the sandman audio drama

The Sandman was a groundbreaking comic book series when Neil Gaiman‘s surreal and disturbing saga of the adventures of the anthropomorphic personification of Dream launched in 1989. A horror-fantasy series that reimagined the mythical character from folklore as a pale, moody figure with a shock of black hair, The Sandman was one of the most visually arresting comics out there, and remains so to this day. So how do you take such a visually striking story and turn it into an audio drama?

By going back to the source.

Gaiman narrates the Dirk Maggs-directed Audible Sandman audio drama — the first-ever adaptation of the infuriatingly unadaptable series — his deep, lilting voice lulling you into the weird, dark world he created more than 30 years ago. The audio drama adapts the first 20 issues of The Sandman, or the first three collected volumes: Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country. The 20 issues becomes roughly 10 hours of audio drama, mostly narrated by Gaiman and partly narrated by its star, James McAvoy, who plays Morpheus, AKA Dream.

As you listen to his storybook-style narration, there’s a sense of niggling familiarity; the way he describes the melting, slimy walls of a dream-addicted woman’s house paints an eerily accurate portrait of the comic book panels drawn by Mike Dringenberg in Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of the Sandman graphic novel series. That may be because Gaiman’s narration is lifted almost exactly from the original scripts he wrote for The Sandman, which formed the basis for the comic book artists’ panels, Gaiman said in a virtual roundtable interview with /Film.

“What we did was I gave Dirk the original scripts,” Gaiman said. “So Dirk got to read the instructions that I gave to the artist all those years ago.” Gaiman continued:

“So I, you know, describe rooms, describe people, talk about things. And very often that was what I wound up reading as a narrator, you know, 33 years after I’d written these lines, there I am, which were never expected to be read by anybody other than Sam Kieth or Mike Dringenberg or Kelly Jones, or whoever I was writing them for.

Maggs was delighted to get a glimpse “at the scaffolding behind the building facade” with Gaiman’s original scripts. Similar to how Gaiman communicated “what’s in his mind’s eye and ear to the artists, so that they can create it,” Maggs was receiving those original instructions 33 years later, to create the world of Sandman in an audio drama. Reading the scripts, Maggs told /Film how he was impressed that a then-26-year-old Gaiman wrote these stories:

“I actually emailed him one night I was doing some of the mixing and I said, Fucking hell, you were good back in the day, you can hack it. And he came by. He laughed and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m not that person anymore. It’s like reading someone else wrote it, but hearing it is reminding me of where I was at in my head and this is the thing.’ And he wrote these long descriptions and some of them are really beautiful and lyrical, and they’re not in the book. And so it was really great to put them back in his mouth.”

More than just a few beautifully written lines by Gaiman didn’t make it into the comic books. In going back to his old scripts, Gaiman would unearth facets of The Sandman that he hadn’t thought of for nearly three decades, and information about the characters or the world that only existed in his mind before he sat down to speak with Maggs and Allan Heinberg (the showrunner of the upcoming Netflix adaptation) about the directions of the two adaptations:

“I wind up with long conversations with Dirk Maggs, who adapted it for Audible, even longer conversations these days with Allan Heinberg who is a showrunner at Netflix. It’s one of the very few things that I feel like I can answer any questions with no feeling, no trace of imposter syndrome. If you want to know ask me a Sandman question, I will give you a Sandman answer. And Alan is loving it in particular right now, because we did a call the other day where we were both on sort of auditioning, and one of the Sandman actors. And I gave the actor a briefing on their character and wound up telling them stuff that nobody had known except me for 34 years, and Alan was just sitting there with his jaw dropped, going, I didn’t know any of that. I’m like, actually ever told anybody any of that. It’s just stuff I know.”

“Sandman was always an iceberg,” Gaiman concluded. “I guess there was always a lot of the story, a lot of information that was underwater, some of it came out. If you read Sandman, the whole of it, having read Sandman Overture, you’re going to go through Overture going, oh my god, he said that there is something up there. And it’s like, well, yes, I did. And I knew that I was, I didn’t know that I would definitely get to do Overture one day. But I knew that that was all part of the story. And it all had to be there.”

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The Sandman is now available to purchase on Audible.

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