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Neil Gaiman Responds 230

He says, "Sorry about how long this took to do. Blame it on a European Tour that took much more of my time than I have ever imagined..." No problem, Neil. We love you, and your answers to our questions were certainly worth the wait.

1) Mononoke's Disappointing Box Office - by RobertB-DC
Mr. Gaiman, after the time, effort, and research you put into the dub of Princess Mononoke, were you disappointed by the film's performance at the US box office? Do you feel that the film was mishandled by Miramax, or were US audiences not quite ready to have their expectations of animation stretched that far?

Neil:
Not particularly disappointed, but then I've never equated sales, good or bad, with quality, and Princess Mononoke was pretty much the first ever attempt to release something like that into movie theatres in the US. I took much more pleasure in seeing how close we got to 100% at RottenTomatoes.com than I was ever bothered by its box office.

Do I think Miramax could have handled it better? Probably, in a lot of ways -- for example, there was some silliness in the beginning where, once I'd written five drafts of the script, each word having to be approved each time by Ghibli and Miramax, they gave my final draft to someone to make sure that the mouth movements matched the script, and then cut me out of the loop for six months. The person who did the mouth-flap draft didn't like my script, and rewrote it. His version was what was recorded, initially. They screened it. It was a disaster. Then they called me back in and let me work with the director, Jack Fletcher, and he and I went back and put as much of my original dialogue back in as we could, but it all had to be recorded fairly fast at this point. I was proud of the final product, but wished that I'd been included during the period when everything went wrong: it would have made things a lot easier, and we could have been polishing at the end rather than desperately fixing things.

Harvey Weinstein really wanted to trim it. It's a long film. If Ghibli had let him trim, Miramax might have gone much wider with the film, and more movie theatres might have taken a chance on it -- but then, the audience would have been (rightly) complaining about not having been shown the whole film, as it was made, and I'd probably now be answering questions on Slashdot about whether the restoration of the missing minutes on the DVD made up for losing them in the cinemas...

Having said all that, Miramax didn't throw it away: they released it into the "ten major markets", and if the audiences had come out for it, then its theatrical release would have got much wider. Probably best simply to view it as a step on the way to something...

2) The Balance of Collaboration - by buckhead_buddy
Do you find solo work (such as American Gods) to be more productive or pleasant for you than collaborative work (such as Good Omens)?

The graphic novel medium relies strongly on collaboration. Not only with artists and editors, but also to a limited extent with marketers, trademark lawyers, and even the "past continuity" of what others before you have written. Your persistence in this field seems like it could get to be almost hellish unless you drew very solid boundaries with your collaborators or you really enjoyed such chaos.

As a freelance programmer I struggle trying to find the appropriate balance of collaboration to satisfy and motivate. While your work is in a completely different field, I'm curious what thoughts, anecdotes, or advice you might have on keeping collaboration in balance.

Neil:
I like being able to do both, really. The biggest difference is that I can enjoy the collaborative work, when it's done, more than I could ever enjoy, for example, a short story of mine. I'd never pick up a solo novel of mine to read for pleasure, whereas I've taken lots of pleasure from Sandman: ENDLESS NIGHTS.

There are tricks to collaboration, the biggest one of which is getting the best work from your collaborator by knowing what it is they do, and enjoying it, and bouncing off them.

In writing together, it's both of you having the same story or story voice in your heads. I'm a fairly good mimic, which also helps (it's still amusing to hear people tell me what parts of Good Omens I wrote or Terry wrote. Mostly, they're wrong.)

I suspect I learned more from writing American Gods, or from getting through solo screenplays, than I did from Good Omens or, say, the Beowulf I wrote with Roger Avary, because it's very easy to let your co-writer do a bit you're going to have problems with. But you learn more from getting through the bits you have problems with than you ever do sailing blithely across the parts that, for you, are easy.

Working with artists is a very different process to collaborating with other writers. It's a collaborative process, sure, but, for me anyway, knowing who's going to be drawing something is the first piece in the puzzle of what the story is going to be. I couldn't have made Stardust without Charles Vess, because it started as trying to think of something I wanted to see Charles draw. Given Charles's fondness for trees and faerie and the Victorian fairy illustrators, that was the way my mind went. It's not where my mind would have gone had I decided to do a project with, say, Geoff Darrow.

Occasionally it happens upside down -- I'll write something down and then need to find an illustrator. In this case I normally adopt Tactic #1, which is to say, ask Dave McKean if he wants to draw it. So far I've never had to figure out what Tactic #2 would be, as Dave drew the pictures for Coraline, for The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, and for The Wolves in the Walls. And he will be illustrating a book called Crazy Hair, my next children's book, using the computers he's currently using to animate the creatures and world in Mirror-mask, our film for Hensons.

Beyond that, I'm not really sure what you mean about collaborating in the graphic novel medium. Sure, you work with editors, letterers, publicists, agents, lawyers, publicity people, bookshop and comic shop owners, and, passively, with the people who were there before you. And yes, there's a certain amount of chaos, and yes, I do enjoy it.

But then, that's true for most people in any artistic field. You don't exist in a vacuum. Art's always a dialogue with those who went before, and with the other people out there in your field, and with those who make what you do happen (Composers need orchestras, and grants, and, sometimes, movies-or-games. And lawyers. And agents. Anyone involved in making a movie depends on hundreds of other people for -- well, everything, really.) You have to learn to play well with others, even if it's not your natural temperament. And, unless you're a dedicated hermit and mystery of the James Tiptree Jr persuasion, you will have to deal with practically as many people as a solo novelist -- copy editors and editors and publicists and agents and lawyers and Bookshop managers and so forth... Although you may have lots of down time while you're away and writing, during which people leave you alone.

