'Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously' Director Patrick Meaney Tells Us What It's Like To Work With The Writer
On Friday, Neil Gaiman fans will finally have access to Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously — director Patrick Meaney's documentary about the Sandman author's final signing tour — when it goes live on Vimeo. Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously offers a fascinating look at Gaiman's philosophy on celebrity, his influence on legions of fans, and what it is like for a public figure to become, well, much less public.
In the documentary, Gaiman readily admits to lying at the outset of his career about where he had been previously published in order to get a byline. Although it isn't a practice one could get away with in the age of the Internet, it is humorous to think of Gaiman as a green, aspiring writer who needed to fib to get work. After all, he has spent the last 30 years building a lucrative career out of making good art.
Gaiman's career really took off in the late 1980s with his revival of Sandman. It's no small achievement that his version of the character, which is radically different from other incarnations, is the only one many fans have seen or heard of. And, as is noted several times throughout Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously, Gaiman's Sandman brought brand-new customers, including women, into comic book stores.
Sandman fans followed Gaiman as he transitioned into writing fiction, beginning in 1990 with Good Omens, which he co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett. Gaiman's work has a way of reaching across the aisle, pulling comic book fans into traditional bookstores and literature buffs into comics shops. That appeal made Gaiman a fantastic subject for Meaney, who tells Bustle that Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously "opens up a whole new audience for us, who aren’t necessarily into comics, but know Neil through his novels, film adaptations, or other work."
Meaney is no stranger to comic book writers, artists, and fans. Through his studio, Respect Films, Meaney has made documentaries centered on Grant Morrison (Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods), Warren Ellis (Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts), Chris Claremont (Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men), Image Comics (The Image Revolution), and some of the most prominent women in the industry (She Makes Comics).
Meaney also wrote his own comic, Last Born , published by Black Mask Studios in 2014. Illustrated by Eric Zawadzki, the four-issue miniseries followed a group of people from across time, united by a rip through space-time. He gives Gaiman some credit with bringing him into the film and comics worlds. He says:
Neil is definitely a big influence. Sandman was definitely a series that got me into comics a lot deeper, and led me down the path to series like Transmetropolitan or The Invisibles. So, without Sandman, I might never have made any of these films.
And Neil’s writing style was definitely an influence on ... Last Born, which came out through Black Mask Studios. Fantasy is so often something that takes place in a far off, epic realm, like a Lord of the Rings, but Neil is able to tell fantasy stories that spring out of the world around us, and that’s something that I love and tried to do in my own work.
Even the process of following Gaiman was inspirational. Meaney says he and Respect Films co-founder Jordan Rennert — who served as Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously's producer and cinematographer — "developed a lot of ideas for Trip House , the narrative film that ... [Respect Films will] be premiering on the festival circuit this fall." He goes on to say that:
The whole movie was inspired by Neil’s idea of a ‘soft place,’ a spot in the world where strange things are possible. Trip House is about one of those soft places, and the way it forces a group of friends to confront the demons and traumas they’ve buried deep within themselves.
Meaney also says "seeing Neil’s work ethic, and the way he’s able to do so much and be so giving to his fans is incredibly inspiring." The allegiance of Gaiman's fans is the stuff legends are made of, and it's due in no small part to the author's accessibility. His signing tours drew thousands of readers, each armed with an average of three books, and Gaiman would stay for hours to sign for, and speak to, each one.
In part, Gaiman's generosity toward fans is what led him to retire from signing tours. Several times throughout Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously, we see the author plunging his throbbing hand and elbow into a bucket of ice water to reduce pain and swelling. It's not comfortable to watch, but it serves as a constant reminder of the lengths to which Gaiman is willing to go in order to please his audience.
Gaiman's affable nature belies an admitted shyness. The author says he "was initially completely terrified of the idea of live performance." Strange to hear from a man who gives hugs and advice upon request. Meaney says he "think[s] Neil has been doing press and interviews for so long that it wasn’t too hard for him to be comfortable on camera," but concedes that the Coraline author became much more joking as get came to know Meaney, Rennert, and the rest of the Respect Films crew.
Much of the material for Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously was filmed in 2013, during Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane tour. Meaney and Rennert followed Gaiman on the U.S. and U.K. legs of the tour. Gaiman says he's looking forward to his return to the solace of writing, which he calls a fundamentally "lonely" profession:
When you start out, you actually have to learn, as a writer, to be lonely. Because it's just you and a piece of paper. And even if you fill that piece of paper and you're filling the room with people in your head, it's still lonely.
The retirement from signing hasn't hurt Gaiman's career. Since he wrapped up The Ocean at the End of the Lane tour, the author has published a collection of short fiction ( Trigger Warning ), the last installment of a co-written trilogy ( Eternity's Wheel ), and a memoir ( The View from the Cheap Seats ). In June 2016, Gaiman revealed he had just wrapped up a 3-year-long book project, which turned out to be a collection of Norse mythology, due out in February 2017.
Looks like we have a lot of good art left to see from Gaiman and Meaney.
Images: Courtesy of Patrick Meaney