Neil Gaiman reveals favorite Filipino mythological character

By David Dizon,

Posted at Mar 18 2010 06:33 PM | Updated as of Mar 24 2010 09:23 PM

MANILA, Philippines - English scribe Neil Gaiman, author of genre favorites Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline and the Sandman series, said Filipino authors and artists are ready to make a name for themselves among the heavyweights of the fantasy genre all over the world.

Gaiman breezed into town earlier this week to talk to fans and hand out prizes for the 3rd Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards, which he has funded for the past 3 years.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, the author said he is proud of the annual contest, which he started with Jaime Daez of Fully Booked after his first visit to the Philippines 5 years ago. During that visit, he said he was surprised by the passion and level of excitement of Filipino fans who trooped to his book signing at the Rockwell Tent in Makati.

"It wasn't the first time that I was greeted with enthusiasm by fans but it was the first time that I saw that kind of commitment and that kind of volume. That began my enormously rewarding and enjoyable relationship with the Philippines. I was fascinated with the mythology and I wanted to give something back," he said.

He said he started the contest after local authors and artists said there was no market for genre fiction in the Philippines. Cut to four years later, and the market for unrealistic fiction has increased considerably with the release of various fantasy and horror titles from local publishers.

Gaiman said this year's crop of Graphic Fiction Awards winners are even better than in previous years. Below are the complete list of winners:

Philippine Graphic Fiction Peoples Choice Awards Winners:

1st – Hunger by Jeremiah D. Faustino and Norman Jim Faustino
2nd - Raisinhead: Tale of a Modern Day Tiyanak by Christian Oliver Cruz
3rd – Traffick by Alarice A. Francisco

1st – Filipina: The Super Maid by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento
2nd – A Kind Of Flotsam by Christelle Rhodamae C. Mariano
3rd – The Street Child and the Dwarf by Diabelle Joy M. Pazcoguin

Short Film:
1st – Kumot ng Panaginip directed by Jedd Chris P. Dumaguina
2nd – Anak ng Tikbalang directed by Desiree Ann C. Samson
3rd – Embrace directed by Ron Sapinoso

Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards Winners:

No 1st Place
2nd – Douglas by Genevieve Go
3rd – (Love) At Last Sight by Heubert Khan Michael

1st – A Kind of Flotsam by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano
2nd – Filipina: The Super Maid by Irene Carolina Sarmiento
3rd (TIED) – Cherry Clubbing by Kenneth Yu
3rd – Remembrance by Dean Francis Alfar

Short Film
No 1st Place
2nd -- Kumot ng Panaginip by Jedd Chris Dumaguina
3rd -- Squatters in Mars by Rommel Sales

"I think the stories are better...You are starting to see things emerging. What I think is great is that all of the fiction feels Filipino. Whether it's social satire, whether it's very personal or small, whether it's horror or it evokes the magic, mystery, history or mythology or folklore of the Philippines, it feels uniquely Filipino but it is also now starting to feel like it's ready to play on the world stage, which makes me happy," Gaiman said.

Asked which Filipino mythological character he likes the most, he answered: "I think it's got to be those wonderful, witchy vampire ladies who leave their bottom half behind and fly off trailing entrails and suck your life out with their incredibly long tongues. I don't dare say their name (manananggal) because I will always get it wrong but it's them."

He also gave the following advice for would-be authors of science fiction, fantasy and horror in the Philippines.

"I would say 'Be brave.' Firstly, write. That's very important. You've got to write. You can't just dream. You can't just hope. You actually have to do the work. And beyond that, get out there and you are not in any gravity well.  It is not hard to claw your way out. Five years ago, when I was talking to people, I'd say there are magazines, and it was like I was talking about walking on Mars," he said.

He added: "The truth is - the Web is out there. The Web is flat and you are in an equal position as anyone else in the world. You are better because you are Filipino, which means you are louder and more vocal and you probably understand how to use the Web."

'Death and the Sandman'

Gaiman said he continues to  have a full plate, with projects in various stages of completion.

He said his latest short story will come out in the book "Stories" which he co-edited with Al Sarrantonio. " It comes out this summer and it's this big book. I'd like to think of it as something as almost definitive of just amazing stories from amazing first class writers," he said.

He said he is also working on a non-fiction book, which will be his first non-fiction work in 20 years.

He also said that he is fascinated with doing more movies after the success of the big screen adaptation of his children's tale "Coraline." He said he took a peculiar joy in writing 20 seconds of Coraline for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards after it was nominated for an Oscar.

"It's not a love affair," he said in describing his relationship with movies. "We sleep together and I phone. Sometimes, we have dinner...One of the fun things about doing 'Stardust' as a producer and writing 'Beowulf' is that I got to go to these amazing London and Hollywood premieres and walk the red carpet."

"The truth is that probably my idea of hell is actually nothing but one long red carpet where you just shuffle along this thing endlessly while photographers just shout your name and say 'Over here!'"

"I love the madness of Hollywood. I love that you get to make this wounderfully strange art," he said.

Gaiman said he is currently working on a screenplay of "Anansi Boys", which was stalled after the death of his father last year. He added that a big screen adaptation of "The Graveyard Book" is still pushing through in a different studio after Miramax folded.

One project that remains closest to his heart is the film adaptation of the 75-issue graphic series "The Sandman." He said that there are plans to either produce the award-winning comic as an HBO series or even a series of movies.

"All I really care about with Sandman is that nobody makes a bad movie. It's one of those things where I am so proud of what I did. We have 2,000 pages of comics and I look at it and I go, 'I am proud of this thing and I want the world to like it.' I think it's really sad when people talk about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, they think about the bad Hollywood movie than the great Alan Moore comic. It's one of those things that I just want it to be good. If it happens, I don't care if it's an HBO series or a sequence of movies as long as it's good," he said.

What could be a reality soon is Gaiman's own directorial debut with the adaptation of his graphic novel "Death: The High Cost of Living." He said the project would be his first full-length feature after he directed "Statuesque" with actor Bill Nighy and Gaiman's girlfriend, Amanda Palmer, last year.

"What seems to be closest is 'Death: The High Cost of Living', which I wrote a movie script of called 'Death and Me'.  Guillermo del Toro is executive producing and I am meant to be directing. We'll see. Fingers crossed," he said.