Preludes & Nocturnes
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III and Robbie Busch
The worst Sandman book of them all? Did Neil Gaiman stumble just as he started with the not exactly fan-favourite Preludes & Nocturnes? Or are there hidden depths and pleasures to be the found in it’s hodgepodge of horror comic tropes, superheroes meandering and a certain Liverpudlian ghost-buster?
“Wake up, sir. We’re here.”
I mean I know that first lines are important and everything – but (I dunno) having those as the first lines of the Sandman epic (series? whatever) just seems to be a little bit too much on the nose (I think I might have audibly groaned when I saw them on this rereading). Yes yes – the main character is called Dream and it’s all about dreaming and etc and so on, I know – but (I dunno) – it’s a bit like if the first line of a Superman book was “Time to fly.” Although – now I’ve said that (and rolled it around my head a little more) maybe it’s actually the opposite – maybe the more appropriate first line would have been something like “Time to go to sleep” or “Let me read you a story before bedtime.” Or something like that. Point being – The Sandman isn’t so much about waking up and taking a hard sober glance at reality and the Way Things Are (I mean – there’s not really that much in the way of Politics or Important Serious Issues in The Sandman is there?) – it’s more about – well – dreams and stories and lower-case things that are a lot more beguiling and soft to the touch.
So yeah – maybe those first lines are wrong? But then – disclaimer alert – I did write a novel (ok ok – seeing how it was less than hundred pages – I guess it was more of novelette but whatever) back when I was a precocious teen which also had “Wake up” as the first two lines (and in fact I think one of my friends said that someone else said that there’s a whole genre of literature called “Wake up Literature” – is that right? Because I just googled it and all I got was a Pinterest board…) but – sorry – blah – so I guess that seeing that line at the start of The Sandman kinda reminded me of that. But then I guess that’s appropriate, seeing how (and you guys can correct me if you think this is wrong) as much as I have a soft spot in both my head and my heart for The Sandman I do think of it as a deeply kinda teenage book. Like – if it was a person – then it would be about 16 years old with greasy skin and wearing a purple cape kinda thing: even if it did happen to know a whole bunch about myths and legends and whatnot. I mean – “Preludes & Nocturnes” could there be a more pretentious sounding title?
And I guess – trying to put it into some kind of historical context – The Sandman was part of that first vanguard of “hey maybe comics aren’t just for kids” thing that happened at the end of the 1980s, along with Watchmen, Dark Knight and Maus (although – strangely – it doesn’t seem to get as much critical love as those three – maybe because it doesn’t all fit into one book or something?).
/ Sidenote: and yeah – how many books count as The Sandman anyway? I always thought it was ten (Preludes & Nocturnes – The Wake) but according to the back of the one I got out of the library (the newest one with the yellow cover) – there’s twelve because it counts Endless Nights and The Dream Hunters (not to mention the new one they’re coming out with now). And – I dunno – speaking as an anal-retentive purist – it feels a little like they’re diluting the brand a bit. It’s like if you tried to make the case that the Alien versus Predator films were part of the Alien series or something (which yeah – ok – the abomination that was Alien Resurrection I know I know) but point being: it’s nice when people leave things alone and it’s always icky when they go back and start playing around with it. But saying that: I haven’t read the new Sandman yet (I’m gonna wait for the collected edition to come out) and also – I’m one of the few people on the planet that really enjoyed Prometheus – but that’s a debate for another time… /
But yeah: that comics vanguard: The Sandman was one of the first out there to do the whole “serious” comics thing and – unlike Watchmen and Dark Knight – it was the first to do it without superheroes involved (except – well: there’s actually some superhero stuff in Preludes & Nocturnes – but they don’t really stick around for long). And – well – disclaimers – (for those that are only just reading The Sandman for the first time) – Preludes & Nocturnes is by far the worst of all The Sandman books because yeah – it does all its growing up in real-time and, because no one had ever really written anything like The Sandman before, it had to make all of its own mistakes – which I guess bring us back to the teenage metaphor.
But then – hell – out of all the books the came after: especially especially Fables which stole pretty much everything from The Sandman and is about one hundredth as good (if that): I must admit that The Sandman still very much has its own particular charm. But then I’m saying that, having not read it since I was a teenager – so maybe that’s wrong?
But I reckon I’ve said enough. I’ll admit now that actually I only got as far as that first panel before I sat down to write this – so maybe I should work my way through the book a little bit more so I can really get my teeth into it. But for now – well – yeah: what do you guys think? How awful is this as a starting point for The Sandman? Is this the first time you’ve read it? And if not – how does it compare to your memories of it?
Hi, I’m Mazin. It’d be good for people to introduce ourselves, right? I’m from Manchester, living in London, trying to make it as a writer at the moment: I co-host a podcast, am writing a book, and also working on a radio drama. I have an infrequently-used blog (named maybethatsthepoint.tumblr.com) where I post my work, and otherwise regurgitate pictures and quotes and memes. (Hi Tumblr!)
I’m assuming this is a spoilers-allowed conversation? If not, consider this line your spoiler warning!
Wake-up literature: it’s not a genre as such. George Saunders coined it when talking about reading David Foster Wallace’s story ‘Good old neon’ on a plane, and it partly inspiring him to become a writer. He couched it in Buddhist terms: the kind of art that tries to wake you up (wake you up to the fact that you’re living your life asleep etc) – I guess then there’s a link after all to the sleep sickness and eternal nightmares-within-nightmares you get at the start of Preludes and Nocturnes.
So is it a good opening / good opening line? Hmm. Well I guess, yes, in the sense that it gets you in the mood of what to expect: I mean, I love The Sandman series, but it’s got more on-the-nose moments than a sea-lion at a circus (hmm, that sounded better in my head). Following the opening line, further examples include the solution / winning play in the ‘battle of wits’ sequence in hell – when I first read it (age 18?) I nodded sagely. Now I try not roll my eyes. But then, maybe my 18 year old self was reading it better. Maybe, like Joel suggests, the teen is the ideal reader. Who else read it then? Is anyone coming at it first time?
Part of either reading it or re-reading it is adjusting to the way that it’s written and that the story is told: it can be as portentous as it can be witty with its myths/legends material, the language is done in a way that I’m going to call the Punk Fable High-Style (TM): you know, all that pared-down sing-song fairy tale simple narration on the one hand, ornate OTT description on the other, general slangy dialogue from the characters: ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Neil Gaiman.