3) I know I should be asking about you and your work - by rgoer
So I love every word I've read from your pen, but presently I'm in the middle of a dry spell--and the way I figure, if you're going to seek advice, seek advice from one you admire, right? So, are there any authors out there right now you can't get enough of? Anybody you're reading that you feel nobody should miss? Fiction, nonfiction, a decent biography you've read lately? Do you even have time to get a good read in with all the hustle and bustle of just being Neil Gaiman?

Neil:
I don't get as much reading time as I want, and I miss it very much.

But I still read.

When you start writing fiction, you start reading less fiction. Not sure why this is, but it's true.

Personally, I tend to read indiscriminately until I get obsessed by something. My current obsession, which may or may not turn into fiction at some point, is the Jack Benny radio show, so there's an awful lot of reading about that and about American Radio going on.

Books I've enjoyed over the last few months (off the top of my head, and from a quick glance to the shelf immediately to my right) would include:

The Power of Babel - A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter. Great book about Language, although every country I went to on my recent book tours I'd quote an interesting fact about their language from the book, and someone would say "Well, yes... but it's not quite like that..."

The Knight by Gene Wolfe. One of my favourite American authors just wrote a medeival fantasy with giants and dragons and suchlike, and made a genre I thought was dead clamber out of the grave. Lovely book.

Peter Straub -- Lost Boy Lost Girl. Straub writing horror fiction, or detective fiction, or serial killer fiction, or a ghost story. Or, quite possibly, a mainstream novel about wishfulfillment in the face of tragic loss.

The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry

Wislawa Szymborska -- Nothing Twice: Selected Poems

No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution by Will Birch -- well-researched book about a period I sort-of knew about. Mostly enjoyable for the way it follows events: British Pub Rock (and Stiff Records, and perhaps the UK version of Punk) can be traced back to the meeting of a hippy film editor with plans for a "Pleasure Dome" and a con-man...

The Turk by Tom Standage -- I'd always wondered about the eighteenth century chess-playing automata...

Essential Acker -- the Selected Writings of Kathy Acker

Tragically I Was An Only Twin -- The Complete Peter Cook edited by William Cook

Things That Never Happen -- Short stores of M. John Harrison (incidentally, Mike Harrison's novel "LIGHT" was, to my mind, the best SF novel of the last five years. An astonishing piece of work.)

I'm looking forward to the new David Quammen book, The Monster of God -- his natural history writing is always enormously pleasurable, and to the new Martin Millar novel "The Lonely Werewolf Girl".

I try and mention books I enjoy on my journal at www.neilgaiman.com, although I've noticed that when I say nice things about books on my journal, they tend to turn up as blurbs on the back of the books some months later...

4) Abandoned ideas - by Anonymous Coward on 01:26 PM September 22nd, 2003
Neil, I vaguely recall from the Neverwhere DVD that the germ of the idea was the homeless of London, but that you were wary of glamorizing something that really is not glamorous. In your Talk of the Nation interview, the serial-killer convention was brought up, and I got the feeling you were uncomfortable with something so dark being glamorized.

I wonder if there have been any project ideas that you've left by the roadside because you felt the result would hold something unfortunate up for admiration.

Neil:
There was a Sandman story I wanted to write, which would have been a heartbreaker, and would have been about the dreams and hopes of an unborn baby, who was, for whatever reason, never going to be born. I didn't write it because I could imagine it being thrust in front of some pregnant teenager who didn't want to be pregnant to make her change her mind about what she was going to do.

The world of unplanned pregnancy is difficult enough in America; I didn't want to make it harder for someone having a hard time than it already is.

5) That forgotten god from American Gods - by Torinaga-Sama
Okay, this has been driving my wife and I CRAZY. The god in American Gods that you can't remember after you talk to him. Was that modeled after an existing god or did you make that up yourself?

I believe you even stumped the internet on that one.

Neil:
You'll have to remind me which character you're talking about.

Odd, I thought I remembered everyone in there. Ah well. Memory's a funny thing...

6) As a Brit living in the US I feel very aware of... - by exp(pi*sqrt(163))
....how you tailor your writing to which side of the Atlantic your intended audience is on. When I read Neverwhere it was the US edition and clearly contained language and explanations that would seem a little inappropriate to readers in the UK. Do you carry out your own 'translations' of your books? What differences do you see between American and British audiences to which you need to adapt? And how involved are you in the translations to other languages and hence cultures?

Neil:
I try to stay on top of the US and the UK editions of books (sometimes I fail). Neverwhere needed quite some work for the US readership, which I did 98% of, and the other 2% was done without my knowledge. (For example -- I kept the word "flat" for where Richard lived, in my US version. It's not a universally common US word, but it's comprehensible. The US editors unilaterally decided to change the word to "apartment" and did a universal find-and-replace, and in the bound galleys that were sent to reviewers there were people who believed the Earth was apartment and people started to say things apartmently.)

I'll happily change words when they mean different things -- a pavement in the UK is what an American would call the sidewalk, while the pavement in the US is what Brit would regard as the road. If I have a girl bleeding on the pavement in the US edition, the meaning has changed, so I'm happy to move her to the sidewalk.

