanne? I'm like, yeah, okay, but . . . That to me was genre because it was a sitcom with real people in it which, to me, was at that point a fantasy. I always tend to think just left of center, to remove myself from the world by one step. It is very freeing, and it's a particular way of coming at stories and looking at them that I find the most beautiful stuff that I know comes from, ultimately.

It's all stories about people. I mean, that's all anybody's writing, with very few exceptions. I can't imagine doing anything just straight up, unless it was a period piece, because so much of science fiction is basically creating history. A fascination with any time that's not ours is inevitable, so I love period stuff. That's the only thing I could imagine myself doing right now that wasn't straight-up fantasy.

TIME: Let's talk about Mirrormask. Is that fantasy?

NG: Sure, Mirrormask is fantasy. Dave McKean—who directed it and who co-came up with the story—I suspect thinks it's not fantasy because it's a dream, and because of various other things, and because Dave is not terribly comfortable with the idea of fantasy. I'm perfectly comfortable with fantasy, so I think it's definitely fantasy. But the brief with Mirrormask was Henson coming to us and saying, in the Eighties, Henson's did The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. They were family fantasy films. They cost $40 million each. We'd like to do another one. We have $4 million. If we gave you that $4 million, could you come back with a movie, and we won't tell you what to do? As deals go, it's that bit at the end that said, we won't tell you what to do that was, okay, yes, I will happily take not enough money to make a huge fantasy movie and try and make a huge fantasy movie with it.

But then, I get fascinated because, in America, it almost seems like family has become a code word for something that you can put a five-year-old in front of, go out for two hours, and come back secure in the knowledge that your child will not have been exposed to any ideas. I didn't want to do that. I like the idea of family as something where a seven-year-old would see a film and get stuff out of it, and a fifteen-year-old would get something else out of it, and a 25-year-old would get a different thing out of it.

JW: That's a difficult thing to explain in this country, particularly to a ratings board. If you're doing something that's layered at all, that anybody who's old enough to understand it can and should, and anybody else won't, they'll connect to it on a different level. Things get very codified, very black and white. It's tough.

NG: I got to see the poster for Mirrormask yesterday. I was delighted at the bottom where it says, PG, Parental Guidance Suggested, and then underneath they had to give a reason. It says, 'for some mild thematic elements and scary images'. I thought, that's cool. It's PG for thematic elements.

TIME: Mild ones.

NG: Mild ones, but they're thematic. I thought, who comes up with that?

JW: I've got some violence and I think I have sexual innuendo. In one sentence, somebody says something vaguely naughty. I was excited to see how I was going to be pegged, too.

TIME: You've both written for comic books, on top of all your other projects. What interests you about that medium?

JW: This is a mythos I grew up with. I never tire of the heroes that I knew growing up. The fun is not that much different from doing a television show: You're stuck with a certain set of rules and then, rather than trying to break them, it's just trying to peel away and see what's underneath them. That to me is really fun.

Ultimately, there's no better way to create a fantasy world than with a great artist. And animation takes a wicked long time.

TIME: I don't even remember who's in the X-men anymore. Is Colossus still in it?

JW: Which of the 19,000 books are you talking about? In mine was the Beast, Kitty Pryde, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus...and the unpopular one. Wolverine.

TIME: Emma Frost is in the X-men now?

JW: She's been an X-man for some time.

TIME: They do know she used to be a villain, right?

JW: Yes they do. It's all about forgiveness.

NG: There is a tradition in these things.

TIME: Kitty was sort of a proto-Buffy, right?

JW: Kitty was a huge proto-Buffy. I mean, there was no other you could point to as strongly. And they weren't really doing anything with her, which, you know, made me happy to no end. And when they asked me to bring Colossus back, there I had Kitty and her first love. It was actually terribly romantic, to me anyway. I think I care way too much about these characters.

NG: That's also the trouble with comics characters. If you read them at a certain age, they worm their way into your psyche. They live in your head. They are as real as anybody else in there, and you care about them.

JW: I think there's a possibility that comic book movies are getting a tiny bit better on the one hand because they're no longer made by executives, who are, you know, ninety-year-old bald tailors with cigars, going, the kids love this! But even executives and producers and people who aren't necessarily creative who are involved in it did actually grow up with these characters, so there is some measure of respect. Although we still occasionally get League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and you really can't explain that.

NG: Or Cat Woman.

JW: Oh my God.

TIME: You're working on Wonder Woman now, right?

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