How similar is The Sandman to the comic? What Neil Gaiman said about change

Of course, whenever a customization is released, there’s a lot of talk about what the changes mean. Has the snipping that goes with changing a book or comic into a show or movie made it better, worse, or different in some unrecognizable way? What does it mean if these changes came from the creator himself?

This question is likely to cross fans’ minds when they watch Netflix The Sandman, based of course on the popular comic of the same name by Neil Gaiman, and developed for Netflix by Gaiman (alongside David S. Goyer and showrunner Allan Heinberg), who also serves as executive producer. There might be some comfort in a way, knowing that a creator is so involved in a show that’s been through true development hell to get here. But that’s not to say sandman is without changes.

“There were things we would go OK, what is important in each scene? And I spoke to Allan about why a scene was written, what I was trying to do, what I felt like, what was important to me,” Gaiman tells Polygon. “You take a character like death; What was important to me was that we cast an actress who could actually convey the kindness, the emotion, and the idea that you could fall in love with her a little.”

For Gaiman, Kirby Howell-Baptiste captured that perfectly; She was the kind of person who, as Tod, could generously say, “You know you should look both ways before you cross the street,” and you’d “kinda like her for saying it.” It mattered less that Howell-Baptiste, a black woman, was a perfect match for the character drawn so many decades ago — although Gaiman said that wasn’t always the case.

Lucifer leaned across a table and growled a bit

Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix

“I mean, that was one of the reasons why Gwendoline Christie was so perfect as Lucifer. She looks and feels like the Lucifer drawn by Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth in every way sandman #4. That alone – but the fact that she could also embody this Lucifer, that she’s brilliant and imposing and really dangerous,” says Gaiman. “That’s good, we need that.”

There were certain updates that Gaiman felt needed once the story hit television. Beyond the casting optics is the consequence of The Sandman is about death and takes the original comic The Sound of Her Wings and fuses it with a short story written by Gaiman called Winter’s Tale. In other chapters sandman makes a few tweaks to the story here and there – shying away from the true brutality of the 24 Hours chapter in changes to the show’s episode 24/7, or cementing a unique look for the Dreamers’ Castle instead of a constant one changing lock. Martian Manhunter is gone.

“We tried to accurately reproduce the comics, but it didn’t quite work,” Gaiman said in a Vanity Fair video that discussed some changes to the look of the Endless domains. “And then we had to think: Well, how is that supposed to work?

A shot of Desire's Realm, a building in the shape of Desire with its heart exposed, standing above the clouds

The Realm of Desire was something Gaiman referred to as a change he wanted to make
Image: Netflix

“The comics have always been the Bible; sometimes they were more like the Old Testament. We let things change, but the things that changed tended to change with time or with the need to do something for TV.”

Additionally, many of the actors say they were given free rein to make their characters work for them, working with Gaiman and Heinberg to dial in performances that were true to the “soul” of the work, the only thing Gaiman considered important to maintain.

“I think in terms of gameplay, so much came from discovering the relationships with other characters because we saw that on the side, but how does it work in real life?” Howell-Baptiste says. “For me, I used the source material in the comics because that’s the way it is goldbasically for my character.

“They gave me the script before telling me who the character was. So my reading was really instinctive. And from there they obviously seemed really responsive and wanted me to run with what I bring. So I just felt a lot of freedom and release from Neil and Allan to play and explore.”

Joanna Constantine holds up a cross and reads from the ritual

Image: Netflix

Jenna Coleman, who plays Johanna Constantine, agrees, although her character is vastly different from the book version. For her Constantine, who is now at the top of her game and in the service of the royal family, embracing the change for the character was a conscious move.

“We saw different Constantines, there were different interpretations through many different media. And I think it was a very conscious reason that I was hired in terms of Neil and Allan’s vision, and a very conscious change and departure in terms of the costume,” says Coleman. She notes that her callback audition was with Gaiman, which “was like I’ve never been given the green light in my entire life.”

“I’m sure, you know, how so many adaptations are so disconnected from their creator. Whereas […] The Sandman is Neil’s dream, both the 1989 comic to start with and now this series on Netflix,” adds Coleman. “He took his work directly and reinterpreted it. Having him around and knowing we had his stamp of approval allowed me to be much more free in our work.”

Additional reporting by Tasha Robinson. How similar is The Sandman to the comic? What Neil Gaiman said about change

Charles Jones

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