A phrase like "It's all a bit of a pantomime," would mean something very different in the US to the UK -- and not in a way that would make a reader stop and realise that English Panto is a long way from "mime".

The first time it happened was with Terry Pratchett, when the US editor wanted us to explain things like Firelighters and English Currency in Good Omens, but we had so much fun with all the extra footnotes and things they crept back into the UK edition. So the Gollancz first edition hardback has fewer footnotes and a slightly darker plot than the current paperback versions on either side of the Atlantic. There were other differences -- Terry changed my Cheers joke to a Golden Girls joke, because he didn't watch Cheers but quite liked the Golden Girls, and I changed my demons dance like the English band in the Eurovision Song Contest line to one about demons dancing like a white band on Soul Train because I suspected Eurovision Song Contests gags might not play in Des Moines.

Stardust I worked hard to keep the same -- even down to the spelling of grey. The UK edition of American Gods isn't the same as the US edition -- partly because I got the galley proofs back a week apart and I was fairly punctilious about making sure that the US version contained as few anglicisms as possible, but much less bothered if the occasional stray "car park" instead of "parking lot" crept into the UK text.

As for other countries -- I'll answer questions from the translators, but with the exception of the French, I'm not up enough in any other language to have any idea of whether or not it's a decent translation, so I'll rely on reader feedback. (Mostly it's pretty good. I keep hearing that the Spanish version of American Gods is a fairly problematic book, though.)

A lot of the time the translators are the unsung heroes, as they take enormous pleasure in pointing out to me when I meet them in person and find myself apologising for hinging so much of American Gods on the several meanings of the word "trunk", or starting all the names of the Endless with D.

I can be fairly certain that when I win awards in other countries for the fiction I owe my translators a great deal.

7) Small Gods and American Gods - by brandonY
Neil, You and Terry Pratchett are two of my favorite authors, but aside from Good Omens, I never noticed much of a cross-over between any of your books. However, when American Gods came out, I couldn't help noticing that the portrayal of its gods and goddesses was very similar to Pratchett's portrayal of gods in Small Gods, another classic. Is this more than a coincidence?

Neil:
Well, it's also very similar to my portrayal of gods and goddesses in Sandman, which predates Small Gods. But it's not coincidence, although Small Gods is one of the few Terry Pratchett books I've still not read (because I figured one day I'd write a book about gods, and I tend to avoid things in territory I plan to visit. It's easier that way).

Terry and I have very similar worldviews on a lot of things. When I lived in the UK we'd chat on the phone most days, whether we were writing Good Omens or not, talking about plot and about characters and about fiction. Often the conversations would begin with Terry asking "Which one of these two things is funnier...?" and me going "Well, you know, you could do both. What if you...?" While I was finishing American Gods I went to Sweden where Terry and I were guests at the Gothenberg book fair, and Terry wound up unravelling a knotty plot point in American Gods for me on the train, again by listening to me talk about the alternatives and then saying "But you could do both, you know..." and explaining how.

8) Coraline and the writing process for YA novels. - by A Big Gnu Thrush
What led you to write the young adult novel Coraline? Was the writing process for Coraline fundamentally different than some of your other works? How did you control the prose to achieve a balance between richness of language and accessibility to your younger audience?

Neil:
I have two daughters. I started Coraline for Holly, when she was about 6 years old, in 1991. (She's now 18.) Mostly I wanted to write a story I thought she'd enjoy.

I showed the first few chapters to an editor, Richard Evans, at Gollancz, who liked it but thought that it was unpublishable, as I was writing a book aimed at both children and adults. I was writing the book in my own time. Then, in 1992, I moved to America and ran out of "my own time". I wrote about 6 pages between 1992 and 1998, when I persuaded Jennifer Hershey at Avon Books to give me a contract to finish it. She didn't know what it was, no more than I did, but it wasn't a contract for a lot of money, and we figurted we'd sort out whether it would be published as an adult or a children's book when the book was finished.

I went back to it, but I still didn't have a lot of time, so I started writing it in a notebook, beside my bed, and instead of reading before I went to sleep, I'd write fifty or a hundred words of Coraline instead.

And then I wrote it in snatched moments here and there -- a bit on a railway train, a bit on the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund Cruise, and completed it about a decade after I'd started it.

In terms of style, I knew the style I wanted to write it in from page one, which was the only way it survived such an odd way of being written. It's a narrative voice I think of as Classic English Children's Book, although I'd be hard-pressed to find a specific book which sounds like it, except for Clement Freud's wonderful novel "Grimble", which I seem to keep failing to persuade publishers to bring back into print. I wanted a style that was very clean and straightforward, and in which there was room for things to mean more than they literally meant.

9) Sandman the Movie - by ajs
You commented at MIT (BTW: wonderful reading of a great short-story) that you didn't want to see Sandman the Movie made at this point because of the horrible treatment it had been given (I think the last draft script you had read contained, "Puny humans, your bullets cannot harm me!")

With the change in attitude toward comics in Hollywood, have you considered pressing the issue again? Also, have you considered talking to Hollywood's most successful comic book geek (Jess Whedon) about his getting behind the project? I would be stunned if he wasn't interested, though I'm sure the Firefly movie is sucking down a good chunk of his time....

Neil:
I love reading at MIT.

The good news on Sandman is that it's currently been taken out of the hands of the producers who've led it down the Road to Nowhere for the last 8 years. Currently Paul Levitz at DC Comics and I are trying to figure out what to do with it.

