Baku, The Eater of Dreams

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"What are those animals" asked the little fox.
They were the size of lions, and they snuffled about the rocks, their long noses rooting and snuffling in the barren ground.
They are Baku[1], said the great fox. They are the Dream Eaters.
—Neil Gaiman & Yoshitaka Amano, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters[2]

In Japan, it is said that nightmares are caused by evil spirits. If one was troubled by nightmares, one could call upon Baku, the devourers of dreams, to take away one's nightmares, and turning one's nightmares into good fortune.



August 12, 1999
SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS PANEL at the 1999 COMIC BOOK EXPO
San Diego, California

Panelists:
Yoshitaka Amano, artist
Neil Gaiman, author
Karen Berger, Executive Editor - Vertigo
Translator for Mr. Amano: Terry Taneda

KAREN BERGER: Mr. Yoshitaka Amano is one of the most popular and acclaimed illustrators in Japan, and he is now making his American comic book debut with SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS. Mr. Amano is best known for designing Final Fantasy, the highly popular video game, which is now in its seventh edition and has to date sold over 22 million copies worldwide. Mr. Amano started drawing at the very ripe old age of 15, professionally drawing that is, at the venerated Tatsunoko Studios in Japan - animation house home to SPEED RACER and other animation classics. As a teenager, he created G-FORCE, a very popular animated show and went on to design many characters in his fifteen years at Tatsunoko Studios. After he left Tatsunoko Studios, he illustrated to date 17 fantasy books including the cult classic VAMPIRE HUNTER D and 1001 NIGHTS, which was also a collaboration with LA Filmharmonics - a film and music project - and was released in 1997. This October, Mr. Amano will be mounting his multimedia exhibit of his new character, HERO in New York City, and you will be hearing much about that in the panel from Mr. Amano himself. It is very much an honor and a privilege for me to be working with Mr. Amano. I love his work - it's beautiful; it's imaginative; it's totally wonderful, and he's a very, very fast artist, and for every editor, an artist who is fast is the editor's dream. I want to thank Mr. Amano for coming to the show.

I just want to say a few words about Neil before we start with my questions. As I'm sure many of you in this room know, Neil is one of the most influential writers in the history of comics. He's the creator and writer of the award winning SANDMAN book for all 76 issues and 10 collected editions. His other comics work includes STARDUST with Charles Vess, MR PUNCH, VIOLENT CASES, SIGNAL TO NOISE with Dave McKean, and a host of other works. Neil is also an accomplished novelist of NEVERWHERE, which is also a terrific BBC TV show no matter what Neil thought - I loved it. SMOKE AND MIRRORS, GOOD OMENS, which was co-written with Terry Pratchett, and Neil is also the English-language screenwriter for PRINCESS MONONOKE which will be released from Miramax this October.

NEIL GAIMAN: By the way, there is going to be a screening of PRINCESS MONONOKE which will essentially be the American premiere. I don't yet know how you would get tickets to it or else I would tell you. Come to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund table and we'll know

KAREN: For me, working on SANDMAN has been one of the professional highlights of my very long editorial career and personal highlights as well. Neil's a great guy and a pleasure to work with. Neil, it's been three years since you ended, mortally ended, the SANDMAN saga, and in those three years, I've been asking you and begging you, "Neil, please do another SANDMAN book." What finally did it?

NEIL: Mr. Amano, actually, was the thing that took it over the edge. Karen had been phoning me every six to eight months she'd say, "So, you're gonna do another SANDMAN book now," and I'd say "Nope." And then after a while, she got really cunning and stopped asking. She'd say, "So, have you thought any more about that SANDMAN book you're doing?" That was really clever. We could have kept that going for years. Jenny Lee, who is an editor at Vertigo, was a huge fan of Mr. Amano. And it was she who suggested that he do the 10th anniversary poster. It was sort of a weird moment of confluence - things coming together. Having worked on PRINCESS MONONOKE for a year, I'd been very immersed in old Japanese legends and researching Japanese lore in order to make it honest and real. Looking at Mr. Amano's painting of this classical Japanese Sandman, I thought, "I never wrote a Japanese Sandman story." All of the stories I did - "Arabian Nights," "Cats," and all sorts of things - I never did Japan. And so when Karen phoned me up the next time and asked, "So have you thought about that SANDMAN book you're doing," I said "Actually I have. If Mr. Amano will draw it, I'll do a Japanese SANDMAN story." I actually didn't think he'd say yes. I should have. I thought I'm pretty safe saying that. I know how busy he is, I know his body of work, and I thought it's possible, but not likely. But when he said that he'd do it, I was thrilled and very surprised. Then it was a matter of surviving the book signing tour for STARDUST at the beginning of the year, and driving poor Karen mad. I blindly thought that I could write the story while on the book signing tour.

