Sandman displaying “fear in a handful of dust.” As one does.
“What I’m saying is that all we are is dust in the wind.”

Count Ninety-Nine & Kiss Me: Intro

Okay, so I’ve decided to re-read Sandman.

I don’t have a terribly good reason for this, other than I’ve been trying to keep one thing going that’s a sort of comfort food during all this (I briefly started re-watching LOST for chrissakes). Add to that the fact it’s been long enough I felt as if I might be coming back to it with new eyes, and that when the local library re-opened for requests, I ended up getting a couple of Gaiman’s later efforts for Marvel, which left me wanting to read better Neil Gaiman comics, frankly.

And because I’m also in need of something to start the writing wheels turning, I’ll be posting on it as I go. Because if you have a thought that isn’t internet documented, have you even had a thought?

So let’s map out some structures and biases, starting with history. I started reading Sandman during the World’s End storyline, which is a weird place to come in, but also a soft landing in the middle of the series. It’s a run of largely stand-alone pieces in Gaiman’s go-to format of using The Canterbury Tales as his narrative frame. The frame ties into the main storyline in a way that’s fairly oblique to a new reader. As for why I started: it was Dave McKean’s covers. I was working for a comic book dealer back then, lugging longboxes and laying out bagged and boarded books at “conventions” (I think we actually called them “comic book shows” and they were really just a couple dealers in the concourse of a mall or a Holiday Inn catering space on a random Saturday). McKean’s covers stood out from anything else, even the other 90s Vertigo covers that hinted at something dark inside. The guy I worked for was a WWII vet who lost an eye at Iwo Jima and had a staggering collection of Golden and Silver Age books. His personal claim to fame, other than his service record, was that he was name-dropped in one of Bob Weber’s Moose Miller strips. In addition to the high value old stuff, he kept up stock of everything new. In the mid-90s, this was no small feat. He was on top of the Vertigo books, the X-Books in their heyday (from a sales and sheer number of titles point of view), and the early Image boom. One day I asked him about Sandman. He shrugged, said “Too weird for me” and opened it up for me — I was not allowed to open the bags unless I’d bought the comic. Neither were customers. My boss was the only one who ever opened the bags for anyone.

I read a couple pages — it was the story about the dream of a city — and I was hooked. I had him add it to my tab — I never managed to take pay home in cash, it was practically all trade — and that was it. From there, if I’m remembering right, I backtracked to The Doll’s House in trade, then Season of Mists and A Game of You, all the while keeping up with issues as they came out, filling in the earlier trades when I could get them.

That’s my history with the books. For what it’s worth, I’ll be re-reading most of them in the Absolute editions, which I picked up as they came out, selling off old trades when I had the tomes to replace them. I may dip into the annotated editions if I can get them from the library, but I’m skeptical about them for reasons I’ll likely end up talking about if and when we get there.

My take on Gaiman’s work altogether: I’m heavily biased in favor of the earlier stuff. I think of Gaiman as someone who settled pretty quickly into a sort of late style period, and a lot of his stuff fails to carry the energy and risk of the work he was doing at Vertigo early on. I say this not to suggest it’s objectively true, but to say that’s my opinion. I’ve read a lot if not all of his prose, and I like it well enough, but if I’m going to re-read something of his (which, obviously, I am), it’s most likely going to be from last century.

I am not going to argue for or against the qualities of American Gods, or Good Omens for that matter. I like them fine. If you love them, that is awesome and you should continue to love them.

I think that’s it as far as stuff I need to cop to up front. I should also admit I may not do a complete re-read, because life is weird and maybe never more weird than right now. But I’m going to start, and go for a while.

Oh yeah, reading order. I gave this a bunch of thought. I’m not going to go into much of the apocryphal stuff that isn’t written by Gaiman himself, but I do want to take on a bunch of what he wrote. I considered being a total dork and doing in-story chronology, but that would involve pulling certain issues out of the middle of the series proper and loading them up front. Overall, I’m happy to leave the series in publication order. As for the other stuff, well, choices had to be made, and there’s no clear or “right” way to do it. I could have stuck with publication order, but that would mean dragging myself back into the story after its stated ending with issue #75. So I settled on this.

  1. Overture
  2. Gaiman’s Sandman Proposal and Issue #1
  3. Sandman Mystery Theatre, Sandman: Midnight Theatre
  4. Issues #2–8
  5. The Doll’s House
  6. Sandman Volume One
  7. Dream Country
  8. Season of Mists
  9. Lucifer
  10. Distant Mirrors (issues #29–31)
  11. A Game of You
  12. Death: The High Cost of Living, Death: The Time of Your Life
  13. Convergence (issues 38–40), Sandman Special: The Song of Orpheus, stories from Endless Nights
  14. Brief Lives
  15. Issue #50, Dream Hunters (both versions)
  16. World’s End
  17. The Kindly Ones
  18. The Wake, epilogue pieces from Endless Nights

(If you have a better order to suggest, or anything I might be missing, please let me know)

Some of these I’ll be reading for the first time (Endless Nights and Midnight Theatre), but most I’ve read a number of times before (my old copy of Season of Mists basically fell apart). I may branch off into other stuff for context about what was going on in comics at the time, or what’s been done with the characters since, although I admit I haven’t read much of the post-Gaiman Sandman stuff other than Lucifer. If and when the fancy audio version starts dropping, I’ll probably have opinions on it, which, as mentioned above, you’re welcome to to take or leave.

That it. I finished re-reading Overture last night and I have…thoughts…which I’ll likely get to tonight or tomorrow. Feel free to comment, clap, argue, ignore.