By Ani Bundel
With Sandman heading to Netflix as a high-profile series in 2022, the Gaimanaissance seems to be in full swing. Good Omens has been handed a second season in what appears to have been an act of God (or Jeff Bezos), and Anansi Boys is stepping up to replace the recently canceled American Gods. But for the hardcore fans, the audible release of Sandman: Act II is the big new project that just dropped, arriving on Sept. 22, 2021.
Like all of the mainstage panels at NYCC 2021, this was a pre-recorded virtual chat featuring Neil Gaiman himself, writer Dirk Maggs and actors James McAvoy and Kevin Smith. Smith, who had moderated the virtual Sandman panel in 2020 covering the popularity of the initial Audible story release, appeared this year as a cast member, having been offered a role after Maggs met him at NYCC 2020.
Despite the popularity of podcasts, audio dramas have lagged in popularity in the U.S. for over a generation. The initial Sandman audible series, covering volumes 1-3 of the graphic novel series (Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country), was released in the depths of the pandemic summer of 2020. At the time, it was expected to do well but still be a bit of a niche offering. But the timing and the all-star cast (which includes such sci-fi and fantasy favorites as Kat Dennings, Riz Ahmed, Taron Egerton, and Good Omen‘s Michael Sheen) took off in ways no one expected. By January of 2021, both Acts II and III were greenlit.
Gaiman says that the new season, which covers volumes 4-6, Season of Mists, A Game of You, and Fables & Reflections, was a bit like doing a difficult sophomore album follow-up to a surprise hit album. But the project lucked out in its casting. The first one was a labor of love by actors who happen to be fans of the comics; Act II is the same, only more so. As Maggs recounted, they were practically overwhelmed with talent who wanted to be part of the project, actors for whom the graphic novel had been foundational, and wanted to be part of the story.
Asked about accusations of stunt casting, Maggs disagreed. To him, using all this A-list talent wasn’t about garnering attention, as much as it was getting the literal best group assembled that could occur. Some of the high-profile additions for the new set of recordings include Jeffrey Wright, Kristen Schaal, Rege-Jean Page, Brian Cox, and Emma Corrin.
He also said that the project was fortunate to have happened via Audible (an Amazon subsidiary, the same company behind Good Omens and Anansi Boys). Gaiman had been trying to get an audio adaptation of his graphic novel off the ground since 1992, looking to the BBC as the most likely studio to pick it up. (Radio plays and audio dramas have never gone out of style in the U.K., ask any Doctor Who fan.) But by doing the show through Audible, there’s no set time limit, no slot to fit in a scheduled radio half-hour of 27 minutes and 30 seconds. Instead, each installment can be as long or as short as it needs to be.
Both Sandman and Sandman: Act II are available for download. Sandman: Act III is expected next year and will cover the final chapters of Gaiman’s seminal work.
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