'The Sandman' Creator Neil Gaiman on his 30-Year Journey to Adapt the Comic

The Sandman is finally out in full on Netflix, much to the delight of fans of the original comic books, and even more so for creator Neil Gaiman.

The best-selling author's groundbreaking series was published by DC Comics from 1989 to 1996 in its first run, and it has been reprinted in multiple special editions and has regularly been declared a masterpiece.

But the journey to bring The Sandman to the screen has been a long one, with Gaiman telling Newsweek how he spent almost 30 years "killing bad versions" of his original work.

Neil Gaiman The Sandman
Inset: Neil Gaiman speaks onstage during "The Sandman" special video presentation and Q&A panel during 2022 Comic Con International on July 23, 2022. Main: Tom Sturridge as Dream in "The Sandman." Gaiman spoke to Newsweek about adapting his comics for the small screen. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Sandman follows Dream of The Endless (Tom Sturridge), also known as Morpheus, and his quest to rebuild his realm, find his tools, and undo the damage done after he is imprisoned for over a century.

Reflecting on the Netflix adaptation, and how the story has finally come to life, Gaiman told Newsweek: "I'm thrilled. I mean it's been so interesting that, you know, for most of the lifespan of Sandman, for most of the last three decades, my job has been doing everything I can to kill bad versions of Sandman and persuade people not to make them, and to not be helpful and to not be part of the thing.

"And then suddenly, you know, David S. Goyer [the show's co-creator and executive producer] brought me in and we brought in Allan [Heinberg, showrunner and co-creator].

"The three of us became these three musketeers plotting out our season, writing it, planning what we were going to do and how we were going to do it, and what Sandman was gonna be. And then we did it, that's the weird bit actually."

Heinberg, also present during the Gaiman interview, said: "They let us do it." To which the author concurred: "Yea, they let us do it."

'The Sandman' Showrunners Discuss Working With Neil Gaiman on Netflix Adaptation

Newsweek also spoke with Heinberg and Goyer about working with Gaiman on an earlier occasion, and both were overjoyed at the experience, particularly given how "gracious" a collaborator he was.

Goyer told Newsweek: "Working with Neil has been one of the great highlights of my career. Neil started out as a literary hero of mine and has become a friend.

"I learned a great deal from Neil. I was particularly impressed with Neil's ability to look back at the long arc of his work with a critical, objective eye. More often than not, it was Neil who suggested we make a change."

Heinberg called Gaiman an "extraordinarily generous collaborator" and said that having the chance to work together on making The Sandman felt like "a gift" because the author was so "gracious" with them.

"It's a very rare and unbelievable gift because I, you know, have spent 30 years reading the work of this man," Heinberg told Newsweek. "He is a writer, he is a novelist. He is someone who is a collaborator with his artists and with his editors but generally he does his work alone in a room, and I do my work, outside of the writer's room, alone in a room.

"And so it's very rare where two people who do their work alone in a room actually get to come together and make something, and to be able to make The Sandman with the man who created The Sandman... it was very intimidating in the beginning and I was very nervous in that my fear was that I wouldn't be able to do what I needed to do to adapt it, make the changes that would be necessary to dramatize it, if I were going to be confronted with a living author who was precious about the way that he had done it originally.

"And, to my absolute astonishment and delight, Neil basically said from the outset 'okay, we can't be precious about it, we have to reimagine it, we have to write Sandman as if we're writing it at this very moment, for this moment, in both of our lives, why is it important that we tell this story this way today?' And because he really understood it, and really understands how television works, it was a dream collaboration.

"It was an ideal collaboration in that he has a wealth of television experience, he understands this property better than anyone else, you know, in any realm, and he's really willing to unpack it in order to build a TV version that is the most Sandman that it can be.

"So it's been a gift in my professional life and in my personal life, because we spent so much time together, albeit over Zoom, and on the phone and by email, but he's, you know, he's become a major figure in my life, and a loving one and nurturing one.

"So I'm very grateful and I cannot believe how lucky I am. If you had told my 17-year-old, 18-year-old self that this was going to happen in 33 years I would not have believed you."

The Sandman
The Sandman
The Sandman
Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Tom Sturridge, Mason Alexander Park and Boyd Holbrook in "The Sandman."

Neil Gaiman on Being on Set for the First Time

Gaiman also reflected on what it was like to see the world he created on paper come to life, and how he felt stepping out on set for the very first time.

The author's first visit to the set saw him step into the home of Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), the human who imprisons Dream, takes his tools, and demands that the member of The Endless bring his son back from the dead, amongst other requests, or he will keep him locked up forever.

Gaiman said the moment he saw the room in which Burgess imprisoned Dream, recreated beautifully from the comics by the show's art department, set decorators, and production designers, was "absolutely mind-boggling."

"They put a film crew on me and they wouldn't let me go down into that set, they blindfolded me and then they sent the crew ahead of me and they took off the blindfold when they walked me in," Gaiman told Newsweek, "and the crew got to actually record my reaction to going onto that set for the first time, which is basically just my jaw dropping and me looking around delightedly and going 'Holy s**t.'

"I was there, I was in that amazing place underneath Burgess Manor, and I couldn't believe it. There in front of me was the globe that Morpheus was going to spend over 100 years in."

The author also looked back at the show's cast, particularly the actors who bring four of the seven members of The Endless to life: Dream, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Desire (Mason Alexander Park), and Despair (Donna Preston).

"I love them and I'm thrilled, obviously, with Dream, Tom Sturridge moves, thinks, speaks and embodies Dream, and actually gives you the vulnerability of Dream, which so many actors didn't," Gaiman said.

"And Kirby, the only thing that I ever wanted from Death was the idea that when you meet her, she's sympathetic, she's nice, and you fall in love with her a little bit and being dead, being freshly dead isn't quite as bad as it would be otherwise, and she absolutely gives you that.

"Mason Alexander Park, they are glorious, and their Desire is just as glorious as they are, if not more so. This fabulous and elegant, brilliant and utterly dangerous creature of pure sex and lust.

"Twin to Despair played by Donna Preston, [Despair] is every wet, sad Sunday afternoon when you're not going to kill yourself because you just can't muster the energy and you can't care enough, and maybe, just maybe, the only thing that's going to get you off that sofa is a desperate need to eat.

"Maybe you're not even going to get up then because it just isn't worth it, and [Preston] embodies that level of despair and I think that's amazing."

The Sandman is out on Netflix now.