What was that like?
Rock and roll stars have it much better than writers when they're on a tour. Chiefly, I suppose, because rock stars are doing what they do
|"My career has been somewhat like climbing stairs. You know, you learn fairly quickly that everything is sort of the same amount of effort. In many ways, it was much, much harder to get the first book contract. The hardest thing probably overall has been learning not to trust people, publicists and so forth, implicitly. I'm by nature a very trusting person. And its only, very slowly, you sort of learn, 'Well, ok, Publisher X, despite claiming to us that the book was not remaindered, has actually secretly remaindered it into Australia.' "|
You're so prolific. Have you ever faced the dreaded writer's block?
Oh, Yes. Continually. But I have good strategies. (laughs)
Will you share some of them with us? (laughs)
Sure. Strategy number one is that I always, or almost always, have at least two or three different things that I'm writing at any one time. In my experience, writer's block is very real. You'll be writing something and suddenly it stops. The characters stop talking. You've been happily just transcribing everything they've been saying, and suddenly they sit down and shut up. Suddenly, you are in deep trouble. It does happen. It's very real.
|"I work on a computer as if I'm working in clay. You put down the kind of thing that you mean and then you look at that for a few seconds. And then you work into it, you delete this word, you add that word. You change the tense. You decide that isn't quite what you meant and you use a thesaurus or whatever. There is no discontinuity. There is no break between your first and second draft. There IS no first or second draft. What you have is an ongoing, improving first draft."|
Well, that is unfair.
It is very unfair. I don't think anybody who isn't a writer would ever understand how quite unfair it is.
I'm going to move onto a different subject. I understand you've raised money to support the Comic Legal Defense Fund. Why do you feel so strongly about the issues that it represents?
Because I come from a country without the First Amendment. Because most countries in the world don't have a First Amendment.
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So the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is out there preserving and fighting for, and sometimes winning and sometimes losing, the fight for First Amendment rights in comics and, more generally, for freedom of speech. For example, the State of California tax authorities announced that for tax purposes comics were not literature, but were sign paintings, and were to be taxed as sign paintings. It was the longest and most expensive case the Legal Defense Fund fought. We won, which was great.
On the other hand, there are cases which still scare me to this day that we lost. I mean the Mike Diana case. Mike Diana was a kid in Pensacola Florida who created a self-published fanzine with a readership of maybe 500 people, most of them swapped zines backwards and forewords with each other. The zine falls into the hands of the local police. A police officer pretends to be a kid into fanzines and buys a copy through the mail from Mike -- who suddenly finds himself spending three nights in jail, charged with obscenity, and then let out on bail. The defense brought famous, expert witnesses from New York and San Francisco. The prosecutor pretty much effectively demolished the expert witnesses standing up there and saying "this stuff is art" by pointing out to the jury that the standards of Pensacola, Florida are not the standards of the gay bath houses of San Francisco or the crack alleys of New York. So they found him guilty of obscenity. Which made him the very first American artist to be found guilty of obscenity for their own work, for making their own art. Now, let me tell you what was imposed upon him. Because this is the bit that I find scary. I find it a little bit scary that they found him guilty of obscenity, but I find it a lot scary that the sentence consisted of three years suspended day in jail sentence, a $3,000 fine, a journalistic ethics course to be done at his own expense, psychiatric counseling to be imposed at his own expense, 1000 hours of community service, and he was not allowed within ten feet of anybody under than age of eighteen. Bear in mind, this was a kid that worked in a convenience store. And finally, and this one is thepiece de resistance, (which never made any newspapers, nobody was interested, because its comics and nobody cares about comics) Michael was forbidden under the terms of his sentence to draw anything that anybody might find obscene. The local police force was ordered to make 24-hour spot checks of his place of residence to make sure that he was not "comitting art." You know, to ensure that he wasn't drawing things for his own amusement while he was on the telephone and then tearing them up. The police were empowered, entrusted and ordered to break into his house 24-hour days and make random spot checks to make sure that he was not committing art. Now, we took the course to appeals court. Although we didn't get it overturned, the court at least allowed Mike to move to New York to do his sentence in New York. Where, to be totally honest, the police have better things to do then to break into people's houses at four in the morning to make sure they're not drawing. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, who declined to hear it. Now considering this is the first case of an American artist being convicted of obscenity and, given the nature of the sentence, you would of thought they would have heard it. But they didn't. If you asking why I'm out there fundraising, why I'm out there manning the barricades, and why I'm willing to do whatever I can to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund -- that's why. Because things like that happen. There are erosions of freedom that occur at the borders of literature. If things like that can occur for somebody drawing comics in a way they probably couldn't if it was a novel published by a major novelist (or even a minor novelist publishing something through a real house) it's because those battles have been fought and won. The battles that many people assume were fought and won many years ago are still being fought.
Have you personally ever had any of your work censored?
Yes. I once when I was young nearly sent a Swedish publisher to jail for a bible story. I was involved in a comic called Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament where we retold, with a straight face, stories from the Old Testament. I told a story from the book of Judges, in which a man's wife is to quote the bible "whoring about on him." And he sent her away and then he goes and gets her back from her father. He misses her. They stop off in this little village over night. The townsfolk gather around on the road to Bethlehem, which is where they are and say, "That man that came to you tonight. Throw him out so that we may have sex with him. We want to rape him." And this man says "No. No. No. I will not. That would be a terrible thing. That would be a violation of all the laws of hospitality. And he's my guest. But I'll tell you what. He has a wife with him and I have a virgin daughter whose never known any man. You can have them." They get known and abused all night and are left dead on the doorstep the next morning. When the guy gets up the morning he finds his wife dead on the doorstep and takes her home and cuts her into thirteen bits and into twelve locks and sends one to each of the tribes of Israel. So I told that story and did it fairly straight, and next thing I knew I had a Swedish publisher about to go to jail because there is a Swedish law forbidding the depiction of images of violence against women. That particular bible story is filled with images of violence against women. I think it was more or less only the fact that it was from the bible and told completely straight that got him off.
