NEIL GAIMAN SAYS he has no qualms about the sale of his new novel on eBay for #150 (HK$2,000), three months before its release. But mention that one of the selling points is that the books are unread, and the Briton confesses to being a little uptight. 'At least if they had read it ...' Gaiman says. But that's about the only sign of tension in the world of Gaiman. With his tousled hair, black leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans and small, dark-blue-tinted glasses, Gaiman looks more like a jet-lagged rocker than the author listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top 10 living post-modern writers. Earnest fans of his comics, graphic novels and conventional fiction have been known to faint when meeting him. Others have had Gaiman's autograph tattooed on their bodies. Yet, his affable manners and sharp sense of humour quickly put one at ease. Gaiman, 45, is starting an international publicity tour in Asia. The promoted object is his highly anticipated second novel, Anansi Boys (Review and William Morrow), which will be released in September. The first stop is Singapore, where he reclines on a bright orange sofa in the British Council building. Next are Manila and Australia. The novel is about two sons of the recently deceased trickster god Anansi. Like its more literary predecessor, American Gods, the new novel takes myths and gods into modern America. 'It's set in the same universe as American Gods, but it's really a funny novel,' says Gaiman. 'American Gods is big and respectable. It's won a lot of awards, but I don't think anybody would say it makes you feel better about the world when you finish it. This time, I wanted to write a novel that was funny. I wanted to write about family. 'It started mostly from my daughter, who's 10 now. Round about the point she turned eight, everything her parents did suddenly became embarrassing. And I realised it really is the terrible thing of being a child, the awful ability your parents have to embarrass you, from playing the wrong music in the car dropping you off at school, or having the wrong car.' Fat Charlie is embarrassed by his dad. After the old man dies in a karaoke-related incident, Fat Charlie learns that he's the son of the spider god. But all the father's powers have gone to a brother Fat Charlie has never met, sparking a lopsided sibling rivalry. The British author showed a vivid imagination from an early age. 'I was definitely the type of kid that would live as much in his head as he lived outside it,' he says. 'I would make things up all the time.' He was also an avid reader - so much so that his parents would frisk him going to family events, 'so that I wouldn't take a book in and end up reading under a table'. 'As a child, I loved books with magic. I loved Roger Lancelyn Green's Tales of Ancient Egypt and Noel Langley's The Land of Green Ginger. I remember getting the [Chronicles of] Narnia books as a seven-year-old and having them on a shelf. It's silly, but I enjoyed simply alphabetising all my books on the shelf.' After a brief stint in journalism and freelance writing, 'mainly writing about books', Gaiman moved on to comics. In 1988, DC Comics editor Karen Berger invited him to give new life to a DC character for the Vertigo imprint. His first choice was The Phantom Stranger, but he settled for Sandman. The 75-part Sandman comic series brought comic books into the realm of adult literature - novelist Norman Mailer once described Sandman as 'a comic strip for intellectuals'. Thanks partly - at least - to Sandman, comics are no longer restricted to the funnies page. The burgeoning popularity and respect for graphic novels sees them reviewed in the literary sections of the world's best newspapers. But Gaiman says his art form is far from firmly established. 'I'm much more worried about the state of the graphic-novel industry in 18 months' time. Suddenly, graphic novels are making a lot of money. Last time it happened, in 1986, publishers started to push anything.' A fantasy horror series about seven mythical siblings called the Endless won most major industry awards, including the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story (the first comic ever to win a literary award). Nearly 10 years after it was completed, the original series still sells close to a million copies a year. Gaiman's return to the world of Sandman in 2003, Sandman: Endless Nights, was an international event and the first graphic novel in The New York Times best-seller list. Despite Hollywood's recent enthusiasm for all things comic, no plan has crystallised for a Sandman film. Gaiman makes it clear he's not interested in doing the film himself. 'The first question is what do you throw away?' he says. 'The joy of Sandman is that just as a book it would take you a couple of weeks. I think the best way of doing Sandman would probably be with a 75-hour mini-series. But it's not something I worry about. 'If a Sandman movie ever happens and is any good, it will be because it finds its [Lord of the Rings director] Peter Jackson - a director who loves the material and cares about it and needs to make something that is faithful, yet doesn't mind changing some things if it makes it a better movie.' Gaiman has just completed a script for New Line based on his graphic novel Death: The High Cost of Living. His focus, however, remains on literature, in which he works in as many genres as he can find time for - comics, film scripts, graphic and straight novels. But while he spent his youth writing a variety of books simultaneously, the demands of success restrict him to one project at a time. His next release will be a children's book called The Graveyard. 'I'd be quite happy going on writing novels and comics if someone had invented the 19-day week,' he says.