Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is one of the classics of the comics world. Much like an English major confessing that they’ve never read Shakespeare, when you tell people you haven’t read Sandman they give you horrified looks and instantly volunteer their collection. And, much like the bereft English major who has never encountered Hamlet or Macbeth, when you do get around to reading Sandman, get ready to be enthralled.
The Sandman series was written between the years 1987 and 1996, and compiled into 10 graphic novels of varying lengths. This past year Neil Gaiman delighted fans and issued an eleventh volume in the Sandman series.
Sandman is a smart series. It is complex and thoughtful. Like all the best stories it’s about consequences and challenges and change. Norman Mailer perhaps characterized Gaiman’s achievement best when he said, “Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals and I say it’s about time.” Happy reading.
The Sandman series introduces the reader to the world of the Endless. They are not gods. Gods fade and die as their worshippers die and the names of their god’s are forgotten; the Endless simply are. They are Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, and Delirium, and their lost brother Destruction. The narrative of the Sandman books leads the reader through the labyrinthine relationships between the brothers and sisters, and their interactions with the human world.
Gaiman populates his world with a variety of characters drawn from a diverse array of mythologies – Christian, Greek, Norse, Egyptian, British. Gaiman has an open door policy on weaving together religion, mysticism, folklore and reality. His immortal gods rub shoulders with mortals who are drawn into Dream’s world. To this rich tapestry Gaiman adds his own characters, including two of my personal favorites, Lucien, Dream’s librarian, and Matthew, Dream’s somewhat insecure and talkative crow. With all of these threads Gaiman creates his own mythology which weaves in and out of the more familiar tales we know and grew up with.
Its hard to talk about the art work in Sandman. Each story tends to be illustrated by a different artist, which is one of the most fascinating aspects of the series, seeing how all of these different artists conceive of the Sandman world. The main characters remain identifiable. Each of the Endless has their own speech quirk, reflected in the font and color of their text which mirrors their character. There are several artists who worked fairly consistently throughout the series – Malcolm Jones, III, Mark Dringenber, Kelly Jones, Colleen Doran, and in many ways they defined the images of the Sandman universe – the strong lines, and dark colors, and the sheer energy of the art. Other artists like Charles Vess and P. Craig Russell have worked on the series, and have added their interpretations and visions of Dream and his siblings.