Anyway, I kid, mostly. IMO, the strength of the Sandman series is in evidence with Preludes and Nocturnes, though I agree not yet reaching the heights it’ll later do so by any means. It’s definitely got that fledgling feeling: trying things out, tripping a bit. It’s still jarring to this day when you see the reference to Batman and Robin. It’s like it’s trying to decide what genre it is (P&N feels like it’s still a horror comic, albeit of a firm ‘literary’ kind) with the series later deciding it will be all genres and none. Even Dream’s costume (props? arcana? gizmos? Gaiman gives them some fancy name: you know, the gasmask and whatnot) comes across as a try-hard shot at creating a superhero iconography (which the series’ relaxes a bit about later – sigils notwithstanding – and so gives Dream a chance to actually cement a look: and… it’s Neil Gaiman, right? Autobiography aside, it’s a good and memorable look by now, everyone familiar with comics ‘knows’ what Dream looks like, so kudos there). The question is: will it look like Joseph Gordon Levitt? – gulp. Only time will tell.
Maybe this is a bit early in the day, seeing as Joel has yet to get past the first panel (I see him sat there squinting at it, fiercely). But what P&N does have in the end is one of the most horrific sequences I’ve read, grisly in a way that troubles you a while after reading (à la American Psycho, Atomised, Crossed): I’m referring of course the sequence in the diner, where John Dee uses Dream’s ruby to possess / control the patrons and staff. So many great points in it, which don’t just creep you out through violence or gore, but by needling at some dark psychological impulses: the way one character – as he hammers nails into another one’s hands – tells her that he knew her son was turning tricks and he was secretly pleased by that (if I remember this correctly???). Similarly, the fact that Dee makes the victims not only torture each other but have sex with each other (was this Paul W S Anderson’s inspiration for the hell-dimension in Event Horizon? Maybe? – that and ripping off Hellraiser…) I can still remember images like the girl with needles in her eyes, and lines like ‘he brings out the beast in them’ (which of course, I’ve probably massively misremembered – but Borges says that’s where art starts, so THERE). And it’s not just shock tactics: there’s also the use of time, via the stopwatch, as a device to elaborate the horror effects: i.e. it’s not just there to mark the passage of the day, but to underline the extent of the awfulness that’s happened by emphasising how it’s taken so little time.
It’s that sequence that makes P&N for me. Had it not been for it, I’m not sure I’d necessarily have read ahead. Not that the rest of it is bad by any means. It’s just… ok. The diner sequence, yeah, and the chat with Death at the end. But read ahead I did, and am glad.
Did people get freaked out by it in the same way? Is there anyone who wants to champion P&N as a highlight of the series? And can we talk about the art-work? Not sure how blasphemous it is in this context, but it’s really ugly at times….
Hi, I’m Loz, living and working in Peckham until the hipsters make it too expensive for me to stay.
‘Preludes and Nocturnes’ (which I think is a title someone in DC/Vertigo gave the collection because it didn’t really have a name) is a terrible place to start if you’ve never read any DC comics before this point or if you don’t know DC comics of the late 80s. People might recognise John Constantine, at least he introduces himself, but the Martian Manhunter or Mister Miracle? Doctor Destiny, who is a far cry from the Batman villain he is supposed to be? Volume 2, ‘The Dolls House’ or Volume 6, ‘A Game of You’ are, in my humble opinion, better places to start as they are largely continuity free, volume 2 is also where the writer Neil Gaiman worked out just how he wanted to do this story. Volume 1 is very much based on the horror comics of the 50s and 60s, everyone over the age of 30 is a hideous, bent old figure covered in warts who lives in a dark and foreboding castle. It’s hard to take any of it seriously, when The Sandman goes to Hell the demons look ridiculous rather than threatening (perhaps the intention). It’s only in ’24 Hours’ where the main bad guy of the series systematically dismantles and tortures the psyches of his prisoners while waiting for The Sandman to arrive and is faintly bored doing so, that the horror really kicks in.
And when you talk about diluting the brand, I think this is one of the few exceptions DC have made. Neil Gaiman finished the series in 1996-ish, there’s only been ‘The Dream Hunters, ‘Endless Nights’, ‘Dustcovers’ and the new story he’s doing with J.H.Williams at the moment. Most of the separate spin-offs they did didn’t last, except for ‘The Dreaming’, which I never liked, and ‘Lucifer’ which I thought was great. And these are characters DC own, normally they’d be more than happy to find another writer happy to grind the characters into the dust until no-one cares any more (Have you heard? They’re killing off Wolverine? For realsies this time!). Alan Moore revitalised Swamp Thing back in the 80s, showing DC that maybe they should hire people like Neil Gaiman to write books like The Sandman, but no writer since Moore has managed to convince readers to care about a walking bog monster and they’ve tried about a dozen times in twenty five years.
I can’t remember when I last read The Sandman – we did ‘A Game of You’ in the book group last year, people were lukewarm on it from what I remember, the first two volumes of Fables were much more warmly received. I’ve probably not read it all the way through for more than a decade.
So yeah, I don’t really rate this one highly, but that’s only because it was one of the formative texts that defined a style that others would go on to do more extraordinary things with, so I suppose that’s an achievement in itself.
Just on the subject of Dream’s gizmos, out of the story, he has them because the Golden Age Sandman from the 1940s had them and that was the starting point for Gaiman’s version, so the Golden Age Sandman wore a gasmask and put his foes to sleep with sleeping gas, Dream uses the real thing and has a helmet that looks a bit like a gasmask. In story, somewhere along the line it’s explained that because Dream was imprisoned the universe tried to replace him and created the Golden Age Sandman as a result.
Oh yeah – right – introductions – sure (that would be a good idea wouldn’t it?).
My name is Joel. I used to do the Islington Comic Forum, which is how I first got sucked into the world of (I don’t quite know what to call it – erm…) sitting around and talking about comic books with people thing (?)…. And have since gone on to set up the Barbican Comic Forum and the Idea Store Comic Forum and am hoping by the end of the century to have established a Comic Forum on the moon………… What is a Comic Forum I hear you ask? Well – I don’t quite know. I wasn’t actually the one that set up the Islington Comic Forum – credit where credit’s due – that was done by someone else who came before me (I think his name was Steve Hawkins?): I was just the muggins that they managed to rope in to take over. But well – it’s basically a whole bunch of comics on a table for people to browse through and borrow whilst at the same time talking about comics and whatever else comes to mind. Full disclosure: I did do Philosophy at uni so once I get started I do tend to ramble on and – yes – pick into the reasons why different people like different things…. (case in point: Loz – people liked Fables more than Sandman?! OMG! That’s an outrage. That’s like choosing The Rutles over The Beatles. Or an own-brand box of cornflakes over – well – cornflakes (it’s not the real thing). Please tell me that you did the decent thing and beat them over the head with sticks or something at least?).
