In 1998, on the old Dreaming website, Gaiman had the following posted for him:
"I was surprised to discover from yesterday's [Daily] MIRROR that I'm meant to have accused J.K. Rowling of ripping off BOOKS OF MAGIC for HARRY POTTER.
Simply isn't true -- and now it's on the public record it'll follow me around forever.
Back in November I was tracked down by a Scotsman journalist who had noticed the similarities between my Tim Hunter character and Harry Potter, and wanted a story. And I think I rather disappointed him by explaining that, no, I certainly *didn't* believe that Rowling had ripped off Books of Magic, that I doubted she'd read it and that it wouldn't matter if she had: I wasn't the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school. It's not the ideas, it's what you do with them that matters.
Genre fiction, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, is a stew. You take stuff out of the pot, you put stuff back. The stew bubbles on.
(As I said to the Scotsman journalist, the only thing that was a mild bother was that in the BOOKS OF MAGIC movie Warners is planning, Tim Hunter can no longer be a bespectacled, 12 year old English kid. But given the movie world I'll just be pleased if he's not played by a middle-aged large-muscled Austrian.)
Not sure how this has transmuted into "Gaiman has accused Rowling of ripping him off." But I suppose it's a better story than the truth."
Gaiman at one point also hilariously noted, "I thought we were both just stealing from T.H. White."
White, of course, wrote The Sword in the Stone, about a young boy with a powerful destiny.
Which just goes back to the whole idea that genre fiction is a big ol' stew. Everyone is mixing together all sorts of different ideas.
However, technically speaking, I would say that Tim Hunter made his way into the world slightly ahead of Harry Potter, and certainly appeared in print way first.
Thanks for the question, Bruce!
If anyone ELSE has a question about comic books for me, drop me a line at email@example.com!