Let's turn to another subject. How has being a father affected your work?
Well, I suppose chiefly I get to steal from them. Both of my kids picture books. The one that I'm just about to do now and the last one I did, The Day I Swapped My Dad the Two Goldfish I completely stole them from my two kids. As I did with the next book. The Day I Swapped My Dad the Two Goldfish came about because my son looked at me one day when I was saying something horrible and unreasonable to him like, "Isn't it time you went bed?" He was about eight and he looked up me and his lower lip trembled and he said "I wish I didn't have a Dad." He said, "I wish I had something good, like some goldfish." He then stomped off to bed angrily. I thought, "What a great idea!" The seed having been planted in the back of my head, five years later I sat down and wrote The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish which then turned up on the Newsweek list of best books. The biggest thrill I've got from The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish is just the fact that its turning up now on the Scholastic edition that kids bring home with them from school. You know if you have a young kid with the list of books they take home from school. That's where it is. It's on that list. I love that. The great corrupting of the youth of America.
Not just of England (laugh). What do you feel like the greatest challenge you've had to face in your professional life so far?
I honestly don't know. My career has been somewhat like climbing stairs. You know, you learn fairly quickly that everything is sort of the same amount of effort. In many ways, it was much, much harder to get the first book contract. The hardest thing probably overall has been learning not to trust people, publicists and so forth, implicitly. I'm by nature a very trusting person. And its only, very slowly, you sort of learn "Well, ok, Publisher X, despite claiming to us that the book was not remaindered, has actually secretly remaindered it into Australia.
Did that happen to you?
Oh, yes. Things like that. And Publisher B, instead of actually invoking the clause that says "whereby they have to sell off the remainders" had claimed that what they are actually doing is technically not remaindering but deep discounting them, so that they don't have to do that, and so forth. Slowly you learn that you really have to make sure that you have good people looking out for you, and that you think of everything. (laughs) Which is very alien to me. It's not how I think.
It's sort of counter-intuitive to a creative personality, I think.
No. I agree completely. I was always so relieved that anyone wants to publish anything I've written. In many ways
|"As far as I'm concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning. It's not writing when you don't want to, and writing late at night if you want to."|
You mean like the two villains fromNeverwhere?
Yes, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar show up and they say "It's over. You are now going to have to get a real job." I will have gone to that point, seemingly expecting that this writing thing would go on for ages. I'd then think, "Well, it's a fair cop." I would go off and have to get a real job and get up the morning and wear a suit. I suppose I'd secretly make some things up in my head for myself before I went to bed at night, or before I go to sleep anyway lying in bed, sort of making up little stories. But I'd never be able to tell anybody. That's the thing I'm scared of.
It's not going to happen.
Well, I hope not.
What are your pet peeves in life? Do you have any pet peeves?
I'm not terribly peevy. What are my pet peeves? I don't know really. I wish you could get better radio in America. I wish somebody would give NPR the money to be a real radio station. I'm fairly peeveless. I suppose, right now coming off this tour, I'm not so much peeved as I'm actually kind of thrilled that I can do a signing tour on which I got to break records in most of the stores that I signed at. Yet I'm still managing to do this while somehow still remaining one of those authors who hears, "Oh you write books. What name do you write under?" I feel like I'm getting away with something, because I'm doing it all under the radar right now. So in some ways its kind of a peeve because you think, "Well, wouldn't it be nice if you went into a store and this actually translated itself into people knowing who you are and so on and so forth." (laughs). On the other hand, this is not something that I particular worry about. I think I'm astonishingly lucky to be where I am at this point.
What projects are you working on now?
Well, once I've finished recovering from the signing tour, there are a couple of things. There's a children's book that should have been finished by December that's been sitting on hold now for a couple of months. I'm actually feeling very guilty because I left four kids locked in a closet, three of them have been dead for years and years and years. I'm feeling guilty. They've been in there for months and I have to go and get them out. Then there's a big novel and various sorts of other things. Like gettingNeverwhere the movie, which looks like its now starting to gather some serious momentum. The movie is with Jim Henson Productions and Dimension Films.
What's the latest word on the Sandman movie?
It's not something I have any control over. Its one of those things when I did the deal to write Sandman it was in those antediluvian days when all rights were owned by D.C. Comics, who is owned by Warner Brothers, which means Warner controls Sandman. I wish things were different, but they're not.
So that's sort of the end of Sandman for right now, as far as you're concerned?
Well, yes. I may do a little tenth anniversary project to say thank you to my editor who really wants me to. Karen Berger at D.C. Comics. She's always been the single most terrific editor anybody could ever want. If the time is there, I will do her a little Japanese Sandman story.
Marvelous. And what's the word on the Phantom Princess film?
Ah, Princess Mononoke. I don't know what title it will eventually come out under when it comes out.
How's that coming? That's in production, isn't it?
Yes, I wrote the English translation. It has a wonderful cast, including: Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billie Bob Thornton, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson. With such a fantastic cast, one hopes for the best dialogue one can give them. It comes out sometime this summer from Miramax.
Mostly, I'd just like to say thank you for coming out in such hordes during the signing tour. The most amusing thing I heard was that we'd actually broken the previous record in this store in Portland we signed in. Powell's of Portland, which is a wonderful store. An astonishingly wonderful, huge store. In fact, the previous signing record there had been set by Martha Stewart. Thank you to everybody for breaking the Martha Stewart record. When I heard about that I was enormously amused.