KAREN: I knew he wouldn't.

NEIL: You didn't tell me that! You pretended. So I did the book signing tour promising myself. I got the first chapter in. We actually asked Mr. Amano - we had the idea to do it as a comic, and Mr. Amano said he doesn't do comics - that he's an illustrator. It would be nice to do something with a painting on every page with text. It's a fairy story or a fable. It's an old myth of this fox girl, a monk, and an evil magician, and it has demons in it and various SANDMAN characters as they would have been in Japan, and of course it has Morpheus in it. It was wonderful getting to write him again, and it was just as wonderful to getting to see what Mr. Amano did when he actually came to painting. So, that was why.

KAREN: Mr. Amano, since you haven't drawn American comics before, what was it about SANDMAN that interested you?

YOSHITAKA AMANO: It was only once that I published a comic book. It's something that I haven't set my eyes to. The one book that I published I was happy with, but at the same time, the experience taught me that I'm not made for comics.

KAREN: What inspirations in your own culture did you use in your depiction of SANDMAN?

AMANO: I did not draw upon Japanese sources for inspiration. I rather concentrated upon the imagery from Mr. Neil Gaiman's works. It's purely a figment of his imagination. I am Japanese, but I don't know Japan very well, and I suspect that's the case for many Japanese today. I'm not proud of that, but it's a fact. In a sense I came to rediscover Japan through the works of Mr. Neil Gaiman. I relied totally on his works for understanding certain aspects of Japanese culture and Japanese history. Getting acquainted with his works inspired me to undertake trips to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, so that I could experience and relive the past of Japan myself. In that sense I am indebted to Mr. Gaiman. I enrolled in classes for making a kimono and porcelain works of my own at Kiyomizu in Kyoto. I went to see with my own eyes a shrine dedicated to and inhabited by foxes. These were all discoveries I have made of Japan after reading Mr. Gaiman's works.

KAREN: Neil is a tireless researcher and prides himself on his authenticity in every page and every line of dialogue that he writes. Neil obviously did a lot of research in Japanese history, mythology, modern day culture, and past culture. What did you find fascinating in all the research about Japanese culture?

NEIL: What I found most fascinating is that no two experts agree on anything! I've run lots of things past Mr. Amano's assistant, Maya, and needed things checked a lot. They'd check with university professors and everything as I'd have my questions on Heian period Japan - a peculiar period in the 11th century. All the answers that we would get on anything I'd need to know would be completely contradictory.

KAREN: You also had secret sources in Japan checking things out.

NEIL: My secret source was Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's people. I would run things past a guy named Steve Alpert. But every now and then when the facts were against us, we would go with the poetry. There's this one moment with a little dragon sculpture that the fox keeps as her treasure and drops into the sea. Originally when I wrote it, it was an Ivory sculpture - Ivory and Jade. Steve Alpert said, "It would never have been Ivory and Jade in that period. You have to pick another material." So I made it gold or whatever. But Mr. Amano said, "But I like Ivory," so I made it Ivory again. I loved the fact that you have this whole wellspring of myth and legend that is barely known in the west and to some extent a little bit in Japan. It got really peculiar when I started researching obscure Buddhist deities, because I wanted a Buddhist deity who beats up this monk who's very nice.

KAREN: It's one of my favorite pieces of art too. It's blown up at the DC booth.

