Scarcely have I stopped talking about how happy I am that the mo-cap Yellow Submarine remake isn’t happening, when another project that I’m slightly concerned about starts hovering in the Schrodinger’s Box of Cancelled/Not Cancelled reality. In this case, it’s the potential TV adaptation of one of the most successful and well-known graphic novels of all time – Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.
A 75-issue series that started out as a top-down remix of an old DC Comics character and went on to redefine much of what you could do in comic books, all while delivering stories that were dark, melancholy, funny, twisted and utterly distinctive, The Sandman is a hell of a comic book. One of the most high profile successes in the comic industry over the last twenty five years, Hollywood has been circling it for a very long time – but the distinctive style of The Sandman is also the thing that makes it incredibly hard to adapt. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories are lyrical and odd in construction, often using fairy tale logic or confounding the reader with deliberately anti-climactic endings, while the protagonist, the moody and aloof immortal being known as Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is often more of a background presence. There are very few genuine villains in The Sandman’s world, and even the ones that are there don’t function the way you expect them to (or don’t actually receive any come-uppance), and the whole thing is about as far from Hollywood storytelling as it’s possible to get.
There have been attempts since the early Nineties, but none have ever come to fruition – Roger Avary, Gaiman’s collaborator on Beowulf, came closest to managing a fairly faithful adaptation, but even his attempt eventually floundered, and ever since it’s seemed that there’d never be a way of reconciling The Sandman’s deliberately offbeat storytelling with the money it would take to actually make.
Then, in the middle of last year, rumours of a TV series started to circulate. Given The Sandman’s deliberately long-form storytelling structure, a TV adaptation isn’t an insane idea, and would certainly give the concept much more room to breathe. Plus, there’s much more potential to acheive something closer to the comic’s unique flavour on TV, rather than trying to do such a kooky story in the increasingly homogenised world of Hollywood Blockbusters. In an ideal world, a Sandman series developed by someone like HBO would be ideal – the original comic wasn’t afraid to go in some very dark, graphic and adult directions, and a series that was just as free to explore that kind of territory (along the lines of the recent AMC TV adaptation of The Walking Dead) could be a genuinely promising prospect.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Warner Bros were actually hoping for a replacement for their absurdly long-in-the-tooth ‘Young Superman’ series Smallville, and the Producer who was possibly going to transfer Gaiman’s work to the small screen was Eric Kripke, the creator of long-running fantasy/horror show Supernatural. This didn’t fill me with confidence – I’ve only seen one episode of Supernatural (and that was a long time ago) so I can’t judge Kripke’s suitability or not, but the idea of aiming The Sandman at mainstream network TV seemed, well, odd to say the least. It’s not impossible that such a project could work, but the potential for massive compromises and creative disaster was pretty damn strong, and it went down as something that I wouldn’t be upset about if, as with so much in the long history of proposed Sandman adaptations, it came to nothing.
So, when I woke up this morning to find the internets ablaze with the announcement that Kripke had announced that it didn’t look like The Sandman was happening “at least for this TV season”, I have to admit I breathed a small sigh of relief. A TV version of The Sandman would be massively risky, and I’d far rather see it not happen than for a watered down, diluted version to shuffle its way onto the screen. The Sandman does strike me as one of those stories that, like Watchmen (despite all of Zack Snyder’s efforts) works best as a comic – its structure, its weirdness and its limitless imagination is simply ideal for the comics medium, and crowbarring it into another form risks breaking what makes it special in the first place.
However, it looks like I spoke too soon. DC’s Creative Chief Officer and Head Writing honcho Geoff Johns went on Twitter today, and tweeted: “Correction to world: The Sandman is AWAKE! Psyched to be working with @neilhimself on developing one of the greatest series ever!” It’s especially interesting, considering that according to Kripke, he had talked to Gaiman (aka @neilhimself) about the project, but wasn’t actually working directly with him. Of course, this could be general PR just to prevent people mistakenly thinking the project was actually dead, but for the moment it looks like the project is certainly active. Which means I get to keep being mildly concerned. Oh, hooray…
Of course, one interesting factor is whether or not a similar project makes it to the screen. Joe Hill’s brilliant dark fantasy comic book Locke and Key has been developed into a TV series – a pilot episode has been shot (directed by music video supremo and Never Let Me Go helmer Mark Romanek), and if it gets the green light, it’ll be going to a full series for the September 2011 TV season. If a project as dark and interesting as Locke and Key gets onto TV screens still with its weirdness and character intact, then I’d say the possibility of getting a Sandman TV series will definitely go up – but I’ll still remain to be convinced that this isn’t going to be anything other than yet another disappointing comics adaptation…