In a perfect world, a director who has the same kind of passion for the material that Peter Jackson had for LOTR, or Sam Raimi had for Spider-Man will come along and sweep everyone up in his wake.

I suspect that Joss Whedon's probably got his plate filled with his own projects.

10 & 10A) Journal - by greenfield
You have a journal online at www.neilgaiman.com. What kind of an impact has your journal had on your interactions with the public? What thoughts do you have regarding online journals (aka weblogs) in general?

Re: Journal - by burrows
William Gibson just stopped blogging [williamgibsonbooks.com], stating that informal blog/journal writing gets in the way of writing fiction.

Is there a conflict for you between maintaining your journal and writing fiction? How do you manage your time / ideas / approach, in order to stay active in both?

Neil:
I've enormously enjoyed the immediacy of having the blog. In some ways it sort of bypasses established promotional and advertising systems. It means that, for example, if I'm giving a talk or doing a signing, many of the people who would have wanted to know this, know it. So while Steve Martin and I were both headlining at New York Is Book Country, and his face was on the ad material, mine was the talk that sold out. And if he had a blog, and blog readers, and so on, like I do, his would have sold out as well. It also means that I have several hundred thousand people cheerfully being some kind of a knowledge pool, for when I need to know things (especially techie things, which are always very mysterious to me) and more questions always being sent in than I could ever answer.

I also like the oddness of the way it exists apart from me - that there are people who wouldn't dream of reading my fiction, but who know that the blog is mostly interesting and funny.

I'm fascinated by what I leave out. Some months ago a cat I'd had for a decade and raised from a kitten was killed, and I didn't put anything up about it on the journal, mostly because I was upset and really didn't want lots of friendly messages of sympathy at that point (it's not that I'll leave out bad things. But that thing felt private, so it stayed off the blog.)

I'm not sure that there's a conflict between journalling and writing fiction. (I'm not sure that there's not.) The big picture problems with doing the journal are more to do with writing in general. I'm a writer: time that I spend writing is time I know I'm working.

And that's not always true -- if I've spent a couple of hours on a journal entry it's probably increased the amount of happiness in the world, but it hasn't got any book written. So there's that. And there's the novel thing as well -- part of the oddness of writing a novel is the way that you start seeing the world through your novel, using the novel almost as a lens, so any observations, thoughts, ponderings, whatever, tend to be put into the novel, which is a good thing.

I'm often hesitant to re-use things I've already put into the journal (although sharp-eyed journal readers noticed some dancing paper dolls in Venice showing up in Sandman: Endless Nights).

It's quite possible that the next time I want to write a novel I'll stop blogging, or, more likely, cut back enormously -- possibly only allow myself to blog if I've I've made my word count, or only post on Sundays, or something equally as mundane. Because the journal's well over quarter of a million words long already. And that's not a book...

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Neil Gaiman Responds

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  • uh.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Savatte ( 111615 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @10:41AM (#7377313) Homepage Journal
    Princess Mononoke was pretty much the first ever attempt to release something like that into movie theatres in the US

    Besides being vague (something like that? Does that mean Anime? Dubs with high-profile actors?), wasn't Akira released into the theaters back in like 1988 or so?
    • Re:uh.. (Score:3, Informative)

      by mblase ( 200735 )
      wasn't Akira released into the theaters back in like 1988 or so?

      I think Neil was referring to the first widely distributed anime film in the U.S. "Akira" certainly was released many years earlier, but it was never widely shown.

      Perhaps "Mononoke" wasn't the first, even in that regard; my anime history isn't as good as some.
      • Re:uh.. (Score:3, Insightful)

        I think Neil was referring to the first widely distributed anime film in the U.S. "Akira" certainly was released many years earlier, but it was never widely shown.

        From where I'm sitting in Grand Forks, ND, Mononoke wasn't that widely released either. :)

        • Perhaps it's because no one's bothered to install a Movie Theatre in the middle of nowhere?
      • Ghost in the Shell had a fairly wide theatrical release which predated that of Mononoke considerably. Akira's release was pretty damned narrow. Recently, the Cowboy Bebop Movie had a really tiny release, but it sold out everywhere - they probably could have had twice as many theaters and still sold all showing out.
    • The Akira release was pretty limited, mostly late-night showings at art-house/porn theatres in liberal cities. Mononoke made it out into the suburbs.
    • He means... (Score:2, Informative)

      They weren't ready for an alternate universe ecological warrior tale about the terrible effects of unrestrained technology on peoples souls and the environment.

      Throw in stuff about spirits, greed, redemption, possibly romance, and some particulalry gory special effects - shooting off peoples arms and heads with arrows - and it becomes something that Americans cannot accept as a 'cartoon'.
      Especially when its marketed as a wonderful childrens romp :P
  • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @10:42AM (#7377315)
    incidentally, Mike Harrison's novel "LIGHT" was, to my mind, the best SF novel of the last five years. An astonishing piece of work.

