When the president of Warner Bros. asked Neil Gaiman to adapt his Sandman comics for the big screen in 1991, he pleaded for them to shelve the idea.
“I said, ‘Please don’t. I’m writing the comic. If there was a movie right now it would just screw everything up,'” Gaiman told Day 6 guest host Saroja Coelho.
Screen versions of The Sandman have been through various stages of development since that first conversation, but nearly three decades on, a TV series based on the beloved DC comics has been announced by Netflix.
The Sandman follows the main character Dream, also known as Morpheus, who rules over the dream realm that people go to each night when they fall asleep. He’s one of seven siblings collectively known as The Endless.
The series was announced in July, but Gaiman has remained mum on details about what fans can expect — until now.
After success developing two of his novels, American Gods and Good Omens, for the small screen, Gaiman says that he felt now was time to turn The Sandman into a TV series.
“I had spent 2016 through till the beginning of this year making Good Omens … into television and really understood how it was done and had learned the practicalities and could no longer be baffled by it,” he explained.
Seminal work in comics
Since its first issue hit newsstands in 1989, The Sandman has gained legions of fans and dozens of publishing awards.
Part of the story’s appeal is its universal experience — everyone sleeps, and everyone dreams.
“For five hours or seven hours or eight hours, we go stark, staring mad, and we’re in a place that we don’t understand doing things that we don’t understand,” Gaiman said.
Fans have also connected with the main character, Dream.
When Gaiman began writing The Sandman, he wanted to push back against the trend of superheroes ruling the comic book universe. While Dream may have the power of a god, he’s a “complete screw-up,” he said.
“He’s a gloomy sort of bugger,” he said. “He’s not quite human, but he does have absolute standards and responsibilities and tries to fulfil his moral obligations even if his standards are not human.”
The most recent attempts to turn The Sandman into a film came to an end in 2016 after then-screenwriter Eric Heisserer declared that such an adaptation wouldn’t work.
“I … did a lot of work on the feature and came to the conclusion that the best version of this property exists as an HBO series or limited series, not as a feature film, not even as a trilogy,” Heisserer said at the time.
In tweets following the Netflix announcement, Gaiman acknowledged that the story couldn’t be told in one sitting — or even one season.
“We won’t even try,” he wrote in response to a fan.
The first season will be eleven episodes. That's the start of it all. Preludes and Nocturnes and a little bit more. https://t.co/tOlfJ1kS1y
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) July 2, 2019
A faithful — but updated — adaptation
Gaiman says that he understands fans are anxious to see how The Sandman translates to the screen and that the TV series’ team — which includes writer and showrunner Allan Heinburg, with David Goyer and Gaiman as writers and executive producers — are respecting its origins.
“The idea is to stay faithful to Sandman, but to do it for now rather than making it a 1980s period piece,” he said.
When asked what that might look like, Gaiman says that Dream and his siblings will live in a version of the Endless set closer to 2019.
“In Sandman [issue] number one, there is a sleeping sickness that occurs because Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured … in 1916, and in 1988 he escapes,” Gaiman said.
“Instead of him being a captive for about 80 years, he’s going to be a captive for about 110 years and that will change things.”
Gaiman adds that the team hasn’t ruled out including more familiar characters from the DC Universe, but offered no specifics.
When it comes to Dream, however, Gaiman offered some insight.
Asked whether the main character’s look would change and evolve in the TV series as it did in the comics, Gaiman responded simply.