Awhile back, almost a year ago in fact, I talked about a little book called The Sandman: Overture here on Graphic Reviews. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who immensely enjoyed it! This year, Overture won the Hugo award for Best Graphic Story. For those unfamiliar with the Hugo awards, it is an award that is handed out in various categories by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction or fantasy works from the year before. It is a prestigious award in the genre and one that Overture very much deserved. But since I have yet to talk about the series of which Overture is merely the most recent volume, I thought it was high time to rectify that. The series is known as The Sandman and was written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by an army of talented artists including Sam Kieth, Dave McKean, Kelley Jones, Shawn McManus and P. Craig Russell. It was a long running Vertigo issued comic comprised of a total of 75 issues which ran from 1989 to 1996. It has since been collected in various amounts of volumes, including an Absolute collection which leads me to drool every time I fantasize about owning it. This review will attempt to cover some of the appeal and events of the series without spoiling it for new readers. A difficult task but one which I feel compelled to take on because…I mean, it’s Sandman. How could I not want to talk about it?
Sandman is essentially an all new mythology a la Neil Gaiman. In the Sandman series, Gaiman introduces readers to a new family of gods known as The Endless. In many ways, this family of deities is much like those in classic mythologies like the Greek and the Norse. Comprised of members like Dream, Death, Desire, Destruction, Destiny, Delirium and Despair (notice a naming convention here?), the Endless squabble amongst themselves much like the other pantheons. They have immense powers sure but they’re as fallible as any mortal even if they have entirely too much pride to ever admit to the fact. Sandman begins with one of the family getting in serious trouble. A presumptuous group of mortals concocts a plan to trap Death so that they can live glorious immortal lives. As is so often the case, things don’t exactly go as planned and instead of Death, they trap Dream, god of dreams, nightmares and the nightly realm. Dream’s attempts to free himself and get revenge for the time lost due to these mortals begins the story but as it continues, it becomes somewhat of a hero’s journey for Dream as he faces the challenge presented by past mistakes that had influenced and led to his imprisonment at the start of the series. Dream interacts with both mortals and deities throughout the series, leading to a world dominated by both horror and fantasy, a genre blend in which Gaiman has always excelled.
As you might already be able to tell, the Sandman series ranks as my absolute favorite graphic novel series ever. I have read a lot of great graphic novels both prior to and during Graphic Reviews and I have loved many of them. None of them however have quite the power of the Sandman series. I was a Gaiman fan before I picked up Sandman so I had some idea of the magical way in which he can weave a story but Sandman is some of Gaiman’s best writing. It’s the blend of fantasy and horror, often referred to as dark fantasy, that I think is exactly in Gaiman’s wheelhouse. For those familiar with Norse and Greek mythology, the squabbling of the Endless family and the ways in which they interact feels like a naturally occurring, cultural mythology rather than one concocted by a single individual. Best of all, each member of the family has a unique personality which makes the interactions feel more organic than just gods intermingling. Dream’s evolution from an often cruel and haughty distance from humanity to finally understanding how his interactions with them during his lifespan of billions of years and planets has led him to the imprisonment and events that follow is not only a hero’s journey but one of the most compelling and emotional stories that I’ve ever read. If this series doesn’t make your heart alternately soar and drop to the pit of your stomach, then I have no words for you. It’s one of those stories that I absolutely demand everyone read because I just cannot imagine not having the wonder of this story in your life.
Before I finish my treatise on the glories of Sandman however, the art more than deserves some attention. It’s always hard to predict whether readers will enjoy the artwork of Sandman when I am recommending this series. I mean, I’ll recommend it regardless because I have no other choice. But, I am aware that the art is not to everyone’s taste. There are a lot of horrifying moments in the series and the art ranges from beautiful to disturbing and in some panels, can be a bit on the confusing side. It captures the magic of Gaiman’s writing incredibly well but as such can seem busy to those who prefer more clean, clear-cut panels.
As evidenced by this review, I am incapable of writing an impartial review when it comes to Sandman. I wholeheartedly believe it’s one of the best series ever written and that no review can do it true justice. Part of my love for the series comes from my love of both mythology and fantasy so if neither of those appeal to you, it may not be for you. The Sandman series is a wonderfully dark, fantastical new mythology that is well worth picking up if that genre is your cup of tea. Even if it isn’t, I’d still say it’s worth giving it a shot just in case its magic appeal to you too.