    This book was harder to find at Amazon than it should have been, mainly because of their full-text search engine being on by default. You can find "Light" available here [amazon.co.uk] (or at least get a look at the cover so you can find it at your local store). The author's name is listed as M. John Harrison, and it's not currently published in the U.S.
  • by vslashg ( 209560 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @10:43AM (#7377325)
    I suspect I learned more from writing
    American Gods, or from getting through solo screenplays, than I did from Good Omens or, say, the Beowulf I wrote with Roger Avary...
    Wow. Can you imagine a cluster of this guy?
    • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @12:01PM (#7377768) Homepage Journal
      The problem here is that Neal Gaiman reads Slashdot enough that he might have set you up for that line on purpose... :)

      - Robin
      • Yeah,
        Apparently Endless Nights has a Slashdot reference in it! (Urg, too much reading to do with Endless Nights and Quicksilver!!!)
        • In "Destruction", the hot-academic-chick-techie threatens some governmental MiB types with a robot script that will automatically submit classified information to slashdot if she isn't allowed to leave the archeological dig site they're studying (and presumably kill -9 it). I almost fell out of my chair when I read it...
    • Roger Avary (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CleverNickName ( 129189 ) * <wil@wilwheatoDALIn.net minus painter> on Monday November 03, 2003 @01:22PM (#7378496) Homepage Journal
      Roger also wrote the first Sandman script, and it was fucking PERFECT before the studio utterly destroyed it. It's my Dream (heh) role, even more than Watchmen, so add me to the list of people who are happy to read that it may be crawling back to life.

      I'd also like to add that I think this is the best Ask Slashdot I've ever read. You know someone is a great writer when their freakin' interview answers are compelling and entertaining.
      • Re:Roger Avary (Score:3, Interesting)

        by krmt ( 91422 )
        Just out of curiosity, which character in Watchmen would you be? And if you couldn't play Morpheus, who would you play in the Sandman mythos?

        I'm no actor, but I'd probably go with Nightowl (the young one) from Watchmen and voicing Matthew the Raven from Sandman. The first has this great sense of being lost in the world, and I adore Matthew, especially for the way he handles things in The Wake.
      • by Monkey Angst ( 577685 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @03:07PM (#7379514) Homepage
        <tries to imagine Wil as Morpheus..>

        Nope, doesn't work. Maybe Desire.

        <shudders>

        Er... maybe not...

        As for Watchmen, I think it's clear that Wil is Rorschach..

  • Disappointed? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dark-br ( 473115 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @10:47AM (#7377349) Homepage
    It's like a certain somebody says, many people in this country suffer from "visual illiteracy" and can't open their eyes that little bit more.

    "Princess Mononoke - Japanese hogwash"

    A little harsh perhaps.
    • I thought the subbed version was great. It's when you decide to cast Billy Bob Thornton as a Buddhist monk that you begin to run into problems... (of course, Gaiman had nothing to do with this....)
      • Re:Disappointed? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dark-br ( 473115 )
        I thought Billy Crudup, Claire Danes and Minnie Driver were great in their parts (especially the latter). Billy Bob Thornton was, well, alright at most, though I found Gillian Andersen's voice as Moro a bit disorientating as I could've sworn they used a male voice actor in the Jap version...

        I think the most important thing was that the English script was good - Neil Gaiman did a fine job there.

        • "Jap" is considered a racial slur by many Japanese, and very offensive. It's probably best to avoid using it.

          And yes, they did use a (fairly wheezy) male voice actor in the Japanese version, which was odd since the character made more sense (to me, anyway) as female. I agree that the dub in general was quite good (as far as those things go), and that Billy Bob Thornton was just OK. I definitely prefer subtitles to dubs, but I think a lot of Americans refuse to deal with subtitles. At least, I like to p
      • Re:Disappointed? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gosand ( 234100 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @11:07AM (#7377449)
        I thought the subbed version was great. It's when you decide to cast Billy Bob Thornton as a Buddhist monk that you begin to run into problems... (of course, Gaiman had nothing to do with this....)

        I always prefer the original language with subtitles. Have you seen the dubbed version of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon ? I thought it was pretty bad, even though I love the movie itself. The dubbing always seems to take something away. Unless it is an old Kung Fu movie, then you *have* to have it. It wouldn't be as hilarious without it.

        • I agree on the "bad dubbing to make wonderfully bad movies wonderfully worse" bit. Try renting the dub of the Fist of the North Star movie (anime) sometime. It's sooo bad, and the dub just piles on the badness. Generally found in the sort of video store that stocks about 10 anime titles on VHS.

          A lot of games that came out for the Dreamcast were probably cool because they didn't have the budget to "Americanize" them, and so all the wacky Japanisms (I've seen their non-anime TV, and it's insane) were left
        • The Japanese watch American movies in English, with Japanese subtitles. They know, as Anime fans know (as opposed to the legions who watch it occasionally) that the dubbing sucks, that it almost never imparts the proper emotion... There are rare examples of good dubbing, such as some of the voiceovers in Mononoke, and some of them in the new "special" DVD release of Akira - the original overdub was complete and utter crap.

          Of course, most Japanese moviegoers speak at least a little English. Most Americans,

        • I remember a survey of people who say CTHD in the theater. Something like 2/3rds remember it being dubbed, though they had seen it subtitled. Interesting. Personally, I didn't get much out of Chow Yun Fat's delivery - he spoke like a ventriloquist, teeth clenched together the whole time.
        • Dubs should be used only for:
          1) Godzilla movies
          2) Old-school kung-fu movies
          3) Some John Woo films, where the guy they got to do Chow Yun-Fat's voice sounded just like Cary Grant. :)
  • by drskrud ( 684409 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @10:53AM (#7377381) Homepage

    I think the problem with this movie's acceptance in North American markets has to do a lot with its marketing as a kid's movie. This probably has to do with North America's general perception on animation as being a medium solely for childish cartoons and superhero comics. When I first saw the previews for Princess Mononoke, I was certain it was of the "childish" variety. (And the fact that movies theatres were packed with small children, who were inevitably crying once the first bloody scenes came by certainly belays the successful marketing of a kid's movie).

