Whenever an adaptation is released, there’s naturally a lot of discussion about what the changes mean. Has the cutting that comes with changing a book or comic into a show or movie made it better, worse, different in some unrecognizable way? What does it mean when these changes came from the creator himself?
This question will likely be on fans’ minds as they watch Netflix. The sand man, based, of course, on Neil Gaiman’s beloved comic of the same name, and developed for Netflix by Gaiman (alongside David S. Goyer and showrunner Allan Heinberg), who also serves as executive producer. It might provide some comfort, in a way, knowing that a creator has such a hand in a show that’s been through real development hell to get here. But that doesn’t mean Sand seller is unchanged.
“There were things we were going, OK, what is important in each scene? And I was talking with Allan about why a scene was written, what I was trying to do, what I wanted to say, what was important to me,” Gaiman told Polygon. “You take on a character like death; what mattered to me was that we chose an actress who could convey kindness, who could convey emotion and the idea that you would fall in love with her just a little bit.
In Gaiman’s mind, Kirby Howell-Baptiste captured that perfectly; she was the kind of person who, as Death, could generously say, “You know you should look both ways before you cross the street”, and you would “kinda appreciate her for saying that”. It didn’t matter that Howell-Baptiste, a black woman, matched the character drawn so many decades ago perfectly — although Gaiman said that wasn’t always the case.
“I mean, that was one of the reasons Gwendoline Christie was so perfect as Lucifer. She looks and feels in every way like the Lucifer that Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth drew. Sand seller #4. Just that, but the fact that she can also embody this Lucifer, that she is brilliant and imposing and really dangerous,” Gaiman says. “That’s good, that’s what we need.”
There were some updates that Gaiman felt needed as the story aired on TV. Beyond the casting perspective, the episode of The sand man Death-centric takes from the original comic “The Sound of Her Wings” and merges it with a short story titled “Winter’s Tale” that Gaiman wrote. In other chapters, Sand seller makes a few changes here and there to the story – shying away from the true brutality of the “24 hour” chapter in the series’ “24/7” episode edits, or cementing a singular look for the Dream Castle instead of a castle in constant evolution. Martian Manhunter is gone.
“We tried to replicate the comics exactly, and it didn’t quite work out,” Gaiman said in a Vanity Fair video discussing some of the changes to the way Endless’ estates look. “And then we had to think: Well, how would that work?
“Comics have always been the bible; sometimes it was rather the Old Testament. We let things change, but the things that changed tend to change over time, or with the need to turn something into television.
Beyond that, many actors say they were given carte blanche to have their characters work for them, working with Gaiman and Heinberg to compose performances that felt true to the work’s “soul”, the only something Gaiman felt was important to maintain.
“I think in terms of the play space, a lot of it comes from finding out about relationships with other characters, because we’ve seen that on the page, but how does that work in real life? life ?” said Howell-Baptiste. “For me, I used the source material in the comics because it’s goldbasically, for my character.
“They gave me the script before they told me who the character was. So my reading was really instinctive. And from there they obviously seemed to really react and wanted me to run with what I brought. I so felt a lot of freedom and liberation from Neil and Allan to play and explore.
Jenna Coleman, who plays Johanna Constantine, agrees, though her character has changed a lot since the book’s iteration. For her Constantine, now seen at the top of her game and serving the royal family, it was a deliberate decision to embrace change for the character.
“We’ve seen different Constantines, there’s been different interpretations through a lot of different mediums. And I think that was a very deliberate reason why I was put in charge of Neil and Allan’s vision, and a change and a very deliberate departure in terms of costume,” Coleman said. She notes that her callback audition was with Gaiman, which “was kind of like I’ve never had such a green light in my entire life.”
“I’m sure, you know, like so many adaptations are so separate from their creator. Whereas […] The sand man is Neil’s dream, both the 1989 comic for the start and now, for this show that’s on Netflix,” adds Coleman. “He took his job straight away and reinvented it. And so for me, just having him with me and knowing that we had his stamp of approval – it allowed us to be much more free in our work.
Additional reporting by Tasha Robinson.