NEIL: He stops and starts talking to this old man on the road who starts hitting him with a stick. He realizes that he got to talk to a Buddhist god, and he feels a little less comfortable about gods, because they do turn up and sometimes hit you with a stick.

KAREN: Did you find any dream gods in Japanese myth in your research?

NEIL: How many people are in this room? What, about 300 of you? Can I swear you all to secrecy? This is off the record. When you get to the end of DREAM HUNTERS, there's a very convincing afterward from me about the sources of the story and the ancient Japanese legends that I've based it on. I'm lying. Don't tell anybody.

KAREN: I almost believed it, and I know he's lied before

NEIL: No, seriously, I didn't find any dream gods, but what I did find in one of the very beginning places for the story was Baku.

KAREN: Now Mr. Amano told us about Baku when we met.

NEIL: I found a little mention of Baku in some book - you know the way in bedside reading you accumulate strange books - I was reading a book of monsters and it was a list of strange imaginary creatures who had been listed through the years, and one of them was the Baku. They're kind of like Tapirs. They have long snouts and they're Japanese creatures that eat dreams. They sort of snuffle about and eat dreams. If you wake up from a bad dream you can give it to the Baku. I just thought it was wonderful and really cool. That was the starting point. Talking to Mr. Amano about the Baku, and starting the story, I thought there were going to be more Baku than there really are. You just see a few herds of them, and they wander around for a little bit. But the Fox really took over the story. She's glorious. She kind of ran away with it.

KAREN: Do you really want to tell us a little more about the story?

NEIL: I'll tell you the beginning, the first chapter. It begins with a badger and a fox who begin to covet a little temple on the side of a mountain. It's not a very impressive temple, and there's only one Buddhist monk there. They decide that whoever can drive the monk out of the temple will have it, and will be a much better place to live than a hole in the ground. The first night, the monk is woken up by these huge horsemen who ride up to the temple and say, "You have been appointed to be a monk at the Imperial court, and you have to ride to the Court. If you don't arrive there within a month or the Emperor will cut off your head." The monk agrees, but he needs to know why the Emperor sent a badger to tell him to go to the Imperial Court. Because he noticed that all the horses had horse tails except the one at the very back who had a badger's tail. The badger runs off. The second day, [the monk] almost gets seduced by the fox, but he susses the fox, but the third day, the badger comes back as a horde of demons, and he routs the demons, but the fox has fallen in love with him. When she discovers that he's being killed in his dreams, she goes to the Sandman to find a way to save him. What happens after that is funny and sad and weird and interesting and bizarre by turns and is beautifully illustrated. How much stuff is down at the DC Booth?

KAREN: We have an 8-page color preview giveaways at the booth. I also have this binder, which I've been clutching for the past three days with half the color art and chapter maps. At 3:00pm or so Mr. Amano will be down at the booth to give autographs.

Mr. Amano I'd like to ask you a question. Your visual approach to the DREAM HUNTERS is so wonderfully varied from traditional Japanese illustration to Impressionism to surreal fantasy to monotone effects. Could you tell us why you chose these different approaches?

AMANO: The story is organized and composed in such a way that it provokes all kinds of imagery in the mind of the reader. From my perspective as I went on in my reading, I kept bumping into all sorts of imagery, and I had to sort them out later. As for the monochrome which may stand out as unusual, it started out as a simple trial set of drawings. As I pursued this path, I thought it was very interesting, so I developed the theme further and I came up with the monochrome imagery. Mr. Gaiman's story has depth as well as breadth. It's extremely rich in imagery, but between the lines, one senses that there are also images that aren't specifically described verbally, and these things form as imagery as well. For example if there is a scene of someone walking along the road, in the mind's eye of the reader, you are always tempted to see what lies beyond the foreground. You may see something else in the background o the scene. The story produces all sorts of imagery in the mind of the reader, and that was the lead that I followed in coming up with all these different styles of illustrations.

KAREN: Mr. Amano, your vision of Sandman's castle and Cerebus' castle is really quite spectacular. Can you describe a little of how it works?

AMANO: Sandman is very late in the story.

KAREN: Don't tell them that!

