The Sandman bonus notes: Interviews (2)
Here is a follow up of my exploration of the interviews given by Neil Gaiman for “The Sandman Companion”. I got from those interviews from the bonus section of the French volumes of The Sandman (a compilation of several Sandman novels/tomes, republished a dozen years ago). As usual, not everything will be here, only what I consider to be some of the most interesting points.
# Before writing Calliope, Neil Gaiman had the idea of a very different story, called “Sex and violets”: Puck the hobgoblin, now very old, is clinging to his long lost youth by eating flowers originating from England. He owns a whorehouse in London that only has one prostitute: a succubus. Numerous rock stars, writers and painters come to the bordello, and pay Puck in those youth-restoring flowers in order to encounter the succubus. And while having sex with the demon allows them to gain fabulous ideas, it drains them from one or two years of their life.
# Façade is not a story about feminine beauty, according to Neil Gaiman - in fact the story could have easily worked with a male character. The story is rather about someone whose live has shrunk. About someone, who despite being incredibly strong and powerful, stays locked up in a flat and is afraid of going out.
# Neil Gaiman acknowledges that the suicide of Urania and her using death as a solution to get out of her situation is problematic. And he says that he does not think suicide was the good way to solve her problem. But it does not matter, because this ending works in its context and is thus “faithful to the story”.
# For “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Neil Gaiman speaks a bit about his treatment of the Long Man of Wilmington: he thought it was much more interesting to see the man as standing on the threshold of a door rather than holding two staffs. He also discovered that “Wilmington” probably derives from “Wendel’s Mound Town”, and that some believe the man drawn here was a god named Wendel. On top of that, Wendel comes from the old Nordic “Venda”, which means “to travel, to change direction, to go forward”. So he thought it felt natural to make the giant a door guardian and to name him Wendel.
# One of the rules of Neil Gaiman when it comes to writing comic books is that the last panel of a comic book page should always give the reader the desire to turn said page to read more. In a similar way, he advices the creators of comic books to better use the “panel rythm” of a comic book page, for example by making the punch of a joke in a different panel from the one where the rest of the joke is - if a joke is put in its entirety in one panel, it lacks a bit of an impact.
# Neil Gaiman explains that “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not just a story about Shakespeare but also about Hamnet, and that its core is a story about relationships and chasms between a father and a son” - he based their relationship on historical facts, such as how Shakespeare spent long periods of time in London, far away from his family, and how Hamnet died in 1596 at eleven years old. For this incarnation of Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman used one of his greatest fears when it comes to being a storyteller: when something horrible happens, while most of you is horrified, a part of you also takes notes in case you can reuse this in a story. As a result, this issue explores this kind of distance.
# When told about how Dream shows a sense of humor upon interacting with Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman reminds of how he laughed out loud when Hector Hall confronted him: it is not that Dream lacks a sense of humor. It is just that his sense of humor is not entirely human.
# Neil Gaiman mentions some fun fact about this issue: for example, while it is true that young men did play girl roles in theater plays, he decided to add the idea of them having male admirers (who did not consider themselves homosexual) by taking inspiration from an old Japanese tradition. Similarly, Condel calls London “the smoke”, because from the 13th century up to 1960 a thick layer of smoke floated above town, mostly caused by the coal coming from the sea.
# The fact Dream tells Wendel to open the door is no coincidence: throughout the series, Dream opens many doors because it is one of his roles and special abilities.
# The horns included in the design of Oberon was to both differentiate him from Dream (both are tall, pale and slender male with a serious face and a royal behavior), and hint at his position as a cuckold (ram’s horns being a symbol at the time of men being cheated on).
# The dialogue of Puck was inspired by “The Ballad of Robin Goodfellow”.
# The use of “travelogue” by Peaseblossom is the only anachronism Neil Gaiman allowed in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, mostly because he couldn’t find any corresponding word fitting the era, but also because he said that since fairies exist somehow outside of human time, they can sometimes use anachronisms.
THE SEASON OF MISTS
# Season of Mists almost never came out. Indeed, when Neil Gaiman pitched his idea, back in 1988, Rick Veitch told him that he was himself writing a story for a DC miniseries called “King Hell” where Lucifer abandonned his job as the ruler of Hell to spread evil and destruction through the entire world. Neil then decided to abandon his idea story about Lucifer leaving Hell - however afterward Rick left DC Comics, which prevented his project from existing, so Neil Gaiman took back the “Season of Mists” story. (And this is why Rick Veitch founded “King Hell Press”.
# The story of this arc comes from a phrase from “Le Milieu Divin” written by Pierre Teilhard de Charin, where he writes that God told him to believe in Hell, but forbid him to believe that even one man was damned.”
# Neil Gaiman describes Lucifer as a character so awesome he just writes himself on his own. Described as the most wise and beautiful of the angels, and the right hand of God, Gaiman precises that he loved God too much, and thus wanted God for himself and no one else - thus why he refused to worship humanity. To picture Lucifer, Neil Gaiman thought of David Bowie when he was a “19 years old hippie” : a junkie angel with a cruel duplicity, but still an angel, sweet and beautiful. No genital organs, no belly button, always barefoot, and with big leathery bat wings (that grew back after his first, feathered wings were torn apart).
