Last Friday, Rolling Stone released a feature on Neil Gaiman, an impressively extensive interview that covered the author’s storied career, starting in the ‘80s, when a then-26-year-old Gaiman began writing The Sandman for Vertigo comics. During the interview, he related how he succeeded in an attempt to tank a Jon Peters adaptation of the comic. What wasn’t mentioned in the article was that The Sandman was also optioned by Eric Kripke as a network television adaption.
I had to find out from Twitter that this was in the works. First; Gaiman responded to a fan like this–
And then Kripke thanked Gaiman, and mentioned a little bit of something that I sort of knew all along, which was that The Sandman inspired a lot of Supernatural:
Readers, when I tell you I dropped into the io9 slack like a banshee screaming that my time has come, I meant it literally. I’ve been on a Supernatural marathon ever since I was on The Boys coverage (God, do I like anything? Am I capable of enjoying media anymore? Something to unpack later.) and I am here to tell you that the inspiration here is incredibly strong. Let’s dive in.
First, one of the reasons that I love Supernatural, and the reasons I think that the show did so well (and lasted so long) was because it focused on a relationship between siblings, something that’s not often the focus of procedural shows, but really made Supernatural work on an emotional level. Sandman is also a story about siblings, about how they fight, betray, and support each other in different measures across time. The first few seasons are very much horror-focused, kind of leaning into the procedural monster-of-the-week vibe, and a lot of how the ghosts, ghouls, and other supernatural creatures are depicted are in line with some of Sandman’s visuals. During my rewatch I was actually surprised at how gross Supernatural was allowed to get in those first seasons. Genuinely scary practical effects and creepy storytelling tricks are used to develop pretty fantastic results.
Impossible to overlook is that John Constantine’s outfit is basically recreated in Castiel’s wardrobe. Much like a comic character who only has one outfit, Castiel always wears the trenchcoat, loose tie, white button-down, and black slacks. It’s Constantine! And honestly, Castiel’s entrance when he tells Dean that he lifted him out of hell? I mean… that connection draws itself. Hellblazer in general seems to be a massive part of Supernatural’s whole vibe, but that’s a different article.
A lot of details from Sandman seem to permeate Supernatural. The way that summoning circles that can entrap or keep out various entities are drawn and used very similarly to the look of the spell that’s used to trap Dream. Cain shows up in Supernatural and Sandman as well, both iterations show him as a creature doomed to continually kill because of fate. God is depicted as a writer in Supernatural, and while the connection to Gaiman’s Richard Madoc is tenuous, there’s enough there to draw parallels especially when Madoc’s books are referenced as in-jokes throughout the series. In Supernatural, God/Chuck Shurly’s books, famously, are Supernatural series–retelling the main characters’ stories as a very meta wink at the audience.
The way that demons break out of hell, the Lucifer storylines in both, the way that Death is portrayed in Supernatural as a creature far older than heaven, hell, or anything in between? When Death is in a diner waiting for Dean to come find him? It feels like the diner scene in a much more self-aware way. Dean knows he’s facing down a creature far beyond him, and it’s genuinely terrifying.
I know there are other references I’ve missed, but this is a quick overview, and covers Sandman’s first season, so I feel pretty good about it. Last point, in Supernatural Season 11, episode 10, a Reaper is literally reading a Sandman comic. Granted, this is after Kripke left the show, but the inspiration was clearly going strong.
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