But yes – what? Oh yeah: comics. I’ve been reading them since I was a kid. Started with The Beano. Then moved up to 2000AD each week. Alan Moore = left hand of God (even if that hand has since got a little limp: but getting old will do that…). But yeah – am not at all picky about what I pick to read and am happy on both sides of the eternal superheroes / serious comics divide (which is the great civil war of the medium: I’m trying to think of an example in some other art form – but I don’t think one exists? Like – maybe theatre people have some sort of hang up about musicals versus serious plays or something? I dunno….). But yeah – for me – what I really like (and this isn’t just in comics) is big chewy ideas for me to sink my brain teeth into (brain teeth – that’s a thing right?). Which is why I tend to like science-fictional stuff in the main (it being the most philosophy-friendly genre and all) and you know – other stuff of that ilk – which I guess kinda brings us back round to the Sandman….
I did not know (but I totally love) that it wasn’t Neil Gaiman that picked the Preludes and Nocturnes title. But is it wrong to say that it seems so completely fitting? After doing my fierce squint at that first panel I went back to read the introduction and realised that I had actually stolen most of my moves from it (Karen Berger swapped Maus for V for Vendetta but otherwise makes the same kind of points) and then from there went to the cover (yeah I’m going the wrong way I know) where it has across the top “The New York Times Best-Selling Author of The Graveyard Book and Coraline” which brought me back round to the whole teenage thing. Like – come on – is it not kinda weird (kinda funny kinda sad) that – arguably – one of the best comic book writers of the last 30 or so years has planted himself so firmly into the – putting it kindly – “young adult” part of the books spectrum? Like – I don’t have anything against people going for that “appeal to the whole family” dollar (it’s a good dollar and yes – obligatory mention of how much I love Pixar and Studio Ghibli) but – damn – it’s kinda made me realise that maybe holding up The Sandman as a mark of how “look comics aren’t just for kids anymore” is kinda undercut when it turns out that actually all you can say is “look comics are actually for well – teenagers! – yay!”
(Does any of that make sense? Or should I go back and try and make it clearer?)
Because then yeah – getting to Mazin’s point – which is that – oh hell yes – the art of The Sandman is actually one of the low points (I wouldn’t use the word “ugly” though – more like: “slap-dash” which by my eyes is actually a lot worse…) but then I think that totally fits with one of the secret ulterior motives of The Sandman series which was to basically make Neil Gaiman a star. I mean – think about it – obviously there’s the whole thing with the main character that yes yes was supposed to be based upon Robert Smith but – oops – actually (coincidentally?) looks a lot like the guy that was writing it (see also: these guys). But then but then: the fact that because the art is mostly (with one or two exceptions here and there which I guess we’ll come to as we go on) sub-standard – what sticks in your head is the writing and the storytelling. I mean – if you’re reading something that’s all about the storyteller the storyteller the storyteller – then of course you’re going to be inclined to check the credits to see who it was written by – right? Which then – yeah – gave Mr Gaiman the springboard he needed to become the rock-star writer dude in black leather he is today (about which I have very mixed feelings – seeing how he built up so much goodwill in my head for writing The Sandman but now seems to have fallen into the trap of believing his whole hype – but then (oh well) he does say a lot of good things about libraries so that’s good – but then he is married to Amanda Palmer – who is all sorts of awful (in complicated ways): so then – I don’t know – I’m conflicted).
Shoot. I only meant to write a little and instead I wrote a lot. Sorry.
Hello, my name is Ilia. I live in Archway and frequent the Islington and Barbican forums. I occasionally blog here, and tweet a bit too much here. Comics and libraries have been inextricably linked for me ever since I discovered the stash of Asterix volumes in my local library when I was in primary school. Very thankful to Joel for running the discussion groups and looking forward to participating in this new online venture!
Quite a lot of interesting comments already, some quick reactions from my side:
I thought Gaiman based Sandman on Lou Reed, but either way the idea of the male rock & roll charismatic is central to what the character is about. One of the more interesting aspects of the series is that while Gaiman is attracted and attached to this kind of hero to the point where he writes himself into the character, he doesn’t shy away from attacking him (and himself) as well. A more modern example of this is Kieron Gillen’s relationship to his often despicable protagonist David Kohl in Phonogram (a book certainly heavily influenced by Sandman). If anything, I find Gaiman is often too enamoured of his avatar, and his attacks are often quite oblique. There is something admirably noble about the Sandman even when he’s being a dick, and I sometimes wish Gaiman had the courage to desecrate his creation more completely.
I like the first volume a great deal, quite a lot more than most of the series, actually. Joel described the books above as not being about hard, important real issues, but as soft and beguiling. “Beguiling” is a very apt descriptor, I think, particularly in its negative sense of “to deceive”, because a prevailing impression I’ve had of the series is that it appears to be more than it actually is. Sandman creates the sensation of being profound (something the horribly fawning introductions to the trades encourage further), but I personally find it quite difficult to interrogate. Gaiman is certainly aware that myths and stories are metaphors we use to understand the real hard stuff (as it were), but he often gets lost in them to the point where the allusions fail to add up to a coherent point. He seems to exercise remarkably little control over his writing (the first issue is 40 pages long, almost twice the size of a regular issue). It came as no surprise to me when it was revealed (I think in the published script for Calliope) that he had no idea how to end The Doll’s House when he started writing it. Sometimes it works (The Doll’s House is for my money the best volume of the series), but often it goes horribly wrong (e.g. A Game of You).
So what I like about the first volume is that it is the least “beguiling” of the lot, in that it is the least deceptive and the most rooted in pulp and genre. “Pretentious” is an unfortunately overused word that can scare people from engaging with something that is difficult and worthwhile, but I have no fear in describing The Sandman to be in many parts pretentious properly so called – pretending to offer value it doesn’t actually possess. Preludes’ great virtue is that it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is – it’s actually a very good horror comic, possibly containing the most chilling story Gaiman has ever told (Sleep of the Just contains a small but telling nod to Stephen King, and I suspect the diner sequence bears some of his influence). It is also, I think, ably illustrated. I’m always surprised when Sam Kieth gets a drubbing in discussions of The Sandman. I’ve just reread the first two issues and I think his layouts are striking and the way he embellishes the page is very impressive. Art is always an eye of the beholder deal, but I find his rubbery and caricatured figures really lovely (Kieth has gone on to write and draw his own comics – check out Zero Girl and particularly My Inner Bimbo, which is fantastic). Kieth is certainly let down quite a bit by the colouring, which was terrible even for the standards of the time. The biggest revolution comics have undergone in recent years is digital colouring, and I think the new Sandman trades have had their colours “updated”, which will hopefully make the artwork clearer. People may also disparage Kieth’s Sandman because he never cracked the character’s look in the way Dringenberg did when he took over on pencils, but I definitely think it has its charms, particularly the face Morpheus pulls when he sees his phallic castle in ruins.
