Audiobook Review – The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (adapted by Dirk Maggs)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

To say that I was excited when I found out Audible was adapting The Sandman, the iconic Vertigo comics series written by Neil Gaiman, into a multi-part audio series, would be a massive understatement. I’m an avid audiobook listener, Neil Gaiman is one of, if not my favorite author, and I’m a massive fan of comics. This was tailor made for individuals like me. Yet I found myself tempering my expectations a bit based on previous experiences with efforts at adapting comics. Perhaps the widest spread examples are the Graphic Audio adaptations of numerous DC and Marvel superhero romps. They are almost exclusively cheesy and often problematic. Locke & Key was adapted using a similar audio drama structure, but it’s lack of a narrator made it un-listenable for me, despite my love of the source material. I should have known better. Gaiman and crew absolutely nailed it.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, The Sandman is a landmark 75-issue comics series that began its run in the late 80’s at DC (later moving to DC’s Vertigo imprint for more mature focused material) and went on for more than seven years. The story would later inspire a host of spin-offs and occasional revisits by Gaiman himself . Gaiman teamed up with a number of the most talented artists the medium had to offer to tell the story of Dream, an embodiment of human dreams and the ruler of the Dreamscape. The story explores Dream’s (also called Morpheus) dealings with humanity and his siblings, The Endless, including Death and Desire, among others. It is an exploration of the boundaries of the human mind, the metaphysical, and all the other skin crawling elements I’ve come to associate with Gaiman. For those, like me, who often find that Gaiman’s UK peers Grant Morrison and Alan Moore’s similar explorations often leap over the line into insanity, The Sandman felt like a more coherent narrative about similar ideas. It should be required reading for any comics fan and is has earned its place among the pantheon of comics lore.

My review is mostly going to be specific to the quality of the audiobook and adaptation. The Sandman is an audio adaptation of the first three volumes of the comics series. To call it an audiobook is a bit of a disservice to its production quality and style. There is a score, a full cast, sound effects, and more. The cast is full of actors who have worked with Gaiman previously on other radio and TV projects, including James McAvoy as Dream, Kat Dennings, as Death, and Michael Sheen as Lucifer. More crucially, Gaiman himself is here to anchor things as the narrator. I typically prefer audiobooks to audio dramas. The play-like format of audio dramas without careful crafting can lead to a confusing wall of voices and sound effects. This was the exact problem that I had with the Locke & Key audiobook. Gaiman is always a delight reading his books and his narration helps to serve as that extra descriptor where necessary, and to gently push the narrative along.

The adaption of the source material from Maggs is spot on. He’s found a great balance of preserving the most essential elements and picking his spots for expanding scenes and description. This has been a stumbling block for comics adaptations in the past. Having read through the series many times, I found myself often picturing the exact page as it appeared in the physical medium and getting a heavy does of nostalgia. I’m a bit curious about the experience of someone who hasn’t read the source comics. The first volume of The Sandman is mostly an inter-connected arc and a natural fit for this kind of story telling. Starting with volume two, Gaiman began weaving in one-shot issues alongside the primary story that follow Morpheus in different points of his interaction with humans. These one-shots end up being some of the highlights of the series. Issue #13, where Morpheus grants immortal life to a 15th century man, is one of my favorite issues from the entire run. In audiobook form, I can imagine it making for a bit of a disjointed format. The chapters are separated with all the appropriate labeling and audio cues, but I can see this more episodic nature of the story making the series feel more appropriate for a podcast, rather than an audiobook. It worked extremely well for me, knowing what was coming when, but I’d like to hear how others felt.

Audible, Gaiman, Maggs, and the cast clearly made a concerted effort here to spend time and energy making sure they did justice to the source material. Too often, these projects can turn into sub-par cash grabs that meet a bare minimum standard to be considered viable, rather than honoring what came before. The Sandman isn’t a completely perfect experience, but it had me from the jump. The chance to relive this series in a fresh perspective was a gift. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the comics and certainly anyone who’s enjoyed Gaiman’s previous literature. I’m hoping it won’t be long before we hear an announcement about a second entry adapting more of the story, including my favorite volume of the series in volume 4. Happy listening!

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