An adult in one hand, a book to be signed in the other, the children troop into the theater to ask questions of a highly important nature. Their target is the writer Neil Gaiman, whose fantasy book for kids The Wolves in the Walls has just been made into a musical that opened in Glasgow last month and transferred to London's Lyric Theatre for two weeks before going on tour in Scotland next month and England this fall. Gaiman explains to his young fans that the book was inspired by a nightmarish fantasy his daughter Maddy once had. The children are rigorous cross-examiners. "But from where exactly in her bedroom did the wolves appear?" a skeptical 8-year-old girl wants to know. Gaiman answers with not a moment's hesitation: "A foot above her head and a little to the left."
As the famed creator of entire comic-book universes, Gaiman knows the importance of detail and it is his ability to commute between them and the real world that has expanded his fan base far beyond the fantasy-fiction clichés of teen goths and pimply geeks. Whether through film adaptations of his best-selling fiction, graphic novels, children's books or screenplays, Gaiman is a hot commodity these days. Today he's in London for just 24 hours to check on the progress of Wolves and visit the set of Stardust, the film version of his 1997 romantic fairy fantasy, which director-producer Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) is shooting with an all-star cast that stretches from Sienna Miller to Ricky Gervais. Because Vaughn was deep in screen tests, he and Gaiman only got to wave to each other across the set before the author had to leave. "In any kind of sane universe," Gaiman says, "I would be hanging around on the set saying, 'This is mine, this is cool.'"
Instead, in the morning, the British-born Gaiman will climb on a plane where he'll finish writing an article on Superman for the Addams Family–style house near Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he has lived since 1992. There he will knuckle down to his screen adaptation of Charles Burns' teen-horror, graphic-novel series Black Hole. Then, Gaiman must deliver the first of six issues of The Eternals, a resurrected Marvel Comics creation from the '70s. Oh, and he also needs to finish a book of short stories, as well as The Graveyard Book, a tale of an orphan child being raised by dead people. In his spare time, he may swing by Los Angeles to see how Roger Zemeckis' animated version of Beowulf, for which Gaiman rewrote the oldest epic in the English language, is coming along.
Isn't that too much to juggle? Gaiman, jet-lagged but engaged, rocks one hand from side to side in answer. "I'm pushing it," he admits. "Right now is the first time I've ever looked around and thought, 'That's not sane.'" Indeed, Gaiman's name has become such a seal of approval that he's just realizing he won't be able to accept all the projects he's offered. It wasn't always that way. Although The Sandman, Gaiman's 1989-96 series of comic books about a family of flawed immortals, has sold more than 7 million copies, the mainstream media tended to be sniffy. Not that it bothered Gaiman: "Comics are a medium that gets mistaken for a genre, where I could do horror or detective stories, spy fiction or anything I wanted and nobody noticed that I was not staying in my box."