Credit Netflix

Revisiting and Revising: Adapting The Sandman

By Natasha Coyle

Adapted from the comics series in the 1990s to a TV show for the 2020s, The Sandman reflects the demand for more nuanced, inclusive, and diverse representations in the fantasy genre.

There is always the fear that directors and producers will completely desecrate a well-loved text in their adaptation. Choices surrounding plot emission, casting, and setting all inevitably risk alienating a proportion of an already well-established audience. It has taken over 25 years for there to be an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic series, which is now being shown on Netflix. There have been inevitable changes in the adaptation but, given Gaiman’s heavy involvement with the production of The Sandman show, these changes should be well-received and attract a more diverse audience to Sandman’s fan base. 

The Sandman, season one, largely sticks to the first two volumes of the comics: the protagonist – Morpheus, or Dream – played by Tom Sturridge, is still a grumpy goth. The plot arc and dialogical choices are also very similar, if not the same, with some scenes borrowing the exact same speech used in the comics. The thought balloons that act as Dream’s internal narration in the comics translate well to Sturridge’s narration, especially at points of worldbuilding in the show which reveal details to the audience that are necessary to the plot arc. Yet, Dream is a more likeable character in the show than he is in the comics. This would make sense, as it is probably a choice made to appeal to the audience – a viewer will be a lot less likely to invest eight hours watching a show that revolves around a protagonist they don’t like.

The Sandman is a dream adaptation: its production had one of the original creators actively involved, with Gaiman helping to develop the storyline for TV, and the imagery of the fantasy landscapes is vividly similar to the illustrations in the comic (thanks to the $15million budget per episode). The main area of departure from the comics is the casting. 

The show has adapted the 1990s comics for a 2020s audience, whose demand for more nuanced, inclusive, and diverse representations has led to a diverse cast and more intimate display of relationships on screen. The comics series is largely whitewashed – despite being one of the early fantasy comics to represent queerness on the page, it was very surface level. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the fantasy genre continues to struggle with good ethnic and race representation, and this inclusivity – along with other historically marginalised positions – are still being discussed, as evidenced by Future Voices of Scottish SFF’s event, ‘Inclusive Worldbuilding in SFF media’, which was held on 12 October 2022.

The casting choices not only give creative space to greater inclusivity and diversity on our screens, but are also more reflective of the diversity of audiences. Netflix’s commissioning of Bridgerton, and the 2022 version of Persuasion, shows that the company is actively commissioning works for screen that adapt texts in a more diverse and inclusive way. 

Additionally, the show does not shy away from lingering on moments of intimacy between characters, including Alex, who is one of the queer characters in the show and appears in episode one. Laurie Kynaston plays Alex in the show and is a stark contrast to his cruel and selfish father, Roderick Burgess, played by Charles Dance. The casting decisions distinctly separate Alex and his father apart, whereas the comics depict Alex merely as a reflection of his father through their stylistic choices, such as his physical appearance and extensive use of lines to create shade and darkness on their figures. 

In the show, Alex’s innocence, battle with internal morality, and the initial repression of his queerness are depicted more sensually and in-depth. Notable moments include the camera lingering on the touch between Alex and Paul, and Kynaston’s facial expressions that are quite subtle, yet highly impactful. Alex’s adaptation is one of the few characters in which audiences and readers of The Sandman will see a more sensual approach to the depiction of human and non-human relationships, and a greater intimacy between the fantastic and the non-fantastic. 

No adaptation of a work is universally liked by all. Yet, with Gaiman’s involvement in the creation of the series, it’s hard to ignore his commitment to update his comics to suit a diverse consumer demographic, and to work towards having more nuanced, inclusive, and diverse representations on our screens. The Sandman is amazing in both its original and its adapted form, and I would highly recommend both mediums, especially if you’re new to the fantasy genre.


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