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'American Gods' makes fans a big promise: What you loved about the book, 'you'll see it in the show'

'American Gods' makes fans a big promise: What you loved about the book, 'you'll see it in the show'
Yetide Badaki as Bilquis in "American Gods." (Starz)

Armed with a trailer and surprise casting news, it was as if "American Gods" came to San Diego ready to make new converts. But if the capacity crowd at the show’s Comic-Con panel was any indication, there already is an extensive base of followers ready to worship the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel.

Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, cast members Ricky Whittle (Shadow Moon), Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday), Pablo Shreiber (Mad Sweeney), Yetide Badaki (Bilquis) and Bruce Langley (Technical Boy), executive producer David Slade and Gaiman himself were present for the panel. 

"American Gods," of course, has a special history with SDCC. 

"I’ve been coming to San Diego Comic-Con for a really long time," Gaiman said. "In 1999 I came by train. And on the train to San Diego, which was a three-day train journey from Chicago, I wrote the first chapter of 'American Gods.' So it all sort of started for me on the way to San Diego. And it’s so glorious that sort of round two of 'American Gods,' the television version, is happening here today." 

The big surprise at the presentation, of course, was the special appearance of Kristin Chenoweth and the news that she will be playing the goddess Easter in the show. But that was not the only thing attendees learned during the discussion.

The panelists talked about why "American Gods" is still relevant. The conflict between the old gods and the new — Technology and Media — is something we can see today. But the underlying message of the show is tolerance. 

"We want to say it’s OK … It’s OK to believe in whatever gets you through the day," Fuller said. "If you believe in something that gets you through a whole day of pain, who am I to take that away from you. Just because you believe in something, it doesn’t take away from what I believe in, and vice versa."

The show will hit some topical themes including gun control, women’s rights, the effects of social media and racial divides. 

Speaking of race, Gaiman shared that in casting the series, it was important to him that the show kept the racial makeup of the novel’s characters — he was not going to accept any kind of white-washing of the world of his book. 

And although Gaiman praised the showrunners for not pushing back about this, the co-creators insisted that they should not get special credit for that aspect.

"That should be the baseline assumption for adaptation," Green said. 

Finding the right Shadow was key for the TV series, of course, and it turned out the months-long search for Shadow included 16 audition tapes from Whittle. 

"We made him work for it," Gaiman said.

Fans of the book will have an edge over viewers who are being exposed to the story for the first time on TV, but knowing what happens in the book will not preclude viewers from being surprised at turns the show will take. 

"We tried to build [the show] in a way that means that if you read the book you are definitely ahead of the people who have not seen the TV series or read the book, but we have surprises for you, too," Gaiman said. 

Some of these surprises will come from time the series will take following characters other than Shadow, who is the book’s focus. 

But Gaiman promised that as a general rule, if you loved something in the book, "you’ll see it in the show." Take, for example, this recently tweeted image from Gaiman showing Laura Moon (played by actress Emily Browning). The character comes back from the dead, embalming scars and all. 

https://twitter.com/bryanfuller/status/756925074666512384

Of course, the TV show could potentially allow Gaiman to tell more of the "American Gods" story that he could not originally include in the novel because the book was getting too long. 

Gaiman said one story that ended up cut from the novel involved a Japanese internment camp. 

"It would have been a sort of Kitsune story," he said. And while Gaiman entertained the idea that he could perhaps get Fuller to include the story in the show’s second season, he also teased the possibility that he would write it himself in another "American Gods" novel, "which is seeming more and more likely these days." 

tracy.brown@latimes.com

Twitter: @tracycbrown

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