New York Times best selling author Neil Gaiman is one of contemporary fantasy’s most talented wordsmiths. You may remember the movies Stardust and Coraline, both based on his work; may have read American Gods (soon to be coming to HBO!), Sandman or Neverwhere; or perhaps you were fortunate enough to partake of his apocalyptically hilarious collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. And depending on your demographic, his ventures into children’s books and graphic novels may also have appeared on your radar.
Now, Neil is ticking off an item on his bucket list and will be appearing as himself on tonight’s episode of The Simpsons entitled “The Book Job” (airing at 8pm ET/7pm CT).
Now, I may not be a terribly huge Simpsons fan, but considering that Neverwhere is currently sitting on my nightstand for the third time this year (and Good Omens is next again), I clearly couldn’t say no when the opportunity to chat with Neil about this latest guest appearance, his terrible American accent, and his thoughts on the current fantasy scene popped up.
It was really fun! I don’t know about the celebrity thing .
. . but truthfully what I’d expected was the normal kind of Simpsons cameo - you
know, Homer says something like, "Nobody but Neil Gaiman could come up with
something as weird as this this," and then you cut to me stroking my chin
going, "You’re right, I couldn’t!" and then it would continue.
So when Nancy sent me the script, and I started to read it and I discovered that I was actually having to act, it was enormously fun. I’ve gotten to play myself several times, and they’re always very different, the ‘me’s that I wind up doing . . . It’s kind of weird! I think if they ever hand out Oscars or Emmys for the best person playing Neil Gaiman, I’m in line to have a shot.
Could you go into a little more detail about the ‘you’ featured on The Simpsons and how that compared to the real-life you?
The real-life me almost never hangs around in Barnes & Noble-like bookstores waiting to find a group of local townsfolk who have decided to write a pseudonymous YA fantasy series, offering my services. And even if I did, I probably wouldn’t be doing the catering. Of course the biggest way this version of Neil Gaiman differs from the normal one is that his American accent is even more atrocious than mine.
You’ve written a Doctor Who episode, you’ve been on The Simpsons, is there any other pop culture place that isn’t officially yours to conquer where you’d like to see Neil Gaiman again?
You know, there is actually a point where you look around and say, alright, I’ve written a Doctor Who episode, I’ve been on The Simpsons, I’d say that’s pretty much it. But I would like to be a head in a jar on Futurama, because that way you know you’ve survived many thousand years at least in jar form. But no, I don’t. I love these weird occasional little “play Neil Gaiman” things that come up, but . . . I definitely don’t want to be a personality, I’m a writer and I love doing goofy stuff, too, but I think it’s time to go back to being a writer.
I think that there’s always a problem with any type of literature, any form of pop culture, when things happen because the time is right and people write them because they believe in them, and when people look around and go ah, this is a way to make money . . . because they mean less and less. It’s like old-time photocopies, when you photocopy and photocopy, and then you photocopy a photocopy, and pretty soon you wind up with a gray sheet of paper with faint lines on it. And I worry that you do wind up fairly rapidly with gray sheets of paper with vague lines on them.
On the other hand, I also know, having grown up as a devoted reader, that as a kid, your first exposure to anything, whether it’s a good book or a bad book, written with care and love or something just tossed off somewhere by someone who doesn’t care, the truth is that when kids encounter books, they bring themselves to them, and the place that you’re going to find the magic can be anywhere - it doesn’t have to be in a great book, it can be in a terrible book, because you’re bringing yourself as a reader to it.
If you could give your 20-something self a piece of advice, what would it be?
You know, it’s all worked out so remarkably well, that I would hate to go back and try and change anything. If I went back and gave myself any piece of advice, it might change things - it might be like the Ray Bradbury story where the guy steps off the path and crushes a butterfly and the entire course of history is changed. So I really like it where I am and would be incredibly loath to change anything.
Actually, though, the only piece of advice that I might give myself would probably be one that Stephen King tried to give me in about 1991 or '92 and, given that I more or less ignored it from Stephen King, I’d probably ignore it from me. Basically, he told me to enjoy it all. At the time, Sandman was doing extremely well, and stuff was happening, and he said, "You’re on this great ride - just enjoy it." And I didn’t. I worried, and I kept working. And I don’t know, maybe the worry was an engine that drove me. But I definitely enjoy it a lot more now.