With the recent release of the first season of The Sandman on Netflix, it seems like an ideal time to revisit the origin of the latest Netflix blockbuster to see what it's all about.
The Sandman series of comics is a rich, deep and fascinating story of pure fantasy, woven through 75 comic issues, beginning January 1989 and finishing in March 1996. It is widely recognised as the most accomplished piece of comic book / graphic novel work ever released and many avid fans of the genre maintain that, even in 2022, it is yet to be beaten!
It was written by the now world-famous author Neil Gaiman, who also wrote such incredible stories as the Lucifer series, American Gods and the wonderful movie Coraline, amongst many other achievements.
The first collection of issues was released in late 2018 to mark the then upcoming 30th anniversary of the series and, as well as being a fantastic story, is a real feast for the eyes.
You see, The Sandman series has always been lucky enough to be rendered by some of the greatest comic artists of the 21st century - every issue, every frame, every cover has been meticulously crafted to tell this fantastic, sprawling fantasy epic in a way that conveys the magic and atmosphere of the story.
Sam Kieth is the original artist of the main body of the comics but the world-renowned artist Dave McKean (one of my all-time favourites) has been responsible for a huge number of covers, giving each issue he's worked on a magical and evocative feel, drawing you into the story itself from the newstand, before you've even read a single word!
Dave McKean's website can be found here and I recommend you check out as much of his work as possible, he's an undeniably creative and prolific artist.
In addition to his comic works (more on that in another article!) he also designed and directed the movie Mirrormask, which was written by Neil Gaiman, another visual feast which, although completely separate from the universe of The Sandman series, occupies the same magical lands between dream and sleep - fantasy and reality. If you want to see how a visionary artist moves from the drawing board to the movie screen without missing a beat, you could do a lot worse than to check out Mirrormask!
But we digress - we're here to find out more about The Sandman. It tells the story of Morpheus, or Dream, the lord of the realm of The Dreaming, which is apparently where we all visit when we fall asleep. The beginning of this volume documents Dream's capture by an odious, bumbling English occultist and his subsequent escape and qu est to regain his tools-of-the-trade, which have been scattered far and wide. There'll be no spoiler alerts here, so let's leave it at that but suffice to say, it's an exciting, unusual and thrilling ride. And that's just the first volume!
Sam Kieth's artwork is impeccable, with each frame on each every page so thoughtfully planned out, with the intention of telling the story as effectively as possible through this medium. Until the 1990s, comic books, and comic book art, were seen as part of the ouvre of children's entertainment. Understandable to a degree (comic books are the staple entertainment for kids, after all!) but ultimately unfair, as this medium had so much untapped potential at the time.
The Sandman was by no means the first 'serious comic' or graphic novel but it is certainly a very important and influential one and it was arguably (can't say I've ever heard anyone argue otherwise ) this story that put comics book art well and truly in the sphere of serious entertainment and art form in its own right. It was with The Sandman that the concept of the 'graphic novel' was finally cemented into the conscience of popular culture, paving the way for a huge swathe of graphic novels, which continues unabated to this day.
The graphic novel is here to stay, and that's largely thanks to The Sandman, so if you've yet to delve head-first into this medium, you can do no better than to lose yourself within this fantastic collection and truly appreciate why the graphic novel is such a potent storytelling medium!