When we worked together on that project, I realized that a lot of the things I’d seen in life as walls, you looked at as hurdles to go around—and the solution was to make something better than the thing someone wouldn’t let us do in the first place. They wouldn’t give us a CD insert, so we made a book instead. Or we used a book to bankroll a record. Now, years later, that seems like second nature to me, and it’s how I now tend to solve problems—but it’s not something that all artists do. I learned that from you, and I wonder how you came up with that realization. Was there one time when you realized, “I can solve this problem by throwing art at it?”
I think I’m not terribly bright, but I’m pretty often a good strategist. I’ll sit down and say, “I’m here. I’d like to be there. What do I need to do to get there?” And there’s always a way—it’s just often not the most obvious way.
All those years ago when I was writing Sandman for DC Comics, I realized that what I wanted was for that comic to stop when I was done, when I finished [my story]. And that was unheard of in comics at the time—the whole point was, Writer A wrote it, and when Writer A was burned out, done, tired, Writer B took over. And I’d watched Alan Moore [the writer of such modern-classic comics as Watchmen and V for Vendetta] want something to finish when he was done, and they didn’t, and it was a sad thing—it diminished the memory of this fantastic thing Alan had done. So I wanted Sandman to stop. The first time I raised the subject with them, they explained why it would never happen, all the reasons why it could never happen and why I was wrong to even think of it—and I thought, you know, I’m never going to win this battle head-on. So after that, whenever I did an interview and people asked what would happen when I was done, I’d say, “Well, I really hope that when I’m finished Sandman, it will be done. Obviously DC Comics owns it, and if they’d like to continue it without me, I’ll never work for them again. No hard feelings, that’s just how I feel. But I’m sure we’ll work out something.” And indeed, when I was about a year from the end, what I started hearing from DC was, “You know, we think it would be a good idea if Sandman was finished when you were done.” That made me happy.
You have this incredibly open relationship with your fans. You’ve been blogging for years, and you respond to people’s tweets, you retweet, you say nice things. People know about your pets, they know about your garden; it makes them feel very included. But I think many of your fans wonder: “What is the proper thing to do if I see Neil Gaiman in the airport? Are we friends? Should I say hello?”
I’d much rather they said hi! I always feel bad when I see people going, “I walked past Neil today and I didn’t say hello.” Normally I’ll walk past people on the sidewalk and they’re staring at you as if they desperately want to say hi, but they don’t, and I don’t, because I’m English and I’m shy, so it would be much better if they did.
The same weekend you delivered your UArts speech, we did a photo shoot for The Bed Song Book. Which was originally a bunch of leftovers [photos from a related project], and you came up with the idea to take these leftovers and make them better than the original—make this mammoth, beautiful book that almost no one would ever see. And that fact became part of the art itself, the fact that almost no one would see it. It reminds me a bit of Nicole Blackman’s Courtesan’s Tales, where they’d blindfold people and bring them in a room one by one, and she’d whisper a story in their ear, and the experience of hearing it became part of the art.
What fascinated me most about that was, we had people who’d been photographed… who didn’t make the cut for photos we needed for the gallery exhibition, but on the other hand: what amazing photographs, what amazing people. They’d given us their vulnerability, they’d given us their nakedness.… When we started talking about what we wanted to do, I thought: Let’s do something that is by definition limited. There will only be maybe 100 copies. And that got really interesting: If you’re making a book that only has 100 copies, the sky is kind of the limit—so what would you like to see in that book? Well, I’d like it to be huge, I’d like it to be kind of our dream book.
So a year ago, the day after I delivered my [“Make Good Art”] speech, I was photographed naked for the first time in my life—probably also the last time in my life, unless I’m the victim of a particularly horrible murder and they need records. It was one of those strange, inevitable things: As you and I discussed the book, as the book became real, I realized that one thing that would have to happen at the end of the book, the photo of me and Amanda that would have to be in there, was going to be us naked, on a bed. And the strangest thing about that to me is my recollection is that I had my eyes closed the entire time. I remember going, “Oh my god, I’m naked, I’m on this bed, Kyle is clinging to the ceiling taking photographs—oh my god, I’m terrified.” Yet the photo in the book doesn’t look like that at all. She has her eyes closed, I have my eyes open, and it looks like I’m guarding her. I don’t look scared—I look like I’m happy to be there and in control.
Every picture in that book has some magical moment. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life—and in a way that I can’t quantify. It made me really question the way I’d thought about what is important in my life.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4