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In his new book Tales from Development Hell (Titan Books, $15.95), writer David Hughes examines some of the greatest flicks that never got made at all. For instance, Hughes sheds light on Darren Aronofsky‘s failed Batman movie. He finds out why Ridley Scott‘s Crisis in the Hot Zone didn’t happen, and tracks a variety of Howard Hughes projects that never made it to the big screen before The Aviator.
The book, which goes on sale Feb. 28, is a well-researched and entertaining read. My favorite chapter chronicles the attempts to turn Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman comics into a film, and I’m pleased to bring you this exclusive excerpt from that chapter:
In September 1987, DC Comics editor Karen Berger called Neil Gaiman, one of the UK’s most promising comic talents, and asked if he would be interested in writing a monthly title for the publisher. Berger had edited Gaiman’s Black Orchid, a lavish comic book miniseries illustrated by the author’s friend and collaborator Dave McKean; now she proposed reviving a long-forgotten DC character, ‘the Sandman’, and taking him in a radical new direction.
After a few false starts, Gaiman finally arrived at the premise and characters which would, over the course of the series’ seventy-five-issue lifetime (not counting a few additional stories in prose and sequential form published outside of the ongoing monthly title), become familiar to millions of fans worldwide: the Sandman — also known as Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, the Dream-King, or sometimes simply Dream — is the personification of the dream world where we spend a third of our lives; older and more powerful than the gods, he is also one of the seven ‘Endless’: the others being his brothers Destiny and Destruction, and sisters Death, Desire, Delirium and Despair. Early collaborators, including artists Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, colourist Robbie Busch, letterer and logo designer Todd Klein and cover artist Dave McKean, helped shape the many and varied worlds of The Sandman, while many others — including Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Steve Parkhouse, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Jill Thompson, Vince Locke and Daniel Vozzo — would help to carry the series through its seven-year life cycle.
The first issue of The Sandman appeared in comic stores in December 1988, signalling the arrival not only of one of the most important, critically acclaimed and commercially successful titles of the era, but also, in Gaiman, of a significant new talent. Gaiman was immediately bracketed with a group of mostly British writers, including Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, who would finally earn comic books — a medium barely a half century old, and still in its infancy as an art form — the right to be taken seriously in literary terms. “Looking back, the process of coming up with the Lord of Dreams seems less like an act of creation than one of sculpture,” Gaiman wrote in the afterword to the first collection of tales from The Sandman, entitled Preludes & Nocturnes. “[It was] as if he were already waiting, grave and patient, inside a block of white marble, and all I needed to do was chip away everything that wasn’t him.”
In its lifetime, The Sandman won a great many awards, not the least of which were the two most prestigious in comics: the Eisner and the Harvey. Issue nineteen, a self-contained story entitled ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (and inspired by the play) won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, making it the first ongoing comic ever to win a literary award. The title also won acclaim from a wide variety of other sources — Mikal Gilmore wrote in Rolling Stone that “to read The Sandman is to read something more than an imaginative comic: it is to read a powerful new literature fresh with the resonance of timeless myths” — and won such diverse fans as Clive Barker, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Norman Mailer and singer-songwriter Tori Amos, the lyrics of whose song ‘Tear In Your Hand’ refer to “me and Neil” hanging out with “the Dream-King”. Within six months of The Sandman‘s debut, Tim Burton’s Batman had heralded an inevitable new wave of films based on comic books, and with the takeover of DC Comics by Time Warner (the parent company of the Warner Bros film studio) there seemed little doubt that Sandman’s own destiny lay on the big screen, despite Gaiman’s heartfelt belief that, to make the story film-shaped would be “like taking a baby and cutting off both of its arms and one of its legs and nose and trying to cram it in this little box, and filling the rest of the box up with meat.”
Excerpted from Tales from Development Hell with permission from Titan Books.
By Whitney Matheson, USA TODAY