Way back in the winter of 2009, I had the opportunity to interview author/geek legend Neil Gaiman while he was in Portland to promote a film adaptation of his creepy novel Coraline. I later posted it on Another Portland Blog, the former incarnation of this blog. For no other reason than it’s Halloween tomorrow, I’ve decided to resurrect the interview and post it here.
I asked Gaiman what it felt like to be insulted on The Colbert Report and what movie might serve as the best litmus test to determine if your kid can handle “scary” fantasy films like Coraline.
Congratulations on the Newberry Medal. I was watching The Colbert Report last night and, sure enough, you came up.
Gaiman: I was dissed by Colbert. Can anything be cooler than getting dissed by Colbert on The Colbert Report? [the clip is available here]
Is this a first or has this happened before?
Gaiman: No, this is a first. I’ve never been dissed by Colbert before. You know, frankly, I’ve thought about retiring.
So this is the apex of your career? You’ve reached the top of the mountain?
Gaiman: It’s as good as, well…you know my Twitter feed suddenly went wild. I’m sitting with my daughter, she’s just got in. I got in an hour or so before her and we’re eating late night room service, finally getting some dinner, and my phone starts going wild. Something weird is happening on Twitter and I go and look and a hundred people are telling me, “Dude, you just got dissed on Colbert.” I crank up my Slingbox on my computer, activate my home Tivo feeling like someone really living in the 21st fucking century and I watch it and I’m going, “I’m sitting here with my daughter the night before my film premieres being dissed by Colbert. It cannot get better. This is, honestly, as good as it gets.”
At the end of the segment he came up with his own idea for a children’s novel. It was called Fuck it, We’re All Going to Die. What do you think about his idea?
Gaiman: [laughs] I would read it. I want you to know that I would read Stephen Colbert’s children’s book Fuck It, We’re All Going to Die. I think it’s awesome. You can tell what’s going on. He doesn’t have a Newberry. That hurts. He doesn’t have a Hugo Award either. I have three. This is from someone who is obviously a science-fiction geek. He has created his own science-fiction series. He has shown us, many times on his show, his large science-fiction book, although not published yet. Three Hugos. Two or three Nebulas. The Bram Stoker Award. You know, it’s sad, frankly.
When you’re writing material for children do you ever think to yourself, “OK, maybe I’ve gone too far. Maybe this is too scary. Maybe I shouldn’t go with the buttons for eyes or the huge monster mother.” Or do you think that kids can handle it?
Gaiman: So far, I haven’t run into any kids that have problems with buttons for eyes. They have dolls with buttons for eyes and they don’t really have a problem with that. Adults get hugely freaked out by buttons for eyes. Just in terms of things that creep them out, that gets under their skin. You put a kid and an adult next to each other and you say, “Ok, guys. People with buttons for eyes?” The kids go “cool” and the adults go “oooooo.” I get letters from schools every week with drawings and the kids have an enormous amount of fun drawing people with buttons for eyes.
With something like Coraline you’re looking at something that kids tend to experience as an adventure. It’s like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. She is a hero and she’s up against something nasty and that’s cool. Adults watching this are watching a completely different genre of story. Adults are watching a story about a child in danger, which is much, much more unsettling. As adult human being we are hardwired to worry about children.
Every now and again, you get a missing child case and it’s kind of like every other missing child case but the media taps into it and everybody taps into it and they obsess. There was one in England a few years ago, there’s one going on right now…there’s something deeply troubling about children in trouble, children in danger, children under threat, which is, honestly, a different genre of story. Children aren’t watching a children in danger film, they’re watching a film about someone like them going up against something nasty. In terms of what kids can handle, if you have a kid who is fine with watching the original Disney’s Snow White and the original MGM Wizard of Oz, with the witch and the flying monkeys, and The Nightmare Before Christmas I cannot imagine that that kid would have a problem with Coraline. I can’t guarantee that their parents won’t.
So if you were to select one movie that would be a litmus test for a six year old before you sit them down and introduce them to [these sorts of films] would you say Snow White is it?
Gaiman: Yeah, I’d say Disney’s Snow White. If you can cope with Snow White, which has the murderous witch queen who is absolutely murderous and you have poison apples, you have her turning into the evil, old hag, you have, well, all of that shit. If you can cope with that you can handle it.
On my blog, last week, a lady wrote in and asked, “I have a six year old son. Will he be OK with Coraline? I wrote back, “Lady, I don’t know your son. Your letter is the equivalent of saying, ‘I have a six year old son. I’m planning on making a mushroom omelet tomorrow. Will he like it?'”
I don’t know if your son likes mushrooms, I don’t know if he likes eggs. I don’t know if he likes eggs being folded into an omelet. You know your son. That, in my experience, it makes no more sense than asking, “Can a six year old handle this?” anymore than asking “can a thirty-five year old handle this?”
When you sold the film rights to Good Omens to Terry Gilliam you supposedly sold it for one goat? Did you ever get it?
Gaiman: Not a goat, a groat and we never got our groat. In fact, I would like to point out here that I actually had to go and figure out what the commission was from my agent on a groat, which is a farthing. I have gone onto eBay and bought a farthing in preparation for Terry Gilliam getting us a groat.
Is there still the chance it may one day hit the screen?
Gaiman: Lots of people want to do it on the screen but we’ve been holding out for Terry. If anybody you know has $65 million in loose change under their sofa or anything, Terry Gilliam would love it to make a movie.
[NOTE: The photo above was mercilessly pilfered from Collider]