    On the other hand, if marketing for the animated movie hadn't targeted children, arguably the only people who would've seen it would have been the niche market of Anime fans, which is still not a very massive audience today although it is growing ever larger. This makes me wonder though, how do you market an animated movie that is neither a children's story nor a superhero tale to an audience that may not be ready to reinterpret their views on animation as a medium? Or better yet, how can you force a change in perception on animation as a medium? Surely movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell must have aided in opening the awareness of some people, but what would have happened if Ghost In The Shell was marketed as a children's movie?

    • I'd have to ask if the problem of widespread adoption of Japanese movies by an American audience doesn't have more to do with the limited American interest/understanding of Japanese culture. I think the recent "Lost in Translation" is a great example. Almost any American is going to feel like Japan is another PLANET, and a strange distant foreign (in every sense of the word) one.

      Whereas the flip doesn't apply. The Japanese are hungry and almost obsessed over American culture, so they can assimilate it much
    • You don't... You market the movie as an adult movie. Show trailers before R and pg-13 films. Show random splatterings of blood. Play dramatic music.

      People that know about 'adult' cartoons [given the cartoon network's adult swim time slots, and people who are into anime already] are more than enough to be a respectable market.

      There's not really any other adult cartoons out there, so you'll not be competing against anyone. Just keep selling to the current market, and others will come looking.

      You don't forc
    • Where I live in (Finland) there is much of the same prejudice against animations. The TV-stations have this common misconception that animated equals children.

      What they have not understood is that animation can be a means to tell stories in the same way movies do. Oh well, we could possibly categorise Sandman as childrens' reading because it is a comic.

      But back to animation. Each christmas, our TV channels air program for children from early morning. Usually there are quite a lot of animated shorts incl

      • That is just cruel. Cruel, cruel, cruel. But cripplingly funny.

        I would say that it's absurd - that someone would watch the animation they'd bought before airing it. But then, a couple of months ago ITV managed to show Invader Zim in the slot where only small kiddies are watching. So it's just possible that this nightmare scenario might actually arise ;-)

      • ... if Finland is at all like North America, they'd receive a huge backlash, and they'd never air another adult-oriented animated program again ever, in any time slot, just to make sure some kids weren't accidentally watching or something.
    • I think you're quite right about the reception that adult-oriented animation receives. I've tried introducing my mother to Anime several times and she invariably refuses to give it a fair opportunity. If it's a dub, she insists that nobody talks like that and leaves. If it's a sub, she mocks the Japanese language. Often, before I can even get her to sit down in front of the television, she tells it that she's not going to watch any of my dumb cartoons. Some people just aren't ready for exposure to another c
      • I hate to break it to you, her being your mom and all, but she's being kind of a jerk. I guess the take-home message is: she doesn't want to learn, so don't waste your time. You probably wouldn't like old Elvis movies either, or whatever the hell it is old people like to watch ;-)
      • If it's a sub, she mocks the Japanese language.

        Wow...that sounds pretty racist.

    • But do you really care?

      On one hand its really nice to have your favorite thingy to be popular and easy to obtain.

      On the other hand, I rather have my favorite thingy be of good quality.

      If you cater to the masses you risk "watering"
      it down. Look at popular music for an example of this.
    • I don't think you have to force anything. The younger generation today is increasingly inclined to see cartoons as story-telling mediums than an older geration of parents and grandparents. It's a shame it isn't recognized fully by the studios/marketting droids. Even my non-geek friends can find enjoyment in a good Miyazaki film, even if they aren't otaku fanboys/girls.
    • Yes, but what you have to remember is Animation is no longer a kids only medium. Look at the success of The Simpsons? Family Guy? Futurama?
  • by EXTomar ( 78739 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @11:10AM (#7377456)
    Gaiman makes a great point of Blogs! Instead of going through their agent/publisist releasing a statement "Mr. Gaiman enjoyed working with Terry Prachett" Gaiman can now just fire up his blog and write it there instead. Its more personal since it comes directly from him and it is exactly what he wants to say instead of having his agent/publisist insisting on changing the content.
  • Wow, I'm ver impressed, he really seemed to care about the questions, and took the time to give good responses.

    Gaiman has been at the top of my favorite authors list for a while now. This makes me respect the person as well as the works. I always like to find out something about who the author behind good books is.

  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @11:36AM (#7377601) Homepage Journal
    He recommends The Knight by Gene Wolfe. Unfortunately, it hasn't been published yet. I suppose he receives a lot of free books from publishers hoping to get quotes from him for the dust jackets.
  • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) * on Monday November 03, 2003 @11:37AM (#7377616)
    It was first and +5 in the original solicitation [slashdot.org] for interview questions. Was this Gaiman's decision? Can't say as I blame him for opting to pass on that one... "Hmmm, let's see, do I alienate my Slashdot audience, or my friends, family, and everyone else in my industry...? Decisions, decisions..."

    (1) "I get *paid* to write for a *living*, Sunshine! Copy my stuff illegally and my lawyer, Knuckles of The Endless, will be paying you a visit, and *not* in your dreams!"

    or

    (2) "Yeah, I'm kind of all high-tech and new-agey that way, I think one or two people should buy my books, OCR them, then dump them on the 'Net to disseminate freely. I've had my NYT bestseller, so I'm all done with that making-money thing now. I think it would be really cool if a bunch of you would download American Gods and write your own fan-fic sequel. I'll even help you get it published and talk about you in my blog."

