Neil Gaiman Is Updating the Sandman for the 21st Century on Netflix

Three decades after he first began writing the seminal comic book series The Sandman, Neil Gaiman is adapting the story to not one but two different formats. On July 15th, The Sandman will debut in audiobook format exclusively on Audible. At the same time, Gaiman is a writing and producing the upcoming live-action television adaptation of The Sandman at Netflix. During a virtual press roundtable, Gaiman explained how his approach to each adaptation differs. For Audible, he and director Dirk Maggs remained faithful to the comic's letter, as it appeared beginning in 1989. For Netflix, Gaiman is updating the story for the 21st century.

"One of the things that I keep banging my little drum and trying to explain to everybody that they have to tell people is this is an adaptation of the first three graphic novels," Gaiman says of the Audible release. "And then next thing will be Season of Mists, and we'll keep going to The Kindly Ones, and hopefully we'll keep going all the way to Sandman Overture. And by the time that we finish, it'll be 100 or 120 hours of audio drama.

"But the idea is that we tell the whole thing. But we also get to do something that I think is kind of special, which is treat it as an audiobook, because doing the Netflix TV series, we're very much looking at that as going, 'Okay, it is 2020, let's say that I was doing Sandman starting in 2020, what would we do? How would we change things? What gender would this character be? Who would this person be? What would be happening?'

While it has taken decades to get The Sandman into live-action, that hasn't been for lack of trying on Gaiman's part. He feels that it is only recently that the world has changed so that other mediums can do justice to The Sandman's story.

"For Netflix right now, people have tried making some movies and TV adaptations for 30 years, and actively tried making them for 25 years, and they've never worked," Gaiman says. "And they never worked because of all the special effects and what would be needed to do the special effects. They never worked because you were making something that was adult. People would write Sandman movie scripts, and they go, 'But it's an R-rated movie, and we can't have $100 million R-rated movies.' So, that wouldn't happen. You needed to get to a world in which long-form storytelling is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. And the fact that we have seventy-five issues of Sandman plus -- essentially, 13 full books -- worth of material, is a really good thing. It's not a drawback. It's on our side. And the fact that we're in a world in which we can take things that only existed in comic book art, and that can now exist in reality.

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"I get these emails of production design stuff on Netflix and Sandman that I just want to show them to everybody, and I know that I can't. They're incredibly confidential, but I look at them, and I glow. The other day they sent me Lucifer's castle and the gates to Hell and all of these Hell designs, and I'm just like, 'This is amazing. Oh my gosh.' It's like watching Kelly Jones' nightmares and Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg's nightmares just coming to life. We couldn't have done that, I think even five years ago, definitely not 10 years ago. The technology wasn't there. The budget wasn't there. The audience wasn't there. The delivery systems weren't there. The idea of going off and doing Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House as our first 10 episodes, nobody would've let us do that. The world wasn't ready. So, it's ready now. They caught up with us."

The Sandman audiobook will debut on Audible on July 15th.