If you’re reading this, the name ‘Neil Gaiman’ most likely evokes many thought and feelings from you. He may very well be the writer of some of your favorite novels and short stories, the mind behind your introduction to non-superhero comics (or perhaps comics at all), or you may just know him as that cheerey English fellow who always wears black with wild hair that needs to be fed once a fortnight. Either way you probably know that Neil Gaiman is one of the biggest names in the literary world, comics or otherwise, and although he does not have the public presence that he had in years past (Twitter account withstanding) he still manages to capture the imagination of his fans as they devour every new piece that he has published. Of the writers to come out of the United Kingdom to the United States comic market in the late 1980s there are few whom have gained as much praise from the public and critics alike, and not just in the realm of monthly publications. So it is of no surprise that Sequart’s own Patrick Meaney (Talking with Gods, Captured Ghosts, The Image Revolution) has made Gaiman the focus of his newest documentary, Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously, and has graciously taken some time to answer some of my questions about the film.
Max Nestorowich: What was your first exposure to Neil Gaiman’s work? Is there one for you that hold above the others as your favorite?
Patrick Meaney: I got into Neil, like a lot of people, through Sandman. I was getting into comics at the time, catching up on classics like Watchmen, Dark Knight, etc. and Sandman was one of those books that people kept recommending. So, I checked it out and got really into it.
It was the first longform comics series I had read, and this was a time before shows like The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, when it was common to have longform series that valued continuity and had an endpoint in mind. So, it was fantastic to read the series and see its sense of continuity and the way that elements set in motion at the beginning pay off way down the line in ways we could never anticipate. It was a fantastic reading experience, and a gateway for me to many other longform series from that generation of Vertigo writers.
Ultimately, Sandman is still the pinnacle of Neil’s work. It’s just so epic in scope and wide ranging in the kind of stories it tells. But, my personal favorite work of his is Miracleman, which is so unlike any other work I’ve read. Tackling the question of what it’s like to live in a perfect world, he manages to craft a series of widely diverse stories in both subject matter and execution. It’s amazing work, and I can’t wait to see the series finally move forward sometime fairly soon.
This is your third documentary about the for lack of a better term, “British Invasion Rock Stars of comics”, from a directing standpoint what have you learned over the course of making these movies and has your approach changed since you started?
When I made the documentary on Grant, I had never worked on a documentary before, so I was learning a lot along the way. With Grant, I tried to pack it superdense, to have a lot of information and visual elements in every second of that film. I think the movie turned out great, but I also wanted to let things breathe a little bit more in future films. So, with Warren Ellis we included more interludes away from discussing specific works and just letting the visuals or an anecdote breathe.
With Dream Dangerously, I wanted to do something a bit different, by including material with Neil out in the world and a present day verite component to the story, rather than just interviews discussing previous events and ideas. So, it was very cool to get the chance to follow Neil on tour and make a movie that lets you observe Neil in action rather than just hear him talk. It was a big challenge to figure out how to integrate all that material, but I think it turned out well.
Gaiman is known for being an extremely patient, cheery, and kind individual while he endures multi-hour book signings. Was he just as patient while you were filming footage for the documentary?
I think it took a lot of patience and trust to agree to have a camera crew around for an event as stressful as that tour. It’s ironic because most of the movie features Neil at probably the most tired and exhausted he’s ever been, but through it all he was always funny and good spirited to us. We spent a lot of time with Neil going around various places, and I think was able to have fun with the process of filming the movie and play to the camera in the way that makes for some really special moments.
Definitely. Gaiman always seemed the most approachable and personable of the writers from his era. I for one could not see someone going up to Warren Ellis, asking for a hug and not being hit by his cane. Do you think he would have been such a fan favorite if Neil was a more aloof mysterious guy that first time readers of his material might initially picture? Or do you think the cheery Man in Black counteracts some of the darker material in his stories?
There’s an element of whimsy to Neil’s work that is more pronounced in Neil himself, particularly when he interacts with fans. He probably has more in common with Death than Morpheus when out in the world, in that he has a dark exterior, but is pretty happy underneath.
If you look at Grant, Warren and Neil, you can see how each of their personalities and the face they present to the public is a reflection of their work, and each took on elements of their most long running characters (i.e. King Mob, Spider Jerusalem, Morpheus) in a way that made their fans engage more, and makes for a fascinating meta element to everything that they do.
Was there anyone that you would have liked to have interviewed for the documentary who was unavailable?
It would have been nice to have the opportunity to get some additional Neil collaborators, like Dave McKean, but we had a pretty awesome group of interviewees, and as the film went on, it became clear that interviews were less important than the verite footage of Neil on the road.
There are scenes in the documentary from 2013 up to 2015. Combined with following Neil on tour it definitely makes the film feel like a labour of love. How long were you on tour with Neil and how long has this project been in the works? I feel like the announcement to release of this film was much shorter than Talking with Gods or Captured Ghosts (or maybe I’ve just grown to be more patient).
We’ve been working on the project for a while. We first pitched Neil back when Talking With Gods was wrapping up, and it took a little while to come to fruition. We were on tour with Neil for about three weeks in the summer of 2013, which included a few stops in the US, all of San Diego Comic-Con and all of the UK leg of the tour. After that, we shot some more material sporadically with him, and I worked through editing to try to find the story and process all this huge amount of footage into a coherent movie.
We tried to keep the movie under wraps somewhat until we had our release date and plans set, since I knew it would take a while, and didn’t want to have people frustrated by waiting for years for the project.
Last we talked your first comic Last Born was just being released. Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything different in regards to that project?
Well, really the only thing I would change is to have the book come out a little bit later. We came out between Black Mask’s first wave of books, and a huge announcement of new titles that got a lot of attention. The company’s profile has gone up and up, and I think a new Black Mask book makes a much bigger splash in the market today than it did when Last Born was released, which is a testament to the way Matt Pizzolo has been building and positioning the company.
But, with the book itself, I’m very proud of the work that Eric Zawadzki and I did, and it’s fun to flip through the book from time to time and see all the cool stuff in there.
Lastly, where can people get Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously? Also do you have any future projects you can tell us about?
The movie is available worldwide now via Vimeo on Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/neilgaiman You can watch it right now!
As for what’s next, I’m just about done with my first narrative film as director, a horror thriller called Trip House. It’s inspired partially by Neil Gaiman’s concept of “soft places,” locations where time and the subconscious can blur into each other. The film follows four estranged friends who reunite to spend the night in a house that used to be home to a Manson Family like cult. As the night goes on, they’ll be forced to face their demons or be destroyed by them.
If you’re a fan of Neil or Grant’s stuff, you’ll probably enjoy it, and it features a lot of familiar faces from the world of fandom including Amber Benson (from Buffy), Tiffany Smith (of DC All Access), Chloe Dykstra, Whitney Moore and a lot of other great actors. We just previewed the film at George RR Martin’s movie theater in Santa Fe, and it should be playing festivals later this year.
I want to extend a personal ‘thank you’ to you Patrick. I had the privilege to be present at one of the signings for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and it was a very special experience being that it was his final signing tour (which I don’t think I knew it was until I got there). I have a lot of stories about people I met and things that happened that evening, and I’m overjoyed that your approach for this film allows people a glimpse of why those signings were so special to both Neil and his fans. So again. Thank You and thank you for your time.