Enrique Bonilla Morales
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is my all-time favorite Graphic Novel. For all of you that believe graphic novels or comic books are only for kids, let me tell you that Sandman is the perfect example to show why this asseveration is far from true. There exist a whole set of writers and comics dedicated specifically for open-minded adults. These comics and writers tell beautiful and complex stories; stories as elaborated as the best book from your favorite novelist, along with gorgeous art, magnificent dialogue and excelling social commentary. If you don’t believe me, you can read, apart from Sandman, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Bill Willingham’s Fables, Garth Ennis’ Preacher, Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man or Peter Milligan’s Enigma*.
Anyway, returning to Sandman, I believe it’s not only the best work from Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, Coraline, Good Omens, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but one of the 20th Century literally masterpieces. The original series ran for 75 issues from January 1989 to March 1996** and was released afterwards as 10 absolute editions together with multiple follow-ups, spin-off, annotated editions and omnibus series. This article won’t make an extensive analysis of all the narrative complexities behind Sandman, or at least I’ll try, and use this as a resource to justify its greatness. I would instead try to give an introduction to its world and illustrate why I love it so much.
Sandman’s narrative takes place in a world where the universe is explained and defined through the existence of 7 entities called The Eternals: Destiny, Dead, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium or Delight, and Destruction. Each of this Siblings is commonly represented as an anthropomorphic creature; nonetheless, as their existence is not bounded to humans or to a single civilization, they can appear as animals, extraterrestrial substances or mythological creatures. The main plot centers on the third sibling, the king of stories, also known as Morpheus or Dream (among other names). He was trapped for 70 years by a human occultist, and when he escapes, he is ready to recover and reconstruct his realm. Particularly, these 70 years of imprisonment allowed him to reflect on his existence. Throughout the novel, the development of these reflections is shown.
Now that I have revealed the main plot of the comic, I’m going to write about some particularities that I admire. First of all, its art. If you have read a comic or graphic novel, you should know that art is as essential as the story. This is true to the point that writer and artist receive equal recognition for a comic. Neil Gaiman frequently chooses an artist methodically to represent a specific tale, depending on the feelings he wants to communicate in it. For example, there is a Sandman follow-up called Endless Nights, which won the 2003 Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative***, where an independent story for each sibling is told. Desire’s Chapter, What I’ve Tasted of Desire, was drawn by Milo Manara, an Italian comic book artist recognized for its erotic illustration. His interpretation of Desire is so marvelous that his image can captivate you independently of your sexual orientation. Similarly, Delirium’s Going Inside was illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz. He uses the elements of abstraction typical of his work to create a psychedelic atmosphere which portraits the aspects of insanity at its fullest.
Another aspect that I enjoy about Sandman is, of course, Dream’s story, or better-said stories. When you have a comic about the king of stories, there is going to be a huge part dedicated to tell them and analyse its importance for building civilizations, cultures, philosophies and personalities. The reader has an opportunity to merge with creative and well re-imagined tales about DC characters, Greek and Norse mythology, Muslim culture, Hell and Jesus Christ, Historical figures such as Mark Twain and Marco Polo, folk tales from all civilizations, and more. Each of these tales is narrated as different fantasy sub-genres such as Horror, Epic, Science and Urban fantasy, among others, making remarkable unique texts. Furthermore, all these little pieces are smoothly combined as you advance in the novel with a final result where all of the themes converge in the main reflection. Every detail in Sandman counts, as insignificant as they may seem, so every time your reread Sandman, you will find or learn something new. And for all of you that like easter eggs, be on guard because there are a lot.
The third element that I find astonishing about Sandman is its beautiful reflections and social commentary. Neil Gaiman discusses topics such as inclusion for the LGBT community, development and importance of religiosity or spirituality in different cultures, poverty and social margination, fear of sexuality, uniqueness and trobles of insanity, lacks and strengths of science, why cultures Flourish and Perish, how love influence our existence, benefits and expenses of pursuing dreams, and I could continue this list for paragraphs. Neil Gaiman, and any other who has written about Dream or the Sandman universe, have an opportunity to create a picture of any imaginable topic, because every topic is bounded to ideas and ideas, in one way or another, come from dreams.
Finally, Sandman gives an ingenious explanation of how ideas are built. Each sibling mentioned plays an important part on creating existence as we conceive it. We dream and die, we desire and despair. We give meaning to life (including the rationale of not having meaning at all) thanks to them. As beings with rational and irrational capacities, we always question our existence, and this series more than giving an explanation of that meaning, it establishes a setting that allows us to build explanations. Sandmans’ Eternals are the vectors we use to create our dimension of ideas. If you give a little though, all the explanations given to existence are limited by our experience in dreaming, desire, death, destiny, etc. I find this idea particularly wonderful.
All of these, and many other things that I forgot to mention or intentionally omitted to avoid writing a thesis, make Sandman an incredible novel. A comic which is enjoyable as a whole or by some of its pieces. Also, the originality of its plot has lead to an incredible immense universe where stories such as Lucifer (the comic in which is based the Netflix series), Book of Magic or House of mysteries take place. I promise that if you invest some hours in reading Neil Gaiman’s Magnum Opus, it won’t be wasted time. After reading Sandman, you will be a new and better version of yourself. If you love stories, I can declare to you that this is the story of stories.
* As you can infer, I am a big DC Vertigo (DC Black Label now) fan. Yet, there is excellent content released in other comic or book labels such as Image Comics’ Monstres, Image Comics’ Saga, Pantheon books’ Maus, Dark Horse comics’ A Study in Emerald, etc.
**, *** source Wikipedia
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