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SYFY WIRE The Sandman

NYCC: Neil Gaiman explains why The Sandman: Act II was like pulling off a ‘difficult second album’

By Brian Silliman
The Sandman Act II Audible Audio Drama hero

He'll show you fear in a handful of dust! It's a fantastic time to be a fan of The Sandman. Not only is the legendary comic series coming to Netflix as a television series, Audible and DC are two acts in on a sprawling audio drama adaptation. Sandman writer Neil Gaiman narrates the entire story with a full cast, and the result is an aural dream like no other. 

Gaiman adapted the work along with director Dirk Maggs. To celebrate the triumph of the recent release of The Sandman: Act II, some of the cast and creatives came to New York Comic Con 2021 via the magic of a virtual panel to share secrets about how they created this unique audio experience. SYFY WIRE was there to see this (apologies) dream come true. 

The Sandman Act II cover art

Gaiman and Maggs were present, as were cast members James McAvoy (Morpheus) and Kevin Smith (Merv Pumpkinhead). All praised the variety of Gaiman’s original work, with McAvoy calling it a “multi-faced palette for his mind to go ballistic.” Maggs noted the “variety of the thing” as Act II takes place in many different locations. 

For Smith, The Sandman (and Gaiman’s works in general) has provided a ton of inspiration. “If you’re a creative, it’s fuel,” he said, remarking that he read lot a lot of it before he began making movies himself. “As you watch his imagination unfold, your imagination can’t help but unfold as well.” 

McAvoy let it slip that Smith's casting came after Smith moderated their NYCC panel last year: McAvoy asked Gaiman if they could get him on the project. When Smith got the got the call, he guessed that they were asking about Merv Pumpkinhead, which they were. “I would ruin everything else…” he said, “…but I had a good chance of pulling him off. He sounds very Jersey.” He also had some ad-libs that made the cut, which lifted his soul. Smith is hardly the only fan in the mix, as Maggs said, “That’s the thing about the cast. They’re all fans.” 

Gaiman thinks himself very lucky, as he and Maggs have been trying to get this project made for a long time. Now that it’s finally here, Gaiman is excited that it will “make a movie in your head,” as he said. McAvoy mentioned how much “content” is currently available, and how much of it can cause lapses in attention. He likens this project to theater, and said, “If you do not pay attention, if you do not engage, you kind of lose it.” He believes audiences still want to engage, and that they will be rewarded if they do so. 

Maggs said a lot of his job directing was staying out of the way of his cast. When it came to McAvoy, he usually just let him do what he does. Maggs intends to make the story "make it appear on the screen of your mind” and also to make sure that “everything has maximum impact.” Maggs also takes Gaiman’s original notes to comic illustrators and turns them into narration, which Gaiman then performs. 

Was the second act easier in terms of figuring out the narration? “I found it harder, actually,” Maggs said. Gaiman’s narrator is a little more poetic in Act II, and the recording sessions were more of an “exchange of ideas.” Ultimately, Gaiman remarked how Act II turned out to be “the difficult second album” after the massive success of the first installment. Both Maggs and Gaiman seemed happy with where their collaboration has settled. 

Part of what added to this installment being difficult was what Maggs and Gaiman called their biggest challenge: the comic volume called “A Game of You” is a part of this act. In the comics, this storyline features the first trans character seen in mainstream comics. Gaiman and Maggs worked closely with GLAAD to make sure that they were being true to the original story, but were also being true to the way things have shifted and changed since the original comics ran. 

“You’re going back a long way. We still want this to be this comic and that story… we had long, long conversations… and then GLAAD looked at what we’d done, and that gave us the confidence.” 

“Wanda and Barbie are much more forthright in what they believe in,” Maggs said. 

It may have been a more difficult album to make, but it's still a dream come true. The Sandman: Act II is available on Audible right now. 

Click here to see all of SYFY WIRE's continuing coverage of New York Comic Con 2021.