That’s enough from me, hope you enjoyed reading and looking forward to more reactions.
Hi Ilia and Joel,
Nice to hear from you both. I like Ilia’s critique of Sandman, I think it is the fact that it was early Gaiman and so, like some of the other things he did around the same time, he was sometimes better at dialogue than at action or conclusions (compare ‘The Books of Magic’ which is a beautiful infodump about the magical realms of DC at the time but has almost no action, or ‘Neverwhere’ where exciting scenes are often ruined by dialogue, although the Radio 4 adaptation from last year did manage to deal with some of this with handy rewrites). The fact that Morpheus disappears for entire issues sometimes in stories like ‘The Dolls House’ or ‘A Game of You’, or is a minor character in the single issue stories like ‘Thermidor’ does allow the readers to put their meaning into it and then pat themselves on the back for spotting the meaning in the story, the few times that the stories have anything approaching a ‘point’, such as with poor Wanda in ‘A Game of You’, unfortunate implications ensue. ‘The Kindly Ones’ builds towards a massive climax and then… sidesteps it. Is this Gaiman masterfully blindsiding our expectations or not knowing how to finish the story? I still swing back and forth to this day. Certainly since that point he does seem to have worked out how to end his stories.
I’m surprised Joel that you dislike ‘Fables’ so much considering it comes from a lot of the same sources as ‘The Sandman’. There’s a fair amount of chaff in there (most of it being ‘Jack of Fables’) but maybe because I was reading the trades one after another from the library and had so many books to read I did enjoy how it developed. I think it does a good job especially with having strong female characters who aren’t cliché ‘strong female characters’ but that’s a discussion for another thread.
What do people think of the climax of this story? I never really followed why even a ‘crazy’ character like Dee would think that if he destroyed the gem it would somehow destroy Morpheus too, so the twist that it actually releases all the power back to Morpheus never works for me. There’s also the issue of whether Morpheus grows from his experience, he satisfies himself by driving his captors to madness in issue 1 but after Dee kills people, potentially drives most of the United States temporarily nuts and comes close to killing Morpheus he shows mercy on him and just returns him to Arkham Asylum, never to take responsibility for the death and destruction he caused. A cynic might say the characters from issue 1 were created just for this comic while Doctor Destiny is a minor Batman villain. Duty and responsibility becomes a recurrent theme through the series but does it really start well here?
Right then. Rejoice. You lucky people. Etc. I’ve finally managed to read it. Of course having put it off this whole time it was difficult to make a start – and I got into a whole thing about trying to work out what would be the best musical accompaniment. I have this thing that I like to have the right music playing for when I’m reading something. So (for instance) when I was reading Infinite Jest (blurgh) I got locked into listening to Blanck Mass at the same time so much so that they both kind of merged into the same thing: which – you know – for me is good. Only – I realised that there’s nothing, really, that goes well with The Sandman. I thought maybe psytrance? (that sort of mixture between old-fashioned pagan jumping around with computers and drum machines etc – coupled with that sort of 21st century mysticism and spirituality that The Sandman gets most its energy from) but then I don’t actually have any psytrance CDs (am going through a using-my-steam-powered-CD-player phase until I can buy something that can connect my ipod to the amplifier). In the end I settled with Rachmaninoff (one of the only 2 classical music CDs I own): but that didn’t end up feeling quite right. Which then led me to think that maybe I should have gone with something that’s a little bit more late 80s / early 90s maybe? For a second I thought maybe of The Smiths (I mean – what is Morpheus if not the ultimate Morrissey fan? “I was looking for my ruby then I found my ruby and heaven knows I’m miserable now….”) – but that seemed a little bit too jaunty and jangly and yeah I don’t know. I mean – (ok) – I know that this is only really a problem that affects me – but what does Sandman go with? What’s its soundtrack? What gets closest to expressing its flavour in musical terms… (oh – hmm – I’m listening to the latest Braids album now, and that’s making me think some Cocteau Twins maybe? For that mix of ethereal and pre-internet technology…??)
But yes – sorry – moving on.
Except – ha – reading back over what people have written so far I clicked on Illa’s “based Sandman on Lou Reed” link – which I thought was just going to be a quote from Neil Gaiman that said “oh yeah – I based The Sandman on Lou Reed.”
(Brief side-note again: which name do people prefer to use to denote the main white guy with the black hair? “The Sandman” doesn’t seem quite right. It’s like his massively formal title and the one that no one in the books ever seems to use “Hey Mr The Sandman – how’s it going?” – in fact – when people use it – it makes me feel like they haven’t read the books yet (which you know – lucky them) and it’s a mark of being on the outside: do people call the Queen “the Queen” to her face? Surely it’s more – Elizabeth, Lizzy or – Maj? (oh please let there be one person somewhere who calls her “Maj”). For me – it’s a toss up between Dream or Morpheus – but then it’s kinda hard to say either of those and keep a straight face. So maybe we should just call him Barry or something? So yeah – you know – Barry Sandman).
But yeah – I really like the bit where he (Neil Gaiman) says: “When I needed to write a Sandman story set in hell, I played Reed’s Metal Machine Music (which I’ve described as “four sides of tape hum, on the kinds of frequencies that drive animals with particularly sensitive hearing to throw themselves off cliffs and cause blind unreasoning panic in crowds” all day for two weeks. It helped.” (I’m taking that as my cue to have MMM on for when we get to Vol 4).
And talking of Hell and Music and etc – I laughed at the casting of Tilda Swinton as Morningstar in the fourth story (A Hope In Hell) – even though when I read the Wikipedia page on ‘Hell (DC Comics)’ (I wanted to find out when exactly it was Hell became a triumvirate (nice word) – not knowing if it was a comics thing or – you know – something from serious literature (answer: it turns out it’s a comics thing: “Lucifer had been forced to accept the rule due to the disruption caused by the Darkness’ attack in Swamp Thing”)) it turns out that it’s actually supposed to be David Bowie.
