Finding A Way To Understand When Your Heroes Start Making You Question Stuff

Neil Gaiman's particular casting choice for the Sandman series and the fallout behind it has left Tuna feeling lost.

So, they officially announced some more key cast members for the upcoming Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s classic graphic novel series The Sandman. And well, the response has been divided and heated to say the least. 

The initial announcement for the core cast was quite decent. I was mostly thrilled to see Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian. I had issues with the audio book because they casted Riz Ahmed, with his squeaky voice as one of the coolest evil beings ever! But I digress. 

The announcement was like this:

Check out the Boyd!

Pretty cool with the greyscale pics and the official logo, right? All good. Then for the second round, they added a bit more details.

This was how they announced it:

It’s the Fry!

Very modern and inclusive, to a point where one could even accuse them of being overly woke. I personally don’t have an issue with all the pronouns included because hey, if it makes things easier for people, why not?

I don’t wanna act all “Holier Than Thou” and virtue-signal the virtue-signalling of these large corporations to make more people give them all the money. You know, like how suddenly every corporation turned into Ru Paul every June. 

But I do have an issue with this:

*emoji of a confused, awkward smile

Mind you, it’s a very personal one. And before I invoke righteous wrath and unrelenting name-calling, let me tell a personal story. Do indulge me. 

A long, long time ago in the year of our lord 2001, I was but a mere teenager from a third world country, freshly landed in good ol’ London. I was there to study “Computer Graphics” since I had no idea what I’d want to be in life, as you do when you’re not even twenty yet.

I was already into music, especially the lyrics, and have read some novels but haven’t come across anything life-changing thus far. One day I stumbled into a public library in Camden and found the comics and graphic novels section. Remember, third world country kid who came from a place without public libraries let alone one with comics. And I could borrow these for free with my student card. I was hyped. 

After perusing the superhero comics, in awe, for a while, I noticed a rather peculiar looking one. It was Violent Cases, drawn/designed by Dave McKean and written by a certain gentleman named Neil Gaiman. It was something completely different. Dave McKean’s art was a blend of drawings and graphics, which, as someone studying computer graphics, was extremely inspiring and interesting. 

What a book it was.

But it was Neil’s words that left a bigger impression on me. So began my journey of hunting his work down at public libraries and some bookstores, asking for Neil “Gaiman” (pronouncing the surname as in Diamond) books and being confused by helpful people showing me Neil Diamond biographies.

I discovered his other work like short stories (especially Smoke and Mirrors) and novels, and of course his Sandman series. I was more and more inspired by the way he uses words, put together one after another in simple yet effective ways, and evoked a longing in myself to create something with my own words. I started writing, in long hand, short stories on checkout receipts at my part-time job at a supermarket.

When Coraline came out in 2002, I had the chance to go for his signing at the legendary Forbidden Planet in London. Got my copy of Coraline and American Gods signed, asked him for advice on becoming a writer, and took a snapshot with him. 

Twerpy little Tuna and the man himself in 2002.

I was convinced by then that I’ve found my calling. Creating, telling stories with words. Neil was the catalyst that sparked this in me. I met him a couple of more times in Singapore where I managed to get more of his books (my collection has grown by then) signed, and even had a chance for a mini roundtable interview with him. 

So, yeah. This man has been an idol and inspiration for me. Still is. Loved how he managed to bring Good Omens to life and how he’s still creating art with his words for the world. 

Then I saw his response to the fan backlash of the Netflix Sandman series’ casting.

I mean, he does make perfect sense.

Link to the tweet – https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1398500390912413698

So, back to where I left off before this indulgence. I am extremely not sold on the casting of Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death. 

I’m sorry. Yes, I know Neil himself said she was perfect for the role and her audition was amazing, and yes, we all should wait until we see her on screen, and yes, Death has taken many different forms in the comics.

But still though… I mean…

Right now, the internet, as usual, has been a loud and ugly scene regarding the casting, and not just for Death. Bad enough that it prompted Neil to post the above tweet.

There’re some shouty people calling out racist and anti-woke remarks on one end, while some on the other side are also being equally aggressive with self-righteous fervour, calling anyone disagreeing with the casting a racist/sexist/transphobic/un-woke/sad excuse of a being.

