Interview: Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon

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Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman may well be the two most interesting people creating popular culture right now. Whedon is the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and he wrote and directed the science fiction film Serenity, which opens Sept. 30th. Gaiman created the instant-classic comic book Sandman, and he's the author of the new novel Anansi Boys, out this month. He has a new movie, Mirrormask, which also opens Sept. 30. They chatted on the phone together—chaperoned by TIME's Lev Grossman—about their work, their fans, their Klingon bodyguards and, of course, Timecop.

TIME: Joss, this is Lev from Time magazine. You're also in the virtual presence of Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman: I'm not virtual. I'm here.

TIME: Sorry. You're virtual, Joss. Neil's real.

Joss Wedon: Okay. I wondered.

TIME: I'm glad we settled that.

JW: Nice to meet you.

NG: You, too. Lev was just asking whether we'd met, and I was explaining that once you get to a certain sort of level, there are 80,000 people who want to meet you, and you're being moved from place to place by people who want to make sure who we meet.

JW: Yes. I've been sixteen steps behind Kevin Smith for four years. I've never seen him.

NG: Exactly.

TIME: I think there's actually a law that you guys can't be in the same room at the same time. It's like the President and the Vice President, or something.

JW: Like the two Ron Silvers in Timecop.

TIME: That's exactly the simile I was looking for. So you guys both have movies coming out on September 30th.

NG: It will be National Geek Day.

TIME: Serenity has a bit of an unconventional story behind it. Joss, do you want to run it down for us real quick?

JW: Real quick, I did the show Firefly, which had a gloriously short career. I just loved the show and the people and the world too much to walk away when they cancelled it, so I hunted about for someone to agree with me and then, rather shockingly, found Universal Studios agreed with me to the tune of a great deal more money than I had ever expected to have to work with. What everybody said was dead in the water suddenly became—maybe not for them, but for me—a rather major motion picture.

TIME: Are you nervous? You've got 11 days before it opens.

JW: Something like that. I don't count. I'm not aware of the opening day. I'm not going to be hiding in the bathtub.

TIME: What do you do?

JW: I stockpile canned goods and hide in the basement.

NG: Lucky bastard. I'm going to be signing books out in public.

JW: That gives you great legitimacy. You can say, 'well, I write books. I'm above all this.'

TIME: You could write a book, Joss.

JW: Yes, but not in the next eleven days. I could write a blog.

TIME: Neil, you're a big blogger these days, right?

NG: I've been blogging since February of 2001. When I started blogging, it was dinosaur blog. It was me and a handful of tyrannosaurs. We'd be writing blog entries like, 'the tyrannosaurus is getting grumpy.'

These days there are 1.2 million people reading it. It's very, very weird. We have this enormous readership, as a result of which now I feel absolutely far too terrified and guilty to stop. I'd love to stop my blog at this point, but there's this idea that there will be 1.2 million people's worth of pissed-off-ness that I hadn't written anything today.

JW: That's the problem with doing anything. Everybody expects you to keep doing it, no matter what.

NG: For me, it's always that Mary Poppins thing. I'll do it until the wind changes. The joy of doing Sandman was doing a comic and telling people, no, it has an end, at a time when nobody thought you could actually get to the end and stop doing a comic that people were still buying just because you'd finished. Probably of all the things I did in Sandman, that was the most unusual and the oddest. That I stopped while we were outselling everybody, because it was done. What everybody wants is more of what they had last time that they liked.

JW: Every other question I get is about the Buffy-verse.

NG: Except the trouble is, as a creator...I saw a lovely analogy recently. Somebody said that writers are like otters. And otters are really hard to train. Dolphins are easy to train. They do a trick, you give them a fish, they do the trick again, you give them a fish. They will keep doing that trick until the end of time. Otters, if they do a trick and you give them a fish, the next time they'll do a better trick or a different trick because they'd already done that one. And writers tend to be otters. Most of us get pretty bored doing the same trick. We've done it, so let's do something different.

TIME: Joss, you're someone who insisted on doing the same thing again. Was that a tough decision? I'm sure you had a zillion offers on the table once Buffy ended.

JW: Well, it wasn't a question of doing the same thing again as finally finishing the thing that I'd started. There are definitely times when you go through every permutation of an idea and then you go, well, that's over. And that was lovely, thank you. I'll have my fish. With Serenity, I felt like we had just gotten started. The story hadn't been told yet. That's what put the fire in me. When I actually had the whole thing filmed and cast and ready to go, and then it wasn't finished, it made me a little bit insane.

TIME: Let's talk about your respective fan bases. A lot of them self-identify as kind of on the geeky side.

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