Man – I just can’t stop with the music connections can I? It’s like John Constantine being followed by all those songs…
Anyways: to get round to touching on the things that everyone else has said: Illa I do really like the idea of Gaiman doing more to desecrate (another great word) Barry Sandman: but then I’m not sure if the series itself would be able to survive. I mean – Barry’s the tent-pole that kind of keeps everything up and so I think that there’s a sense that you have to buy into his character in order to buy into the reality of the rest of the book. And so if everyone was like: “God – who is this guy? Why is he always moping around and being such a bummer?” it would puncture the high seriousness of everything else. (Note to self: “high seriousness” is totally one of the best genre names ever – forget “literary fiction” – call it high seriousness instead!). Saying that – Death showing up is one the of the best bits of the book (the other being – yep – 24 hours and in fact the whole build up to it – Dr Dee in the car with the lady with the Mafia Hitman husband etc and the really nice little gracenotes of superhero-ness alongside normal world-ness: Alfred Hitchcock playing on radio Gotham, The fact that Batman’s at work at 3:30AM and The Martian Manhunter having a secret stash of Oreos (“Of which you are welcome to partake.”)
I’ve just put some Sigur Ros on. Another good possibility maybe for a Sandman soundtrack? Lots of drones and humming and indistinct vocals.
Re: Illa’s insistence on the “point” of Sandman. Well – what does this mean? What would a further point be? And gosh darn it – what’s wrong with a little bit of beguiling? I mean – I know I’ve taken issue with Gaiman’s purple-cloaked way of putting the reader under his spell (case in point: when Barry Sandman first gets out of his prison he sounds like an extra from a historical re-enactment: “Confined in a glass box for three score years and ten” (=actual quote)). But I’m quite happy for it to be a spell and nothing more. I know from our previous discussions that Illa has a taste for stories that turn out to be about Something (so it turned out that the Monster was really our inability to communicate). But hell like reading 24 hours: it’s strange and weird and horrifying but I don’t think it lacks anything by it not being about (I dunno) Politics or Human Nature or Science (unless it’s – you know – “don’t mis-use your dream ruby”?).
I was struggling to think of a good word to describe Sam Kieth’s big-headed people but then I think maybe Illa’s already got it with “rubbery.” (There’s a bit in the afterword where Sam Kieth describes himself as being in the wrong band “like Jimi Hendrix in The Beatles”, which – well – might be putting it a little bit too strongly Sam – but yeah: I get your point) but yeah: his approach is all wrong for the delicate sensibilities needed for The Sandman. I much much prefer it when Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III rock up and start their good work. There’s something about their lines and use of blank space that remind me of Bill Sienkiewicz (and for those of you that don’t know who that is – let me assure that that’s a GOOD THING).
Oh boy – I’ve really rambled too far this time huh?
Quickly then just to wrap up: Loz – why do I hate Fables so much? Well – mostly because how it’s such an obvious Sandman wannabe without (as far I could tell) any real ideas of its own. Thinking about it – it kinda seems like one of the most cynically written things I’ve ever had the misfortune to read. Like – Bill Willingham did some research – found a gap in the comics market (“Hey wait – no one’s done fairy tales yet have they?”) and decided to fill it in the most boring and uninspiring way possible. Strong female characters? I’m struggling to remember any characters. Apart from Wolverine. Sorry – I mean – Big Bad Wolf. Sorry. (urg).
Big climax of the story and destroying the ruby and everything. Well – when I read it I thought it worked (especially because it kinda explains it afterwards as opposed to before). Like Dr Dee doesn’t say: “Now I’m going to destroy this ruby because I think that it will make me more powerful than ever!” or whatever he says it after he’s done it (which I think is a nice touch). For me, the stuff that doesn’t really work is the end of the world stuff happening elsewhere. I think the book would have been more powerful (and more believable without it): but then maybe that’s just the battle cry of our age: “We’re sick of the end of the world.”
And I’ll leave it at that.
The sound of Sandman? Tori Amos, surely! Espesh the first album Little Earthquakes w/ its little shout-out to Morpheus / Gaiman in ‘Tear in your Hand’. Gaiman based the character of Death on Amos, I think (although Dringenberg had a different model for her look). The two deffo go together v. well (though I personally like Amos a bit more). Sidebar: I would love to be able to listen to music while reading, but unfortunately I just end up getting distracted and reading the same page over and over again w/o taking anything in.
I think Barry is a wonderful name for the Sandman, and think the character could use that bit of deflating. Gaiman always refers to him as “The Sandman” in his scripts (I think? Again, basing this on the published Calliope script) which is interesting. Perhaps an ironic bit of distancing, or a subtle note to self that the character is (visually and otherwise) as blown-up and arch as any other superhero, or [insert psych theory here].
I can come back on the whole “the point” stuff, but I’ve reached the end of my commute, and also kinda want to hear what other people think first anyway. Is there something big buried within the series (as all of those trade intros suggest), or does it just end up being about the texture (the look and feel, to borrow a marketing term) of the stories?
Hi I’m Clare
I work in Islington Libraries, and currently organise the Islington Comic forum, which I took over from Joel. I’m not a Comics connoisseur, however enjoy reading them when I can.
I have tried to read the Sandman series many years ago and couldn’t get into it, however I did like Gaiman’s “Death” stories.
What I liked about Preludes and Nocturnes was the mythological themes Gaiman created, delving into the idea of heaven and hell, and a Dream-world run by a sort of god, who is shown as both weak and powerful. The fact that he can so easily have his power taken away, which can then scarily be used to horrible ends, reminding me of real life politics.
I enjoyed the cameos of Dream’s sister Death and Mr John Constantine, who I might try to read more of, in light of his new TV series.
I found the visual style a little off-putting at times, in terms of losing the plot in trying to follow the panels, but perhaps that’s just my lack of concentration.
I think someone did mention the visual similarities of Dream and Gaiman himself…
That’s it folks.
Til next time, this has been Clare O’Connor.
So. Tori Amos is someone that I haven’t ever really paid attention to before but on the recommendation of Illa I decided to load up Little Earthquakes (Full Album 1992) on to youtube to see what effect it would have. And well – stating the total obvious I know – but it’s very Kate Bushy isn’t it? And not really at all the type of thing that I’d normally go for in terms of reading accompaniment. Most of the time, I like something that’s mostly wordless and doesn’t have too much of its own personality so as to not swamp all the stuff that’s happening on the page. And well – just going from the first few tracks – I don’t think anyone would ever say that Ms Amos is suffering from a lack of personality. Only thing is: the thought of trying to concentrate on reading something while she plays in the background is like trying to play chess while someone jumps up and down on you bed screaming things (in a melodic way but still…). Illa, you said that you kept getting distracted with music playing in the background – and well – if this is the kind of stuff that you choose then I’m not at all surprised.
