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The Sandman audio adaption is ‘an overnight success that took 30 years’

The creators discuss the need to update the source material for the modern era

An image from The Sandman Audible series
Sandman Act 2
Image: Audible

Neil Gaiman, the prolific creator and narrator of The Sandman, gave audiences the lowdown on the second season of DC and Audible’s groundbreaking radio drama adaptation Thursday at New York City Comic Con. While the panel was light on spoilers, one thing that we know for sure is that Hell makes for some strange bedfellows.

Gaiman was joined by director Dirk Maggs and actors James McAvoy (Morpheus) and Kevin Smith (Merv Pumpkinhead). The panel was moderated by actress and fellow Sandman superfan Tiffany Smith.

DC Comics published the darkly funny The Sandman horror series comic from 1989 to 1996. The first season of the audio adaptation was released in summer 2020. It traces the journey of Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, who was imprisoned on Earth for decades by a cult. Morpheus must rebuild his kingdom and collect his tools of the trade: a helmet, ruby, and sand pouch. His journey takes him to the far reaches of reality and beyond. He encounters a bevy of characters on his journey, including Death (Kat Dennings) and Lucifer (Michael Sheen).

The first season of The Sandman became a New York Times bestseller. Season one adapts the first three volumes of The Sandman (“Preludes & Nocturnes,” “The Doll’s House,” and “Dream Country”). Season two, released September 22, focuses on the graphic novels “Season of Mists” and “A Game of You.” While we still don’t know the release date for season three, we do know it will adapt the graphic novels “Brief Lives” and “Worlds’ End.”

The panelists talked about how The Sandman graphic novels personally influenced them, and how their relationship with the series drew them to be a part of the enormous undertaking of adapting the series for audio. Aside from being an obvious fan of the series, Maggs also pointed to the story’s scope and the diversity of locations as drivers for his involvement. He also gave an overview of all the places we travel to in the second season, saying, “In Act II you’re in ancient Greece, you’re in Hell, you’re in 19th Century San Francisco, first-century Rome, French Revolution ... it’s everywhere.”

Smith’s reasons for joining the production go a bit deeper. He said, “I always associated reading Sandman with a time in my life before I did anything before I did art myself.” He added, “If you’re creative, it’s fuel.” Smith also credited Gaiman with helping empower him to create his famous 1994 film Clerks: “Oddly enough, he’s sustained me for the last 27 years of my career.”

McAvoy, who also served as co-moderator asking some pointed questions, wondered why the graphic novel series had been overlooked when so many other Gaiman projects had been successfully adapted. Maggs was employed at the BBC during the time he and Gaiman originally tried to get the graphic novel made. He called The Sandman adaptation “an overnight success that took 30 years.”

Gaiman said he’s happy to see comics serialized and returned to their logical home in audio. He said, “Comics and audio have been a thing since the 1940s. Superman got kryptonite from the radio.”

McAvoy revealed how difficult it is for an actor to portray the ever-changing Morpheus. “Sometimes his journey is very much in the backseat, it’s almost like he’s the host or presenter. To keep track of it is really quite a feat.”

In the second season, Morpheus travels back to Hell to free an old flame he doomed to the underworld. (Yeah, that’ll go well.) He also crosses paths with Lucifer, an encounter that leaves him with more than he bargained for: the keys to the underworld. Lucifer abdicating his responsibility invites a slew of new characters to the table. Joining the cast in season two are actors Regé-Jean Page (Orpheus), Kristen Schaal (Delirium), David Tennant (Loki), and Niamh Walsh (Nuala).

Discussing the most significant challenges to adapting season two, Maggs noted the difficulty in updating trans character Wanda Mann (voiced by Reece Lyons). “With her story, there was a fair amount of trial and error. We wanted to treat everything with respect. I am proud that Wanda and [her roommate] Barbie are much more forthright about how they stand up to bullying and abuse. That was the part keeping me up at night.”

Gaiman agreed and added, “I love the fact that we can get a trans performer to play a trans character.”

Maggs said they knew they hit a nerve with season one of The Sandman because of how many actors wanted to be a part of the series. One of those people was Kevin Smith, who moderated the New York City Comic Con Sandman panel in 2020.

Smith recalled the moment he received word from his agent that Maggs wanted him to read for a part for the second season. He said he knew he’d be reading for Merv Pumpkinhead because he would “ruin anything else.” Smith also threw a dash of gratefulness Maggs’ way for letting him use his normal voice, “Merv Pumpkinhead sounds very Jersey.”

For all you Sandman-heads out there, you’ll have more than your fill this year, as Gaiman’s epic is also getting a live-action treatment at Netflix.