The Sandman's John Cameron Mitchell Wants to Bring Grant Morrison's The Invisibles to Live-Action

The Sandman star John Cameron Mitchell once considered pursuing another popular Vertigo Comics series, The Invisibles, and would still like to write a series adapting the comic. Mitchell plays Hal, the drag queen who owns the house where Rose Walker stays in the first season of Netflix's The Sandman. The show is hardly Mitchell's first brush with Neil Gaiman's work, having directed the 2018 film How to Talk to Girls at Parties, based on one of Gaiman's short stories. But it turns out Mitchell's love of comics isn't exclusive to Gaiman's work on The Sandman. spoke to Mitchell ahead of the series premiere and he shared his appreciation for the work of Gaiman and his peers, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.

"It's interesting because the major adult comic series, the seminal ones, were [The Sandman], Watchmen, and The Invisibles," Mitchell says. "They came out mostly in the '90s, little of 2000s sometimes, or late '80s, and they revolutionized comics, and they, of course, spawned a thousand other titles who were inspired by them. Neil went on to become his own Joseph Campbell in a way. He took all of these myths and made narratives out of all of them. He didn't come from, let's say, from a George Martin point of view where sometimes it feels like the hardware is more important than the software, if you know what I mean. Neil was always interested in the myth as it related to someone very human and modern myths, whereas George Martin is a bit more like Beowulf. You don't go into their psyche too hard, right? You just have revenge and you have eeehh, and that's not exactly my thing."

When asked if he'd like to be involved in adaptations of any other of those seminal comics, Mitchell names The Invisibles, noting that it was a project he considered pursuing previously. "I think I would be up for writing an Invisibles series," Mitchell says. "At one time my producer was saying, 'You should pursue that.' I get a little wary with things that are going to cost too much money because more money means more trouble, more jockeying for money and effects and it just gets unwieldy. So, I didn't really pursue that. But The Invisibles, the most famous book and maybe memorable is called Apocalipstick. It's about a trans member of the group of superheroes named Lord Fanny, who is this Brazilian boy in the tradition of Candomblé, which is a kind of Afro-Brazilian religion dealing with death. It's an incredible book. That alone would make an incredible feature just right there, and it's definitely echoes of [Hedwig and the Angry Itch] by way of a deeper kind of shamanistic tradition that I find fascinating. Maybe having grown up super Catholic, I still have the idea of ritual in me."

The Invisibles is a Vertigo Comics series that Morrison wrote, collaborating with several artists, from 1994-2000. The series follows the members of The Invisible College, who are a secret society of anarchic freedom fighters waging a secret war against the Archons of the Outer Church, humanity's unseen oppressors. It's a cult favorite that has influenced writers like Gerard Way, Jonathan Hickman, and others. The series has previously been optioned for a live-action adaptation, but nothing has ever materialized.

Mitchell goes on to praise Gaiman, Morrison, and Moore, as well as HBO's Watchmen series. "Alan Moore, Grant, and Neil Gaiman were the three greats and they have some things in common," he says. "They work with old tropes and make them new, but they also are quite different. Grant is the person who has dabbled in magic [themselves]. [They're] more of an Aleister Crowley type, but with a biting Scottish wit that I really appreciate, and is in my blood, because my mom's Scottish. [Their] All-Star Superman, some people think of as the greatest comic series ever, which is Superman who is actually dying, and it's really touching. Then Alan Moore has his own misanthropic, paganist skepticism of the modern world, which is also very salutary. I think the TV version [of Watchmen] actually took that spirit and made something different, but wonderfully valid. You wouldn't have expected it to work, but it really, it takes the world of the Watchmen and creates a new story in it that is incredibly resonant working with the story of the racial massacre."

It's impossible to know what the future holds for The Invisibles, but perhaps the success of The Sandman will encourage new interest in the Vertigo Comics catalog. The remainder of our discussion with Mitchell follows.

(Photo: Netflix)

We know you're familiar with Neil Gaiman and his work, having directed How to Talk to Girls at Parties. How familiar were you with The Sandman going into this show?

John Cameron Mitchell: I read it when it came out and images, like dreams. stayed with me, so it was kind of new for me when I got the offer. I was in the middle of other things, so I didn't have a chance to read the books all over again. I figured for my character, I'd rather just enjoy it when I see it. The main attraction for doing this character, apart from having fun with Neil, is being able to sing songs from Gypsy, and now I really want to play Mama Rose in a major production.

Oh, perfect. You can just send them this as your audition.

I know. I did all of Rose's turns and they never got to use it. So, that's my audition.

What was your experience like on set? because I feel like it's a very effects-heavy, very serious, dark show, but then your character is singing songs and that kind of thing. Do you feel like your experience was a little different than most other people on set?

I think so. My character was kind of like the host of the party, the mentor. It's less tinged with the tragedy of some of the other characters. His main regret is giving up his dream of Broadway, and the metaphor of Dream, of course, resonates throughout this and changes for each character. I like that they've kept the emotionality of that while still having the fun of the fantasy and the adventure and the action.

But, I am a bit of a mentor in my own life. I like to help people out and guide them and be a bit of a therapist in my work. Hopefully, a poetic one rather than a prosaic one. But Hal is that too, and he talks about the idea of dreams with Rose in a concrete way, rather than the fanciful way of, "What is it you want?" Dreams, Freud said that they were a wish fulfillment. But there's also nightmares, our greatest fears. Do we wish for those as well? I don't know. The idea of Dream versus his other cousins or siblings, Despair, Desire, who consider themselves more important because, without Despair and Desire, there's no dreams. I love that he plays around with that stuff and I'll always be part of Neil's universe and I hope he'll be part of mine.

Neil's talked previously about how he wanted to try and approach the series as if he was writing Sandman for the first time in the 21st century, as opposed to 1989. Did you sense that at all in playing Hal, particularly with the public perception of drag queens changing in the post-RuPaul's Drag Race world?

I actually didn't look back at the character in the book, so I don't know. The character, also, is the old-school drag. He's not post-RuPaul. First of all, he is not even lip-syncing, he is singing. He really is the Broadway Marquee. He's the one who wanted to be the Broadway star and drag was what he was good at. Drag wasn't really welcome on Broadway back in the '80s. The only thing that was there was La Cage aux Folles, which was kind of an anomaly. So when I did [Hedwig and the Angry Itch], I knew that it wouldn't be welcome on Broadway, it was too conservative, whereas in the West End in London, or in Australia, drag is an ancient art form that's always been on commercial theater.

But the US was behind because we're a Puritan nation and it took 15 years for Hedwig to be welcome on Broadway, and that was the first time it was a hit. The film was a flop. Off-Broadway, we just hung on. Like the character, we were always just clawing our way to paying our rent. Then, Neil Patrick Harris doing it on Broadway was the first time it was actually lucrative. I replaced myself, in effect, and took over the role on Broadway and made money for the first time as Hedwig -- that was shocking to me -- then ripped my knee out because Neil's choreography was way too advanced for my older body. But, I had an absolute blast and ended up winning a special Tony for returning to the role.


In some ways, Hal is the me that could have been, the one who didn't stick it out, but still had talent, decided to be a big fish in a small pond. Then in episode eight, he's like, "I think it's time to recover that dream," and it's never too late. I really do believe that. People think I was too late to try anything new, but I'm always trying something new. I love new forms. I'm sure I'll end up writing novels. I'm working on a second fictional podcast now called Cancellation Island where all the canceled people go, with a lot of actors you might know, and the TV stuff actually helps finance these smaller things that are not particularly mainstream.

The Sandman is streaming now on Netflix.