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It’s been a long time coming for Neil Gaiman’s seminal comic, The Sandman, to finally get the screen adaptation it deserves. But even with the massive amount of fans out there for Vertigo’s flagship comic, perhaps no one is more emotional about the new Netflix series than Gaiman himself, who was literally brought to tears upon seeing his words come to fantastical life.
While speaking to a group of select outlets (including SYFY WIRE) during a press event last week, Gaiman specifically pointed to "The Sound of Her Wings," Episode 6 of the 10-episode first season, which finds the main character, Dream/Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) talking to Death(Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and learning about the necessary and often beautiful humanity that the Endless must bring to their metaphysically demanding jobs. During the episode, Gaiman didn’t just tear up once, but twice, on two distinct occasions.
“That took me by surprise each time. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I wrote these words, I plotted this out in 1988,” Gaiman says. “This has been part of my life, these stories, ever since. I’ve read and re-read them every time we reprinted them or I was checking the color or anything like that. I know them like the back of my hand. And yet, watching this thing that we’ve shot is bypassing all the thinking bits of my brain and is going straight into the emotion bits. And I can’t believe that’s happening.”
Back in 1987/88, Gaiman was working on a limited DC series called Black Orchid with artist Dave McKean. The higher-ups at DC, including his editor Karen Berger, thought the unknown writer could gain some notoriety by writing a monthly comic. One problem, Gaiman had never written anything like that.
“The initial germ of the idea for The Sandman comics was DC Comics saying to me, ‘We’d like you to do a monthly comic to try and raise your profile because we’ve got this thing called Black Orchid coming out and nobody knows who you are,’” Gaiman says.
“So when I was trying to come up with an idea for a comic back then, I wanted something that I could go anywhere with. I didn’t know if I could write a monthly comic, but I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give myself the widest possible playing ground, and the idea of an immortal being who had been around since the beginning of time who was in your dreams gave me historical, gave me horror, gave me fantasy, gave me contemporary, even gave me science fiction if I wanted it.”
That approach actually turned out to be ripe for a television adaptation, even if it took some 35 years to make the leap.
“I think that sensibility of 'we can go anywhere,' that sensibility of ‘you do not know where the next episode is going to take you, you don’t even know the genre of the next episode, and whatever the next episode is, you’re not prepared for it'... I feel like that actually translated beautifully onto the screen,” Gaiman says.
Still, with a comic that boasted 75 issues in its original form, 16 of which (the collections Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House) are covered in the show’s first season, you’d think there would be some difficult decisions to be made as far as what actually made it to the screen. And while that was surely the case, Gaiman says he doesn’t actually miss anything.
"I think what fascinates me is there’s nothing in those first 10 episodes that I miss. There isn’t anything where I go, ‘I just wish we got to shoot that little bit that we had to leave out.’ Because we [he and showrunner Allan Heinberg] were talking all of the time… I was reading the scripts, I was giving notes, there were at least a couple of times when it was even quicker just to say, ‘What if they had this dialogue?’ and then shuck that over to Alan, than it was to get Alan or someone else to write it or whatever,” Gaiman says. “So I don’t regard it as, ‘I just wish we had that scene; I just wish we’d shot that scene.’ It’s much more a thing of going: 'I think we’ve made the television version; sometimes we expand, sometimes we condense.'"
The Sandman finally awakens on Netflix this Friday, Aug. 5.
Looking for some fantasy content to tide you over for the next two months? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.