"When is the next time we'll see Shadow Moon?"
It's a question that's certainly come up in the minds of the people who have read American Gods, the hard-to-define fantasy novel written by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman. The book was first published in 2001 and has since gone on to inspire a spinoff series in Anansi Boys and a few short stories featuring Shadow, the American Gods protagonist who goes through a whole lot of headache and heartache during his time with the divine.
Of course, we now know the answer to the question: we'll next see Shadow when he's played by Ricky Whittle on the Starz television series American Gods, premiering Sunday. The first season of the show, developed by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, sticks closely to Gaiman's original text, so much so that it barely adapts more than 100 pages of the novel, while simultaneously expanding on some of the book's subtler details.
At the current pace, American Gods - which begins with Shadow's release from prison and follows his encounters with godly figures, including the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) - could potentially go for seasons and seasons without exhausting Gaiman's published material.
"It's one of those things where American Gods 1, doing it the way that we are doing - which is using it as a roadmap but driving more slowly and visiting more places along the way - should get us about five seasons," Gaiman tells The Hollywood Reporter. And that's not even taking the as-yet unpublished material into account.
Gaiman, who works closely with Fuller and Green on the Starz adaptation, is planning a second American Gods novel, which will expand upon the themes and stories introduced in the initial tale. Even though the book does not yet exist, Gaiman already knows enough about it that it's influencing the current television series.
"While American Gods 2 has not been written," he says, "I did have to do the thing that you hate to do if you're a writer where you take the showrunners aside and you say, 'There are these sentences that appear unimportant. These things that seem like small background things are incredibly important and they are the grappling hooks on which the ropes of American Gods 2 will attach, so you need to leave them in the TV series too.' And they're all there, I'm glad to say."
With that said, it will be some time before the book takes flight, given Gaiman's increasingly busy work load. "What I should be doing is writing American Gods 2, because that would make everybody here so much happier," he says. Instead, he's currently writing a sequel to his TV show and novel Neverwhere, called The Seven Sisters. "After that, I will probably write a very funny children's book as a giant palate cleanser, because I think I'll need it," he says. "And when that's done, I will start American Gods 2."
Given Gaiman's prolific output, and the Starz' series current pace, it will be years before American Gods even needs to tap into the sequel novel's material. Yet even with that kind of time on his side, Gaiman questions whether he can recapture the unique set of circumstances that allowed him to write the original novel.
"I wrote American Gods 1 by basically turning off life and saying no to anything - beginning the novel and finishing the novel by falling off the face of the planet," he says. "There was a lot of road-tripping involved. A lot of driving to Florida and back via various weird routes, and driving around northern Wisconsin. But it was relatively easy to do because I simply told everybody that I wouldn't do anything else."
These days, according to Gaiman, "falling off the face of the planet" isn't an option. "Now, it's kind of like, OK, I can say no to everything, and I'm still going to have to watch dailies and rough cuts of American Gods coming through, I still have to be available to help show-run and see through Good Omens [the forthcoming Amazon series based on his 1990 novel co-authored by the late Terry Pratchett], and when that comes out, I'll have to drop whatever it is I'm doing to do [press] for Good Omens," he says. "And by the way, that Neverwhere novel I'm writing will at some point be published, and then I'm going to have to do this again."
In other words, before he can write American Gods 2, Gaiman needs to find the room in his schedule to go off the grid and tap back into those unplugged roots. "Either that," he reasons, "or I need one really convincing Life Model Decoy who I can send out to do things."
For now, Gaiman's hands are sufficiently and happily full, between the aforementioned Neverwhere novel, as well as his Good Omens series - which is just the latest of many television adaptations of Gaiman's work, including American Gods and Fox's Lucifer, which is based on a character who first appeared in Gaiman's Sandman comics for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. If Gaiman had control over Sandman, it would be next on the list for a trip to the small screen.
"If I had control over Sandman," he emphasizes, "which I do not, because I signed the deal when I was 26, and I knew what I was getting into."
As a DC Comics property, Sandman resides at Warner Bros., with several attempts having been made to adapt the trippy comic book for film over the years - including a recent version that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have directed and starred in.
"The trouble with Warners, and I don't blame them for it, is they know that Sandman is one of the jewels in their crown - and they know that with the jewels in your crown, you make movies out of them," says Gaiman. "And they know they have Batman. 'We know what we have in Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Sandman… we just can't crack Sandman.' You can't crack it, because it's too big!"
Gaiman hopes the success of Fox's Lucifer and American Gods ("Knock on wood," he says regarding the latter) on television will make Warner Bros. think twice about how best to proceed with Sandman: "I suspect in a weird way, the fact that they took a tiny fragment of Sandman and now it's one of Fox's biggest hits might actually convince people to do the classy TV series I've been suggesting they do for 15 years now."
"For a long time, I've been saying with a movie, you'll have to throw so many things out," he continues. "Why not take all the things that make [it difficult to adapt], take all the bugs in Sandman, and make them features. The fact that you have 75 issues, plus a whole bunch of stories? You have 80 episodes. That's a good thing! The fact that you have adult themes and adult things? That's now a good thing. It will be very strange to take Sandman to TV, but I really do think it's the most important thing we could do. And I hope if American Gods goes big? Between that and Lucifer, that could help."
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Additional reporting by Jean Bentley