Were I to die tomorrow thinking about Coraline, I’m not going to think about the money that’s come in marked “Coraline.” What I’m going to think about is young women coming over to tell me about how five years ago, eight years ago, reading Coraline changed their lives in some way and gave them the strength to get through a horrible scene—whether it was abuse, whether it was some kind of parental nightmare… The thing that I take my pride in, the thing that I feel like I gave something back to society with, is the people who told me that Coraline somehow made things better for them. That’s huge. That’s magic. The rent is great—had the rent not been paid, I would have lived in a far less enjoyable world—but that’s not the thing I know I’m going to reflect on and be proud of.
It’s been suggested that Great Artists have to be selfish and place their creative needs above all others. But you’ve successfully parented three kids while wrangling an ambitious creative career. What sorts of family-versus-art challenges have you had to figure out? I know sometimes I’ll look at my phone, and there will be a call from my editor and a call from my father, and there’s this internal dialogue in my head: Who am I going to listen to first?
Within 18 months of starting out on my writing career, I was a starving young journalist with a family. So from my perspective, all decisions were being filtered through a filter of: Is this going to feed my family? I have two very small kids, and a wife, and am I going to be able to feed them? Having said this, I also had to be very conscious of the long term. I talk in the “Make Good Art” speech about the time I was offered a real job. It was features editor of Penthouse U.K.: They called me up, they named a figure that was at least twice as much as I was making as a starving young journalist, and I thought long and hard about it. I thought, “If I’d been offered this job 18 months ago, I probably would have said yes, because that job was closer to the place where I wanted to be. But now, actually—I know what I want to be. I really want to create—I don’t even really want to be a journalist much longer.” For me, being a journalist was just a stepping-stone to making stuff up. So I passed, but I passed thinking I was making the right decision for myself and for my kids long-term.
Years later, at dinner, I said something that probably wasn’t even vaguely true anywhere outside of my head, and my son Michael looked at me and said, “Dad, why don’t you just stop making things up?” And I said, “Because me making stuff up is what pays for your dinner.”
Do you have any particular fond memories from visiting Philadelphia?
I think one of my favorite moments was after the talk, sneaking with Amanda out from the formal place where the dean, the president, the faculty were hanging out, and just popping out to see what the students were doing. A sort of impromptu, incredibly easygoing signing happened as we talked to people who’d been there. And some of them were fans of Amanda… Amanda and I have such a strange relationship—sometimes I get to be The Husband, and sometimes I get to be Neil Gaiman. Sometimes she’s Amanda Palmer, and sometimes she’s The Wife. You know—you’re the person who smiles and carries things. Last night we were at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston [for Amanda], and there was something very strange about just listening to the conversation of people around me, going, “That’s Amanda Palmer! You got to touch her!” and I was there as her bag-carrier, and that was wonderful. And I think that time [at UArts] she got to take as much joy in being my plus-one and watching me in my funny hat and my doctoral robe.
And now I have a doctorate of the arts—so, obviously, if something is wrong with the arts, I can fix it.
Philadelphia Weekly contributor Kyle Cassidy has been making good art with Neil Gaiman since 2008. His recent PW covers have included the Philly Elvis Fest and the Philadelphia Republicans of Color.