Sandman comic – Neil Gaiman
Before books, Neil Gaiman was all about the comics. ‘The Sandman’ is a mythological, ‘your imagination is your limit’ romp through Gods and Humans and Dreams, starring Morpheus (Lord of Dreams) and his eternally joyous big sister, Death…
Imagine a world where everything is a soul, and everything is real. Every dream, monster, god, tree, cat (possibly your cat) is alive and animate, and about half of it is out for blood (possibly your blood). All the things that ever flowered in humankind’s imagination came to life and start walking around doing what they were born to do; causing havoc.
Neil Gaiman lives here. How the man does it I’ll never know, but he’s made some astonishing works of art off it. Foremost among these, and perhaps the best representation of his philosophy, is Sandman.
Sandman is a surreal odyssey of imagination, mythology and symbolism. It encompasses so many genres that it’s bursting at the seams. At the centre of all this is a figure who goes by far more names than are actually necessary, but who is most simply called Dream, since that’s what he is. He is the incarnation of dreams, of ideas, of stories. He controls them and rules them and embodies them. His kingdom is composed of them and he resides within them. Needless to say, he’s a complicated guy.
Dream is one-seventh of an extremely dysfunctional family of immortal incarnations of various principles, all of whom, handily enough, start with a D: Destiny, Death, Delirium, Despair, Desire and Destruction. The storyline centers around Dream but his siblings crop up like colds, often where they’re not wanted, to either settle the whole affair or make Dream’s life hell. Dream is a fine character but unbelievably pompous, and one of his siblings has not only exceeded him in popularity but become the most recognizable and well-loved character in Gaiman’s entire body of work; funnily enough, it’s Death, here a chirpy, earthy, friendly teenage Goth girl. She’s usually the one who settles things down for her younger brother.
Not that he doesn’t do it himself. The storyline, such as there is one, mainly consists of Dream’s meddling in mortal lives or, occasionally, their meddling in his.
Shakespeare, John Constantine, the goddess Bast, the Furies, Marco Polo, Cain and Abel, Orpheus, Titania, and even the Devil himself have all been saved, irritated, seduced, condemned, bargained with, befriended, fathered, or worse by this man of mystery, and that’s only in the tales Gaiman managed to chronicle. Besides the ones you already know, there’s an armada of characters straight from the author’s imagination; the cold-blooded witch Thessaly, the physical embodiment of Fiddler’s Green, Rose Walker, a twenty-one year old girl with the power to destroy the world, the criminal-turned-talking-crow Matthew, and the horrific, cannibalistic Corinthian. This assortment of weirdos, angels, and completely normal people make for tales of terror and mystery, wonder and delight, emotion and imagination. From going to hell to rescue a lost lover to stealing children for a very special purpose, Dream makes a mark wherever he goes.
Yes, this series is in comic book form. No, this should not in any way discourage you from buying it. Sandman is better written and more thought-provoking than most books you will read in your life. Do not let literary snobbery deprive you of this experience. Try it, and hold back judgment on funnybook form.
The best book artwise is probably The Wake, the last in the series. As far as writing goes, the Kindly Ones provides a shining depiction of what makes Gaiman great. The first book gets off to a rough start, and should not be used as an example for the remainder of the material. Gaiman has condemned this book as being too much like run-of-the-mill horror, but it’s still a paragon of greatness, just not like the rest of the series. Try to get it with book number two, The Doll’s House.
The Sandman, along with a very small handful of other comics, can easily be called the greatest graphic achievement of the 20th century. Don’t be surprised if the end inspires tears or morose behaviour; don’t be shocked if you can’t sleep for a week after reading book number one; don’t be alarmed if after you put it down you see the world in a different way. Now go out and read.