    Talk about your basic No-Win scenario:

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @11:52AM (#7377714) Journal
    What? No sarcasm? No abuse?

    I just want to say that this was definitely one of the best interviews on /. I've read. Partly this is because Neil was so forthcoming and willing to answer in depth, but also because the /. editors really did pick out ten of the best questions.

    Good work guys. You get dumped on a lot, and probably deserve more praise than you receive.
  • by Strange Ranger ( 454494 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @12:51PM (#7378242)
    > Terry... didn't watch Cheers but quite liked the Golden Girls.

    Next we find out Neil Stephenson has every Mr. Belvedere on tape, William Gibson loves ALF, and Iain Banks never missed an episode of Hee Haw.

    My world is falling apart!
    • Even scarier is the fact that Isaac Asimov once said, though I forget where, that he liked watching Laverne and Shirley and liked the character Batmite from the '70s Batman cartoons. No, I am not making this up.
  • Princess Mononoke (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CaptainCarrot ( 84625 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @02:52PM (#7379332)
    The response: Having said all that, Miramax didn't throw it away: they released it into the "ten major markets", and if the audiences had come out for it, then its theatrical release would have got much wider. Probably best simply to view it as a step on the way to something...

    I don't mean this unkindly, but I really think Neal's kidding himself here. Look at the numbers for Spirited Away [imdb.com]. For its opening weekend, it grossed an astonishing $17,300 per screen, $449,839 on 26 screens. This is comparable to the heavily-promoted, heavily licensed, heavily merchandised Monsters, Inc., released the same year. It won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Despite all this, it never received the wide distribution that was promised, even after the Academy Award, but was buried by a different subsidiary of the same company that gave Princess Mononoke such short shrift.

    I'm not generally one for conspiracy theories, but it's not unreasonable to conclude at this point that Disney licensed the Miyazaki corpus not to bring it to the American public, but to ensure that most of the American public is never exposed to it. Repeatedly, they have met what has to be a minimal contractual obligation for promotion and distribution, after which the films disappear from the theaters no matter how the fans clamor for it. I suspect the only reason Miramax/Disney releases them on DVD at all is because they know people will just order them from overseas if they don't. (Even legitimate film distributors in Hong Kong generally produce Region 1 or region-free DVDs for the overseas market. They're not afraid of wide-open markets there for some reason.)

    Why would they do this? One possible reason is the sheer quality of it. It makes their own work look very, very bad, although these days we don't really need much of a standard for comparison. Disney's recent Brother Bear [imdb.com] demonstrates clearly that they're no longer capable of producing quality animated films on their own. The success of films like Monsters, Inc [imdb.com] over Disney's hand-drawn animation should be ascribed less to the computer animation than to the fact it was actually made by another company entirely. But unlike Pixar's work, Disney can't really rebrand Miyazaki as their own product. It's just too unlike everything else they do, both in terms of the animation style and the story values. So they do their best to hide it instead. This way they never have to compete with it.

    So I'm afraid they indeed threw Mononoke away. Just like they've thrown away every other Miyazaki film.

    • but I really think Neal's

      That should, of course, be Neil. My apologies.

    • by Doktor Memory ( 237313 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @03:26PM (#7379759) Journal
      I'm not generally one for conspiracy theories, but it's not unreasonable to conclude at this point that Disney licensed the Miyazaki corpus not to bring it to the American public, but to ensure that most of the American public is never exposed to it.

      Ah, now we enter the bizarro universe, wherein Disney doing theatrical releases of Ghibli films (and not incidentally, spending MILLIONS OF DOLLARS on re-dubbing, striking new prints and putting together DVDs) is, somehow, a conspiracy to prevent people from seeing the films.

      Meanwhile, back on planet earth, the number of companies releasing Ghibli films into any theaters in the USA (other than speciality engagements specifically for fans) other than Disney and prior to Disney is...what? Could it be? ZERO! Oddly enough, that is also the exact same number of companies that did excellent and legitimate DVD releases of the Ghibli back-catalogue prior to the Disney deal. And last I checked, any positive integer was axiomatically greater than zero.

      Fox held the American distribution rights to Totoro for the better part of a decade, and all we got out of it was a crappy VHS dub and a feature-free DVD shovelware release. But Disney is conspiring to hide Ghibli's films from the American public. Sure.

      Damn near every set of eyes that saw Mononoke and Spirited Away in their Disney release is one that would not have seen those movies if Disney hadn't released them here. Yeah, it sucks that they weren't put into general release, but Disney is a business, not a charity. There's a long history of foreign films not making any money in this country, and they had every reason to be leery of the project. They did it anyway: bully for them. They made money on it; hopefully well see the next one on more screens as a result.

      Some people really can't take yes for an answer.
      • Re:Princess Mononoke (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CaptainCarrot ( 84625 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @08:40PM (#7382949)
        Ah, now we enter the bizarro universe, wherein Disney doing theatrical releases of Ghibli films (and not incidentally, spending MILLIONS OF DOLLARS on re-dubbing, striking new prints and putting together DVDs) is, somehow, a conspiracy to prevent people from seeing the films.

        Oh, I see. You have no actual information, so you're going to try to be a wiseass instead. No. I don't expect to make an impression; facts never do with your kind. Here's reality anyway.

