Eight years ago, Stephen Segal, then creative director at the legendary Weird Tales magazine, asked if he could use some modest writings I had been doing on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for a 20th anniversary retrospective he was putting together. Naturally, I said yes. What followed was a 11-part online series looking back at that remarkable body of work. The series wasn’t meant to be comprehensive or to uncover things you’d never seen before. Rather, it was meant to be a fun “rediscovery” of those now classic comics – so read these with that in mind.
Weird Tales has undergone some changes over the years. Stephen is gone. They’ve faced some controversy. And their website was stripped down and rebuilt into a complete disaster. With it went my series on Sandman.
Not wanting it to disappear into the ether, I’m going to be posting it here over the next ten days. Sandman was launched this month 28 years ago, so the timing seems right. Hope you enjoy.
Recurring Dream: An Anniversary Re-Reading of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
Originally published on the Weird Tales website, January 2009
It may sound melodramatic, but The Sandman changed my life. No, not in some life-affirming, inspired-me-to-join-the-Foreign-Legion kind of way. But it sparked something in me. An understanding and appreciation of something I had long cherished, but did not necessarily take pride in.
I am speaking about comic books. A childhood love I continued to like into adulthood, comics were filled with fun adventures, great characters and boundless imagination. All wonderful things, to be sure, but as with so many young fans there eventually came a time when comics and I no longer saw eye to eye. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a dreadful time for the medium. The shelves were littered with the worst sort of empty-headed rubbish, and I, being a young man who fancied himself worthy of reading something with a bit of smarts, found myself growing distant from my childhood love.
Comics and I parted ways.
No one who grows to love the medium, though, ever truly abandons that love. It’s just one of those things, like Bazooka Joe bubble gum, Pop Rocks, and lawn darts. You know it’s no good for you, but damnit, who cares? So by the time the late 1990s were upon me I found myself wondering what was happening in the world of comics. Wondering what I had missed. Wondering if maybe, just maybe, I could rekindle the love affair.
It turns out I had missed a whole lot. It seems there was this thing called “The Sandman” that had very quietly become one of the most critically acclaimed comics of all time. This all happened without me. I complete missed the boat! Just as I had left, the medium was giving the world a truly literary work.
So I crept back into the world of comics, dipping my toe in here and there, trying out a few books, deciding if I was ready to once again subject myself to their four-color delights.
It was a revelation. Comics could do this? They could be this? I knew the medium was capable of great things – I still remember my mind being blown by Watchmen, Frank Miller’s incredible Elektra: Assassin and Daredevil: Born Again, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus – but they seemed like aberrations. Flukes. Surely no creator could be allowed to sustain such genius. I mean, these were comics, meant to be disposable. Fun but unimportant. Yet here I was, reading a work for the ages.
I would never look at comics – what they were, are, and can be – the same way again. I still don’t. I expect more from my comics these days. I expect good writing and smart stories and something more than Guy beats up Other Guy. I’ve developed a deep love for the nature of the medium; the things it can accomplish and the unique ways in which it can tell stories. I am no longer the same reader I was, and I owe that to Sandman.
It’s been a decade since I was first exposed to the series, and 20 years since The Sandman #1 was first published. With four gorgeous Absolute Sandman hardcovers sitting on my shelves, now seemed like the perfect time to revisit this series. How would it hold up? Would I still hold it in such high esteem? I’ve read a lot of really great comics since I first discovered Sandman, after all. I like to think I’ve become a more discerning reader. Would Neil Gaiman’s amazing series still read like it was working on an entirely different level, given all the comics and graphic novels I’ve read since?
As you’ll see over the course of this 10-part retrospective, the answer is yes. A resounding yes. Sandman remains a high water market not just for the comic medium, but for fantasy literature in general. It is every bit as vital today as it was 20 years ago when it first began publication.
I hope you enjoy reading along as I again plunge back into the world of Dream, Desire, Delirium, Death, and the rest of the Endless. Even better, take the plunge with me and re-read Gaiman’s masterpiece. You’ll be glad you did.
Vol. 1 – Preludes and Nocturnes
Vol. 2 – The Doll’s House
Vol. 3 – Dream Country
Vol. 4 – Season of Mists
Vol. 5 – A Game of You
Vol. 6 – Fables & Reflections
Vol. 7 – Brief Lives
Vol. 8 – World’s End
Vol. 9 – The Kindly Ones
Vol. 10 – The Wake