The Sandman: How an ‘unfilmable’ comic made it to Netflix

For Gaiman himself, revisiting The Sandman after so many years has been a strange, “fascinating” experience. When he first created the comic in the late 80s, he attempted to tell a story that examined what the 20th Century does with, to and about mythology. With that in mind, he also aimed to make the comics as inclusive as possible, with the stories exploring different cultures and mythologies, as well as being ahead of their time in terms of gay and transgender characters. “When I was doing the comic,” says Gaiman, “I was getting flack for the fact that Sandman didn’t have politics in it. Everybody else was doing comics that had politics in. And you knew they had politics because they drew Margaret Thatcher with vampire teeth. People were saying ‘Sandman is completely apolitical’. And I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think it is, but maybe it isn’t in the way that you think’. “

As though to crown his point, and to illustrate how much the definition of “political” has changed, Gaiman says that he has recently been attacked by, in his words, “idiots” for making Sandman that most nebulous of things: “woke” . Yet, beyond casting Kirby Howell-Baptiste, a black woman, as Death, where in the comics they appeared to be white, most of the characters (including the androgynous Desire, played by non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park) are as they were in the original comics. “I’m going ‘well, whatever you’re complaining about, we did 33 years ago’,” says Gaiman. “I remember integrating gay, lesbian and trans characters into the story back then and I had people blinking at me in a rather baffled way, like ‘why would you put these people into your story?’ And now it’s terrifyingly woke. “

More than anything, however, Gaiman feels an immense sense of relief that his “baby” is now in safe hands.

“My baby is going off to school,” he says. “My baby is learning how to drive. It was awful worrying about those previous Sandmans. I was terrified that somebody would phone up and say, ‘Ok, good news, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Sandman!’ And it would just be like, ‘oh no, this is the worst. That’s actually commercial enough that somebody’s going to make this. This is going to be Howard the Duck. Here is this thing that I’ve made that’s won all these literary awards and people are just going to remember it as a terrible movie ‘. I didn’t want that to happen.

“There’s lots of other books I’ve written,” he continues, “lots of awards, but Sandman totals 3,000 pages and pretty much each of those pages took four pages of writing to describe to an artist. So, you’re talking 12,000 pages that I wrote over 33 years. I want this thing done right and beautiful and so far it is. “

The Sandman is on Netflix from 5 August

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