        Shouting "millions of dollars" doesn't change the fact that a few million here or there means very, very little to a big Hollywood studio. Small budget Hollywood films have budgets of at least $15M these days. Independent films have miniscule budgets by comparison; My Big Fat Greek Wedding was made for $5M, but that was a non-Hollywood indie film. To put this in perspective, the original Japanese version of Spirited Away cost 1.9B yen, or less than $20M US. If they spent more than $5M on the dub with that cast (the biggest names were John Ratzenberger and Suzanne Pleshette, not exactly top draws) they spent too much even by Disney standards.

        By contrast, Treasure Planet which was released in the US a few months after Spirited Away and was a critical and commercial flop, cost $140M to make. Got some perspective now? The risk in distributing Spirited Away was absolutely minimal. They could have spent twice what they did, and it still would have been a tiny risk compared with what Hollywood normally gambles when releasing a film.

        Now, bear in mind that before the US release, it had already taken the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival and grossed $250M worldwide. It was the top-grossing film ever in Japan, out-doing Titanic, which was just as popular over there as it was here. Critics nearly unanimously raved about it. This was clearly a film with huge potential. If the goal was to make a good profit on it -- and in Hollywood, that's always the goal -- there was absolutely no reason not to place the full power of the Disney hype machine behind it. For once, they had something on their hands that could live up to the wildest hyperboles they had to offer.

        Instead, they didn't hype it at all. There was practically no publicity for it. There was a great deal of free press from the critics, but that only affected those who pay attention to what the critics say, which is a distinct minority. It hardly mattered. Disney opened it on fewer than 30 screens, and in it's initial release it never played on more than 39. It was given a wider release following the Oscar win, on nowhere near as many screens as a typical Disney release, but as the re-release was very abrupt and still practically unpromoted it didn't do particularly well.

        This is odd behavior for the film industry, no matter what you think of the matter. I'm not the only one to notice [nydailynews.com] it either (just to pick the first example I ran across). There is a serious disconnect between the way this film performed overseas (in every other market in the world) compared to how it performed in the US. It's not something that can be easily explained away. The writer above attributed it to simple mishandling, but if that's what it is then Disney has systematically mishandled every other Miyazaki film it's had the rights to, too.

        Fox's ineptness with Totoro, as a singular example, is less relevant than you try to make out here. Fox isn't exactly known for its animated features, and Totoro is odd enough that it's a good bet they had no clue what to do with it. Disney, however, promotes animated films as their stock-in-trade. They ought to have known what to do with Spirited Away, just like every other distributor who's handled it worldwide knew what to do with it. Somehow, they didn't. Same with Mononoke. And Kiki. And Laputa. Someone might be forgiven, I think, if he has trouble attributing a

        • Shouting "millions of dollars" doesn't change the fact that a few million here or there means very, very little to a big Hollywood studio.

          I'm sorry, but no, millions of dollars mean everything to major studios. Yes, they'll spend lots of money to make movies, but that's because they expect to make it back plus profits. Hollywood producers may be philistines but they're not stupid.

          A more reasonable conclusion would be that Disney and Miramax really didn't know how to market these movies. They're not used t

    • Nope. (Score:2, Interesting)

      Disney Inc stinks, no question about that. But just because they are bad, does that make Mononoke good? I think the real problem with anime in general is a cultural one. Its like opening a brittish resteraunt in america. What needs to be done is to take the quality aspects of anime, and leave out the considerable amount of crap. But the fans will protest any change to any movie, because it is different than what they are used to.
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @05:42PM (#7381249) Journal
    I'd like to preface this post by saying: I called it! [slashdot.org] Boo yah!

    I absolutely love the way he says "I don't get as much reading time as I want, and I miss it very much" and then he rattles off ELEVEN of the books he's read and enjoyed in the past few months (i.e. not including the ones he disliked or forgot).

    I'm shamed by how much I read Slashdot instead of good books. :-/
  • James Tiptree Jr (Score:5, Informative)

    by sbszine ( 633428 ) on Monday November 03, 2003 @07:56PM (#7382574) Homepage Journal
    unless you're a dedicated hermit and mystery of the James Tiptree Jr persuasion, you will have to deal with practically as many people as a solo novelist

    For those who missed the reference...

    James Tiptree Jr was the pen name of US science fiction author Alice Sheldon. She wrote under a male name (taken from a marmalade jar) so that her stories would have a better chance of selling, and (with the aid of Harry Harrison, I think) devised a 'manly' life story for Tiptree. Drawing on her own career as a secret agent (really!), and borrowing liberally from Ian Fleming, the Tiptree on the dust jackets of her books was a James Bond figure -- the sort of man of action whose stories a Heinlein fan would buy.

    Her SF covered addiction, loss, sex, and betrayal, in a way that was somewhat disturbing, and makes me think she may have been mentally ill at the end. Much of her writing has that obsessive Philip K Dick quality. In the end she killed her (invalid) husband and committed suicide.

    If you want to check out her stuff, the best place to start is the short story collection 10,000 Light Years From Home. The novels are a bit patchy. Also have a look at the Tiptree Award [tiptree.org] for feminist writing in SF (the 2002 winner was Light, which Gaiman also mentioned) and a decent potted bio here [bloodhag.com].
  • Mr. Gaiman,

    Thanks for your blog and taking the time to anser questions here.

    Regards,

    Doug Daulton

10 to the minus 6th power mouthwashes = 1 Microscope

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