AMANO: I had to hold my breath to see what sort of character will materialize. In the meantime I had to keep my attention to how the story developed. I became more and more impatient. Finally when he appeared near then end, it was like my imagination had popped open all of a sudden. I felt that was like being liberated from the binding Japanese past in the context of history. Looking back upon what I had been following up to that it was like a gradual liberation.

KAREN: Morpheus is not called Morpheus or Sandman in DREAM HUNTERS. Neil, do you want to tell us what he is called?

NEIL: He's called "The King of All Nights' Dreaming." I went back and forth. In one draft, he was "The Emperor of Dreams," but I didn't like him as an Emperor, and "King of Dreams" didn't work in the story, but "King of All Night's Dreaming" felt right. Actually he does turn up for quite a bit in Chapter Two, but he's a large black fox when he first turns up. And he comes in again three quarters of the way through and kind of dominates. It was very wonderful to write his dialogue again. It was very nice. It was like this little voice in the back of my head that I hadn't heard for a few years - for quite a few years. Pretty much all of the Endless, all I had to do as a writer was give them the set-up line and shut up. With Death, poor Delirium, or Sandman, you write the thing that someone says to them, and then you shut up, you listen, and you write down what they say. It was a very nice voice, a very familiar voice, very standoffish. Very wise. He gives lots of people various bits of advice none of which any of them listen to.

KAREN: Neil, which SANDMAN characters do we see realized in different ways by Mr. Amano?

NEIL: My favorite out of all of them is Cain & Abel. The Japanese Cain & Able are wonderful. When the monk enters the Dreaming, there are very familiar Sandman things from very unfamiliar angles. The Griffon at the gate, and the raven, and also I really liked, well it really wouldn't be a SANDMAN story without the Maiden-Mother-Crone triad that ran through all of SANDMAN. In this case there are three witches that look amazing.

KAREN: They look great. One has breasts. Breast that show.

NEIL: Lots of them.

KAREN: I actually have them in the book I'm carrying.

NEIL: They wouldn't let us put them in the preview in case the multiplicity of breasts confused some of the babies in the audience. Writing them was great fun. They're even stranger than before. That was fun.

KAREN: Neil, do you want to tell us what your favorite scene?

NEIL: There are about four different favorites. The thing that I found strangest and coolest about Mr. Amano's art is that if somebody handed me the book and told me that it was by ten different artists, I'd believe them. Stylistically, wherever he needs to go for that scene, he goes. There were paintings that reminded me of classic American illustrators at the turn of the century like Howard Pyle. And then you'd get something that looks like it could have been executed by a Japanese Frank Frazetta, and then you get something that looks like fine art, and then something that looks like it was done 700 years ago. I think probably my favorite image is the gatefold. A double gatefold. When you finally get to see the Sandman, it's an 8-page wide picture of the Sandman.

KAREN: On one side is a field of stars as the monk approaches the Dreaming and the other side is when you see the Sandman. There are many lovely moments.

NEIL: We've been so excited and so thrilled as the pages would come in. I'd get these color photocopies and sit there trying not to get drool on them.

KAREN: Mr. AMANO, could you tell us your favorite moment in the DREAM HUNTERS?

AMANO: I have many favorite moments, but if I go over them all, that would be the [whole] story. If you were to ask me which was the most memorable in terms of story development, it's the scene in which the Monk makes his appearance in the Dreaming for the first time. There's a series of sequences leading up to that scene. I felt that scene alone would be enough material for one book. I will continue to draw upon that experience for some time in the future. I took this more as a love story than anything else. It was very heart warming more than anything else, and it made me aware that I had learned a lot about the character.

NEIL: One thing I wanted to mention is that if anyone here is in New York in October, you can see the original pieces. Mr. Amano has an exhibition that he can tell you about.

KAREN: It's from October 6th through October 31st. It's for his original worlds and characters in his HERO project. Mr. Amano will be giving out these really cool magnets and t-shirts that Mr. Amano is wearing. Neil will be doing a reading of the DREAM HUNTERS (I forget which night). There will be plenty of publicity. Mr. Amano, before we open the floor to questions, could you tell us about the HERO character?