Thing is – I wonder if there’s any deeper point to this other than: oh – listen to this with this! Off the top of my head: I’ve been grappling with the idea recently of what’s the best way to try and get teenagers to start reading books (part of a big push thing we’re doing at the Barbican) and am currently toying with the idea of trying to explain to them how books work as mind-altering substances: as in – if you read a book – it will literally change the shape and structure of your mind. It’s just black marks on a page – but once you unlock them then, well, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl (oops – sorry – inadvertent Wayne’s World reference there). And – yes – well: having music to go with the books is like mix and matching your chemical compounds to create even bigger emotional and spiritual effects. You know – getting the mood and the atmosphere just right in order to create the biggest possible effect (affect?) inside your head.
Saying that: the best comics will make their own soundtracks in your mind. (The first time I read ‘Preacher: Until the End of the World’ I could hear the orchestra smashing out the power chords in my mind: like the Star Wars theme mixed with The Good, The Bad and Ugly crossed with Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
On the subject of ‘music to read comics by’ I’d also recommend the soundtrack album for Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’, about two-thirds of it being the guitar-heavy stuff that Adam is writing in the movie, along with the songs performed by various groups and musicians in the film itself. I never managed to get into Tori Amos either, too much the Manic Pixie Dream Girl for my tastes back then.
On the other subject of promoting books to teens, try looking up what Alan Moore has to say about language and magic, maybe some metaphors there that might help you out?
Maybe I’m just not as synaesthesiac as you all but I very rarely listen to music while reading – Sandman or otherwise. I mean, I used to listen to the Star Wars soundtrack while reading Star Wars Expanded Universe novels (“Hi. I’m Mazin, and I am a reader of books like’ Slave Ship 1′”) but I like to think I’m all GROWN-UP NOW. (Also: no Admiral Thrawn in Episode 7? Too bad, blue Hugo Weaving). My ideal reading conditions are pretty pin-drop silent. Or maybe room- or public-transport-ambiance. Infinite Jest (yay!) is particularly suited to anything busy and modern like a Tube journey.
I’d have to look at it again (am at work) but yeah, the ending was a bit Doctor Who: ah-ha! it turns out the powerful object of x actually does y! kaboom! we won let’s move on!
I’m wary of “points” in things (like compasses, dirty syringes) but I don’t remember Sandman being particularly Issue-y. There are themes, of course – a caps-lock bold-type ‘story’ being one of them. Ilia, I’d say that the reason the allusions etc fail to add up to a coherent point is that there isn’t an attempt to make one. Apart from the story-specific pay-offs (“Haven’t all eras had the same woes?”, “Wouldn’t being immortal be emotionally harrowing?”) but I’d say that The Sandman’s strength is that the stories and their points can’t be disentangled into a ‘theory-evidence’ or ‘example-generalisation’ form. I mean Ramadan doesn’t have a coherent point, nor does Hob’s Leviathan. They’re about what they’re about, primarily (they are not analogies, or ciphers for generalisations, or demonstrations of ideas). However they are still *about* things, they have their subtexts as well as plots, but these things are all kind of indivisible from the narrative – with those two stories I mentioned, it’s like trying to peel paper apart to get at the story on the one hand, and what its point is on the other. And for me those particular stories are some of the series’ high points.
That’s not to say The Sandman is some art’s for art’s sake work – which it’s very much not, some pure formalist construction (which I have time for, otherwise). Just that its fabric of mythical allusions is just that: fabric, and mood and atmosphere, a kind of soil from which to draw particular hybrids of stories out in order to serve specific purposes for the overarching Sandman story.
Question: has Laurence Fishburne forever altered the name Morpheus? Can you read Sandman without thinking, whenever anyone uses the name, of Keanu Reeves saying: MOOOORPHEUS?
I second Loz’s writing as magic thing. It’s the closest thing to Virtual Reality there is: before Oculus Rift takes over, that is. Symbols on a page that hijack your inner monologue, like a form of possession, so that it’s still speaking in your voice but with another’s thoughts: creating, spontaneously, without any further use of technology, images and sensations and emotions and ideas: using for its material your memories and your imagination: of the same ontological substance (and here I tie my ramble back into The Sandman) as dreams: I genuinely believe the fabric of mind-states that are created by prose narrative / fiction is the same as that of dreams: the same combination of sort of flimsiness and faintness, yet, because the text is using your own memories and personality as fuel and bricks, also charged with so much emotion. Reading is like getting to have a million more, and better, and more moving dreams than you could have on your own.
And I’d like to thank my manager for my Oscar.
Hi all. Coming back on the pointy stuff after Mazin’s post. I don’t want to tumble into a hermeneutics-shaped rabbit-hole, so it might be better if I do a bit of close reading and try to explain myself through a Sandman-focused example. Specifically the justly famous concluding issue of Preludes, which has very little narrative or plot, but is quite point-heavy (plenty of ideas/themes sweet to the brain-tooth, to borrow Joel’s phrase).
The most striking part of “The Sound of her Wings” is Dream’s claim to be far more terrible than Death. In his words, death is a gift – but what is the nature of that gift? The poem Dream recites suggests it has something to do with providing an end to suffering (sickness, war, captivity, uncertainty – in order of obviousness). And the anamorphic personification of Death takes the recently deceased almost literally under her wing. She isn’t just Dream’s big sister, in a way she is everyone’s big sister – a kind of universal guardian angel with invisible wings. Her “function” is to provide comfort to the dying. The thing is, death (small d) isn’t always so benign – the example of the comedian showcases death as robbing people of their opportunity to become subjects, and the cot-death showcases the devastation caused by bereavement. It is difficult to interpret either of these things as any kind of ‘gift’. Dream’s reading of Death’s function isn’t therefore very satisfying. Is Gaiman purposefully muddying the waters, or is he just confused? Something doesn’t cohere.
Dream also has “responsibilities” – he, again almost literally, finds his own wings at the end of the issue (but are they made of sand??). What these responsibilities are is left unclear, and I’m not sure if it’s ever conclusively answered (if you have a theory, do let me know!). Whatever they are, they contrast with the purpose that Dream has been pursuing in the previous seven issues. Vengeance has left him feeling “empty”, but this new purpose promises a real and lasting fulfillment. If it’s anything like Death’s, it must involve providing some sort of comfort to people facing the pain and uncertainty of human existence. But as we find out, an inherent aspect of Dream’s ‘job’ is to author nightmares, which sort of do the opposite. Again, there is ambiguity as to what the point of these Endless really is. Is that intentional on Gaiman’s part, or is he unsure of what they are really about as well? Do they stand apart like indifferent gods? If so, what “responsibilities” do they have that bind them to somehow serve humanity or the universe?