# Neil Gaiman clarifies that Dream doesn’t really have a true name. All the names of all dream gods are tied to Dream, but none is his true name. Even “Dream” isn’t his true name - it is his function, a word that describes his domain and his responsability. Desire isn’t the true name of Desire, and same thing for Despair or Death: the Endless do not have names, just functions. This is why Destruction is called “The Prodigal” instead of “Destruction”, because he abandonned his function and thus abandonned his name.
# When asked about the small floating things in Destiny’s hall, Neil Gaiman explains he himself doesn’t truly know what they are - they are basically servants of Destiny, miniature versions of his dress/cloak, with nobody inside. [Neil Gaiman gives them a funny nickname but I do not have the original term in English so I’ll leave it to your discovery].
# The meal shared by the Endless helps define the moral code of Dream; he can commit the worst atrocities, but if someone points them out to him and if he acknowledges his actions as atrocities, he is perfectly willing to set things right, even if it means destroying himself.
# When asked if Lucien’s library has other sections dedicated to stories told by other media outside books (such as movies, painting or music), Neil Gaiman confirms that somewhere in the library are all the stories Orson Welles dreamed about without ever having enough money to film them.
# Gaiman was quite happy to find he had made a joke unwillingly concerning the presence of Cain in the Dreaming: in the Bible, it is said that after being banished Cain went to the land of Nod. To nod, to sleep? Get it?
# Dream baptised Lyta’s baby “Daniel” not just because it begins with a D, but also because in the Bible Daniel has visions through dreams, and interprets dreams to find their meaning.
# The speech Lucifer gives on a rock about why he fell from Heaven and why he abandons Hell was a nod to a scene in Bedazzled (the original, by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) where the Devil imitates God on top of a box.
# Originally, Neil Gaiman intended the idea of the dead coming back on Earth to be an important secondary plot. He even prepared a few characters, such as a young woman named Isolde Bane with her baby Anthony, a group named “Fashion Satanists” and the return of Daniel Bustamonte (from issue 1). It was a cool story, according to Gaiman, but it would have taken too much space and time, and so he scrapped it.
# About the forces of Order and Chaos (that, Gaiman insist, belongs to the worldbuilding of DC Comics, and were inspired by the works of Michael Moorcock), he explained representing Order as a cardboard box was just a fun joke, while the representative of Chaos was chosen as a little girl because himself was the father of a six years old girl, and so it seemed to be the perfect embodiment of Chaos. The appearance of Shivering Jemmy was inspired, again, by Neil’s daughter Holly, who had painted her face as a clown and wore oversized clothes during her birthday, while walking around with balloons in her hand - tadaa! One princess of Chaos. As for the name, it is an old English slang, which was used to designate the beggars who stood in front of people shivering.
# About his depiction of the Norse Gods, Neil Gaiman received several protestation letters about readers who thought he was parodying the characters of Marvel - though he was just depicting the gods as they were in the Nordic myths. In fact, he later received letters from Danish, Swedish and Norwegian readers that thanked him for representing their gods correctly.
# Some complained about how the Supreme Being, the Creator of the Silver City, resolved the problem of Hell in the end - some readers thinking Neil Gaiman gave too much importance to the Judeo-Christian God. However, he explained that it was not because this was the most popular, widespread or powerful god, not at all. It was simply because in the universe of the DC Comics, Hell has always been depicted as created by the same entity that created the angels, so he thought it was the best way to solve the problem. Anyway, Neil Gaiman objects to the fact that the Supreme Being would be exactly the same as the Judeo-Christian God, pointing out that it is stated in the comics themselves that the Silver City is not Heaven, nor Paradise.
# While issue 25 is purely fictional, Neil Gaiman also considers it a form of autobiography, because a lot of details and facts come from his own childhood at British schools.
# “Cluracan” is not the real name of Cluracan. Indeed, Cluracan is an Irish word for a kind of fairy, just like “leprechaun”, except that instead of pots of golds the cluracans are only interested in wine - according to the Fairy Encyclopedy of Katherine Briggs, the cluracans were known to scare away the servants who stole wine from their masters. This is why the cluracan depicted here is an alcoholic.
# When asked about the origins of Duma and Remiel, Neil Gaiman explains that the only angels named in the Bible are Gabriel and Michael, and that all the other angels known actually come from apocryphal sources, such as the Book of Enoch. Here, Duma and Remiel come from the Dictionary of Angels by Gustav Davidson: Duma is the “angel of silence and of the quietness of Death”, the titular angel of Egypt, a prince of Hell and angel of reparation. The Zohar also adds that Duma is the first of the demons in Gehinnom (Hell) and that he commands dozens of thousands of angels of destruction, and twelve thousand myriads of servants tasked with punishing the souls of the sinners. As for Remiel, the Book of Enoch describes him as one of the seven archangels that guard the throne of God, also called sometimes Jeremiel or Uriel, and described as “one of the holy angels that God put over those that raise (up from the dead)”.
# The last scene of Lucifer actually takes place in Perth, Australia. Today, Neil Gaiman regrets having the son of the old man dying in the Vietnam War: originally, he wanted to remind American audience that the Australians too fought in this war, but he realized it only confused readers who believed it took place in the United-States. Similarly, not many have noted that the word “pom” here is an Australian slang to talk about someone British.