AMANO: In Japan from time immemorial, there have been a number of mythical stories - origin stories and so on. It's a crowded field, and I thought rather than add my name to a long list of authors on the subject, I would come up with something more original. I hit on the idea of the looking into the future instead of what is already known. I didn't want to go down the path of science fiction either, so I tried to shed light on

I wasn't sure if I could co me up with something original using a popular format, so I had to get back and think of an original approach. HERO will be a combination of sound, image, and story. The work is currently in progress, and I'm working hard for the October opening.

We have the very convenient video medium, but what we record on videotape will still be available hundreds of years from now as long as we have the hardware to play them. But if we look farther into the future, science and technology may come together to the point where it's possible for us to enter the world of image and sound with the use of computers. I believe that such a day will come eventually, and I stretched my imagination into the future to think about what it would be like to look back to where we are today from ten thousand years into the future. It's also a long way back as well. In the meantime of course there will be things of Japanese origin like ceramics, kimonos, and things taken from the SANDMAN series in harmonious co-existence. Not only our dreams, but our memories and those of other people.

EXCERPTS FROM AUDIENCE QUESTION & ANSWERS:

QUESTION: In what way do Eastern fox mythology and western fox mythology relate?

NEIL: It's a different kind of legend. They both are crafty, but western foxes come from Eastern European, mid-European, and English legends do sort of crafty things after your hens. Japanese foxes are much more likely to go after your soul than your henhouse. Two of the things that I am most pleased with from doing DREAM HUNTERS, is that when Mr. Amano went to the Fox temple, he got me a little fox statue and a little fox mask. I remember as a kid being haunted by these Japanese stories of foxes that would turn themselves into things. Their default mode was always turning themselves into beautiful maidens. They could turn themselves into small derelict houses or possessions. The lines between god and ghost and fox are much less clearly drawn in Japanese myth than it is in the west. There's lots of strange mythology, so it doesn't really correlate with things in the west.

QUESTION: Was the story chopped up into scenes before it was given to Mr. Amano?

NEIL: No, not really. When I wrote it, I wrote it trying to make sure that every 250 words or so it was definitely something that could be drawn. But What Mr. Amano chose to take from that and draw was entirely up to him, and it was an enormous thrill for me.

QUESTION: When I was very young, like 3 years old or so, my Mother gave me a Baku book and it came with a stuffed animal - it was very cute and fuzzy. Mr. Amano, did you draw them as very scary, and Mr. Gaiman, did you write them as gentle and eating bad dreams?

NEIL: I portrayed them as very gentle. There are lots of very scary things in DREAM HUNTERS. Mr. Amano described it as a love story, and that's one of the traits going through it, it's SANDMAN. There is horror in it, and there are some things that are weirdly disturbing. The Baku are rather cool; they're like a herd of grazing things.

AMANO: The Baku is an animal that nobody has seen. Like the fox, it lives in the mind of every Japanese. It's represented as a gentle animal but it could also be scary. Like the fox, it may come with the ability to deceive people by turning into something else without them being aware. To surprise them. The Baku is present in the mind all the time - kind of taken for granted.

[End of Interview]

Appears in


References

  1. The city of Baku, in no relation to the Baku of Japanese mythology, is the capital of Azerbaijan. It seems unlikely, however, that the character name Baku in Final Fantasy IX had its origins in the name from that city. The Japanese mythology reference would be more probable.
  2. I first read about Baku in Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano's book collaboration, the illustrated fable The Sandman: Dream Hunters. Yoshitaka Amano, as most of you probably know, is the character designer/image illustrator of many Final Fantasy games. Neil Gaiman — whom I am a huge fan of — is the award-winning author of the Sandman comics, Stardust, Neverwhere and American Gods. He was also the author of English screenplay for the critically-acclaimed anime Mononoke Hime, which was directed by Hayao Miyazaki. About two years ago, while surfing the net, I stumbled upon this interview with Amano and Gaiman. I had the interview saved in text form onto my hard disk and later forgot about it. Just a few days ago, I rediscovered this interview, and thought it would be a good idea to reproduce it in this site as it has a thorough explanation on Baku as you will see. —Terra
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