Personally, I suspect that Gaiman is so steeped in myths and fairy tales that he can quite easily riff on them, raconteur-like, and go with what sounds or feels right, without overly worrying about consistency. If Sandman has a point, it is an attempt to valorize that very particular gift, and I think it develops into an exhortation to the reader to unleash their own story-telling powers, since The Sandman’s (and the author’s) are so limited. I think this confession lies at the heart of The Kindly Ones, and it’s what redeems the series in my eyes, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.
Does Gaiman provide a reason as to why caps-lock bold-type ‘story’ (to borrow Mazin’s phrase) is such an integral part of withstanding the pain of existence? Does the argument stand up? Perhaps Gaiman prefers to step back and let the medium be the message. And because Gaiman’s off-the-cuff stories lack that weight, perhaps that’s why I remain unconvinced.
Is it just me? But I’m kinda worried that we’re going to rinse out all the talking on this first post and there’s going to be nothing left for anything else… (I mean – this is still the first book of The Sandman and there’s like – all the rest of comics out there still to get to).
Nope. Just me? Well – Ok then…
Yes to Mazin’s “Laurence Fishburne has forever changed the name Morpheus.” Although the pronunciation I hear in my head isn’t so much Keanu Reeves – more the guy who does Keanu Reeves in that Dave Chappelle Matrix take (I realise I am probably alone in this – no matter no matter).
For me the most striking part of “The Sound of Her Wings’ is that, for all the talk of the wings of Death, the only birds that really appear throughout the issue are pigeons, even in (especially in) that last panel when Barry finally has his mini-epiphany or whatever and throws the grain into the air. What I think this means (or at least the image that appears in my head) is that really Death is some kind of giant pigeon. And maybe the only way to keep Death at bay is to throw some grain in the air and then run away? I dunno….
But to take Illa’s point a little more seriously – I think that maybe you’re placing more weight on to Gaiman’s writing than it can comfortably stand. I kind of think of it like one of those mobiles that hang from the ceiling made of somekind of flimsily glassy plastic thing. I mean – it looks pretty (especially when it catches the light just right) but to subject it to any sort of rigorous engineering principles (“Is this a load bearing structure or what?”) is just going to end up damaging it and ripping it from its position.
Or – am I not being fair? (Maybe I’m not being fair).
Hi all, my name’s Catriona, I go to the Bow comic book forum.
I have only really read ‘serious’-type graphic novels (and online comics) before, never anything like this so it was all pretty new to me. Didn’t like the artwork to be honest, hoping it gets better in the series, as suggested.
I did like the story though, especially towards the end with Doctor Destiny, the grim diner scenes and Death showing up. Ilia I thought each person getting their ‘wings’ implied that there was some kind of heaven (and that they were angels) in which case I suppose death would be a gift?
I was curious about the girl in hell that Dream hasn’t forgiven… Is she supposed to be a mystery or does she show up elsewhere?
Her story, or at least a version of her story, is told in an issue of ‘The Dolls House’, she then becomes an important character in ‘The Season of Mists’.
Hello, my name is James and I attend the Barbican Comic Forum with my son Lukas.
I did not know much about The Sandman, although I recognise the title, and I have found the contributions to this thread really interesting. I have mainly read French language graphic novels over the past years and am learning about UK stuff.
Hearing about the writer’s rock-star status and then briefly checking Wikipedia, I get the impression he has eclipsed a series of artists who it seems (below) have not been able to impose a definitive or satisfactory ‘look’ to The Sandman series as a whole.
Here is my opinion. I think it is ok to have a story with no defined point as long as the artwork/texture is entrancing or, ‘beguiling’. But I agree that visual appeal is a subjective call. To my mind, however, the atmospherics/texture of the artwork is the primary offer of graphic novels as a form – otherwise what are they for? If this can be combined with a coherent narrative then, for me, fantastic. It is almost certain that I have cased out The Sandman on the shelves but it now seems that I must have put it back because the artwork did not appeal. From what I have heard, I’m not sure about The Sandman, but I will continue reading the debate for itself and for the wider concepts it is pulling in (story for story’s sake sounds a bit like the French ‘New Novel’).
As for civil wars in other art forms, one example might be acoustic vs. electric guitar – Bob Dylan being heckled as “Judas” on changing to electric guitar.
Have no quarrel with The Sandman as a fragile mobile or as primarily to be enjoyed as texture, but those responses (which I support) are in tension with the inflated claims made about the series in the intros to the trades and elsewhere (and also perhaps Joel’s stated preference for comics with big chewy ideas?)
Also, the Sound of Her Wings doesn’t scan as an issue focused on look and feel – all that existential doubt and meditation on death crowds out plot and suggests that Gaiman is really trying to ~say something~ about these things. My view is that he hasn’t thought very hard about what he’s saying, but I doubt whether he would be comfortable with the view that The Sandman is a thought-free zone.
James’s point that “the atmospherics/texture of the artwork is the primary offer of graphic novels as a form” is provoking. Worth noting that for some of the most acclaimed comics in the canon – Watchmen and Maus – texture is not the primary quality being praised. In the latter case the ‘animals = races’ conceit in the artwork is possibly the least interesting part of the book. That doesn’t make James wrong, however – placing a bit more weight on the artwork is no bad thing in my view. Joel is right to paint me as incorrigibly point-obsessed, which makes me particularly bad at this!
So Illa has no quarrel with the Sandman as a “fragile mobile” but thinks there’s a tension there with “the inflated claims made about the series.” I mean – well yeah – that’s a really good point. Because as he’s already shown once you start to poke and prod the scaffolding of it, there are bits that tend to come off and fall down (well just yeah – everything Illa said about the Sound of Her Wings issue I guess).
But then (aha!) – I’m not convinced that a comic (or any story in any medium really) has to be – I’m sure what the right word is – internally consistent? rigorously thought-out? well-engineered? (I dunno) – to have that idea chewiness that I mentioned before. Or – to put it another way: I totally get that yes the deeper point that Neil Gaiman seems to be trying to make in the Sound of Her Wings issue doesn’t quite all add up to all the points that it seems to do – which – you know (ok) is sloppy of him and does mean that he loses some points. But (I’d argue) that does nothing to detract from the big chewy idea-ness of the story because – look: it’s Death and Dream sitting down next to the Arc de Triomphe (is it the Arc de Triomphe? oh boy – now i’ve said it I’m not so sure – maybe I should find the book and check? Oh well. Whatever) and feeding the pigeons.
Wait – I thought that Death and Dream were abstract concepts? How could they be sitting next to the Arc de Triomphe (nope – still haven’t checked) feeding the pigeons?