You know, the typical stuff.

Civilised conversations are hard to find. Places where we can discuss and agree to disagree are hidden beneath layers of shouty mcshout fests.

Back to my personal gripe. I’m actually not that bothered with the gender-swapping of some characters like Lucifer and Lucien. Totally not bothered but delighted in fact that a non-binary actor, Mason Alexander Park, will be playing Desire of the Endless as Desire was gender-fluid in the graphic novels.

I understand some fans might be bothered by it and if that is not coming from a racially-motivated or sexist place, can’t they let their disapproval known in a way without being bashed with labels and told to shut up?

Some arguments involved this particular tweet by Neil on a different subject but something which people can make comparisons to:

Actually, I do wanna see an Elseworlds one-shot where Batman is a yellow-trenchcoat-wearing journo.
And the pet Bat is named Alfred.

Link to the tweet – https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1314710556679565315

Neil is the creator of these characters, of course he knows them best, and of course, he can do whatever the f**k he wants with them, like obvious changes. But I do feel this hypocrisy from the vocal fans trying to shut down other fans who are genuinely affected by some of these changes.

On a side-note, I personally feel that having diversity is amazing in these geek mediums, especially as a brown kid from a third-world country. But diversity just for diversity’s sake is not cool, a lot of people have made that point as well. Changing existing, established characters to different races or genders just to make it seem that those involved are inclusive and woke, feels like a cheap way to seemingly fix things on the surface.

Make Superman African-American! Iron Fist should be Asian because, you know, kung-fu!


Am I subconsciously racist or bigoted if I truly don’t like this particular casting? Does it make it worse if I try to express it? I’m pushing 40 but there are a lot of things I’m still trying to understand or make sense of. Do thoughts like these make me a person I don’t want my kid to look up to as a father?

Stupid shit like this keeps me awake at night. 

I know it’s too much work involved and wishful thinking but I’d love to see writers and artists create original, and good, characters who can rise on their own stories and stand side-by-side with other established characters. Jenny Quantum/Quarx, anyone?

This has become quite a long stream of consciousness piece because basically, it’s me trying to work myself and my thoughts around the ideas and varying viewpoints. I don’t want to shout back at people who could potentially be shouting at me or talking down to me due to my thoughts.

I know one guy’s opinion won’t change anything and I do hope the series turn out to be as brilliant as Good Omens was, but man… can’t an ageing geek want a perky pale skin goth girl to be the Death he has always seen and loved from the books?

This is how we saw her since The Sound Of Her Wings and throughout the majority of the series. So, of course we long for that to be seen in a live-action adaptation. Maybe as a little tribute to Cinamon Hadley? And yes, though Neil was never close to her, the artist Mike Dringenberg based Death in the comics on her. She sadly passed away in 2018.

R.I.P. dear lady.

One last indulgence, last one, I promise. During that roundtable interview (it was at the British Council) with Neil here in Singapore, one of my questions to him, a cheeky one my 23-year-old brain told me, was something along the lines of what his last words would be if he were given the chance.

Yeah, I know.

He thought for a beat, also thinking what a weird question by a lanky weirdo, and replied that perhaps it’ll be something like “Oops”. Everyone at the table laughed. He then told us that at least he knows once that event does take place, and I’m paraphrasing here, someone somewhere would draw a picture of him being led away by a pale gothic girl, and that he thinks that’s a cool thing.

I think after all this – reading up more for the reasonings and viewpoints, including Neil’s himself – I’m still not sold on the casting of Death. I’m still hoping it was a genuine reason that led to this casting choice and that when I see it, I can come to terms with it, heck even love it.

And most importantly, with a heavy heart and a sense of sadness, I’m still longing to see a pale and perky goth girl with that ankh around her neck in a live-action adaptation of this series that I love, from a creator whom I have idolised for years and someone who have shaped my life and career.

I need a whiskey now.

Oh, and here’s a pic of me and Amanda (loved her since Dresden Dolls and her following solos stuff) when she came down to SG for a gig (Neil was there too) just for the heck of it.

Those were different but fun times.

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