Ah. You see – it’s the personification of Death and Dream. So they’re like abstract concepts but in human form.
Oooooh. That’s a cool idea. Let me sink my brain teeth into that and have a big old delicious chew. Yum. Yum. Yum!
Oh – and get this. You know how Death (when he is in human form) is normally an old bony skeleton guy in a black robe and a hood carrying around a big scythe-y thing? (which reminds me of the joke in the Dolls House – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves so we’ll save that for later).
Well – check this – in this story, Death is actually a cute little goth chick (can I get away with saying chick? no – probably not: (sorry) but still)!
Wow. You’ve blown my mind.
But yes. Moving on and turning over to James’s point that graphic novels should – well – be interested in being graphic. Well – I do agree that it’s always much nicer when I come across a comic that looks like an inordinate amount of attention has been placed upon the pictures so that they look all nice and cool and interesting and stuff. But well – (exception one) – it can be difficult to discern how the pictures are working with the story before you start to read (if that makes sense). I mean – before I actually sat down and properly read From Hell (by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell – for those of you who don’t know – but I expect you all do) and just kinda did that (really bad thing I know) of just flicking through the book and glancing at the art. I mean – it looked like something a drunk sailor had scrawled on to the back of a wet napkin at 2 o’clock in the morning (sorry – no offense Eddie). But – as those of you who’ve read it will know – once you get used to the art and you fall under it’s spell – well – it’s pretty much impossible to imagine any other style. It’s like the pictures “fuse” to the story somehow, like how you can’t imagine anyone else apart from Harrison Ford playing Han Solo (or whatever actor playing whatever role). The other thing (exception two) is when – (and I’d say this applies to the Sandman) – the artwork is so secondary to the story that’s being told – that you don’t need to pay that much attention to it. It’s like (bad metaphor alert) instead of it being the thing you pay attention to (like stained glass – where you’re obsessed with the surface) instead it’s just what’s being used to help you see the story underneath (so – more like a window: and a window where you don’t really care that much if it’s smudged or whatever). Does that make sense? Or am I talking dribble? (I’m probably talking dribble I know).
My assertion that:-
“the atmospherics/texture of the artwork is the primary offer of graphic novels as a form”
has properly been put to the test.
I was struck by two comments in particular:-
1. ‘it’s like the pictures “fuse” to the story somehow’
2. ‘Worth noting that for some of the most acclaimed comics in the canon – Watchmen and Maus – texture is not the primary quality being praised’
Comment 1 – leads me to concede that the best graphic novels/comics achieve this fusion, never mind about the order.
Comment 2 – about Maus – I am sure the narrative compelled many readers towards graphic novels for the first time and I think this must have played a part in its texture not being “the primary quality being praised”.
Actually, I think this might be an example of a great synthesis/fusion between narrative and texture, where the black and white artwork implies the black and white film footage many readers might call to mind when visualising the Holocaust. Also, set in Poland, the artwork implies the black and white woodcut tradition of Eastern Europe.
I don’t know about Watchmen, so I might well have to concede a bit more ground about the “primary” importance of the atmospherics/texture of the artwork here.
But I remember feeling in real sympathy with one contributor at the first Forum I went to who showed us one comic she liked because the sepia artwork invoked a feeling of melancholy which she found personally affecting. She didn’t mention the story. I have not seen her since – maybe we all talked too much?
Further, I think the responses to my assertion might be associated with a potential sample bias across the thread. That is, I think it is possible that a thread about a series with questionable artwork has drawn contributions from plainly exceptional wordsmiths for whom story might tend to be more significant than image.
Finally (I have my daughter to thank for this), it seems quite possible to have a graphic novel without words, whereas a story with words and no pictures is a – novel.
One notable thing is that, for all The Sandman’s violent and gory deaths, we only really see Death around for the more sedate ones, least as I remember it (and if you can call sedate walls falling on people or what have you). Of course in the reality of the Sandman world, when the people in the diner are finally killed, we have to infer that Death is turning up there too to help them “cross over”. But we don’t see it, and this doesn’t help with the kitsch approach to death that Ilia has pointed out: death as release, death as a gift: I mean, we never see Death soothingly chatting to someone who’s getting shredded by a threshing machine. We never see Death talking to someone who’s had to die humiliatingly from some long cancer. But then I guess we have a working definition here: the gothic = the kitsch of death.
With all this though, the question is, where does The Sandman stand on the stories-with-ideas spectrum? I think whether you should judge something on its internal consistency or its logical implications depends on the form: is it a high-concept but otherwise dumb thing? Is it a Borges or Ballard short story where an Idea is front and centre? I can see your point Joel – until Ilia’s very cool analysis of the last chapter, I hadn’t really paid much mind to the consistency of the ideas. And, say, seeing as your brought up From Hell, Alan Moore’s stuff is more idea-heavy than Gaiman (smarter, i.e.), and so comparatively we shouldn’t… expect as much of Gaiman? Yeah I reckon. The Sandman is fairy-tales for adults and it has its profundity and flimsiness like all good fairy-tales. So I’m going to agree with what Ilia has said, think his analysis is spot-on, but err to Joel. It’s undeniable that fairy-tales can be profound – but they’re not complex. It’s also undeniable that they’re airy-fairy
(Airy Fairy Tales? – patent pending)
So yeah, as Ilia says, it’s about, as he says, the claims people make for Sandman (the intros etc) – in which case, that’s a different question – what claims? are the claims over-inflated? why? – and in which case I think the two of you are on shared ground: both of you don’t think the Sandman is this high intellectual internally-consistent work, both of you think that it’s got big ideas but in service more to allusions, imagery, atmosphere, Joel’s brain teeth (shudder), as opposed to saying something very clever and complex. The Sandman got a rep because, you know, Norman Mailer blurbed it and there’s Greek gods and so on. But I’d be wary of ever selling it to someone as a really “intellectual” work. (Even if Gaiman has like Joel said started getting drunk on his accolades and buying his own bullshit). That’s not Sandman’s strength or its real appeal, or where its smarts lie. Or indeed where its criticise-able parts lie. (For example, Gaiman obviously tries hard to write good prose, and so I think it’s fair enough to criticise how well or badly his ideas are expressed.)
James, I agree with you on Maus re Ilia’s point of “Watchmen and Maus – texture is not the primary quality being praised. In the latter case the ‘animals = race’s conceit in the artwork is possibly the least interesting part of the book.” I remember Maus as much for its, as you put it well wood-cut / Polish film artwork style. The texture was for me a key part of the grimness. (In fact, I think Maus was my first art / story experience of the Holocaust (same with Hiroshima, the comic.) Anyone else’s?)