Part II – A Symbolic Introduction
Hi, I’m Glyph.
You may remember me from such comment threads as ‘That Time That One Guy Said That Stupid Thing’.
Sandman Sandman Sandman.
Glyph, then Sandman.
Glyph was an early, undiscriminating and voracious reader of books. Though my time has become far more limited in recent years, this love of getting lost in story has never left me. I still read as much fiction as I can; while I read a fair amount of non-fiction, this is mostly done in the form of web reading – news, analysis, articles, blog posts & comments.
About the only non-fiction books on my shelf that I can see from here are some essay collections, Krakauer, and various music bios (but surely these latter count as at least part-fiction).
My mom still loves to tell tales of coming to pick me up at the library, where she had dropped me for hours on a Saturday afternoon while she ran errands, only to see me waiting by the curb with a stack of books that I could barely carry, and over which I could not see.
We’d drive home, sweating on the vinyl seats of her VW Beetle, and I’d take my stack back to my secret spot, a little cave in the corner of the paneled living room, behind the recliner with golden dustmotes swirling lazily in the light from the high ark-style window above, and I’d get lost, binging, devouring one story after another, stopping only when I was called to dinner or bed. By Friday the stack would be decimated, and on Saturday we’d go back and do it all over again.
I didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid.
I read everything, from the things expected of a boy my age (Encyclopedia Brown, The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys – and lest any one bemoan the gender bifurcation, rest assured that after I burned through The Complete Hardy Boys, I read the Nancy Drew ones too), to sci-fi and horror and fantasy that was both mostly age-appropriate (Ray Bradbury, TH White, Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis, Poe, Doyle, Tolkien and his many lesser knockoffs, like Terry Brooks), and mostly not (ex. Stephen King, who has called Gaiman a “treasure trove of story”).
When I look at Neil Gaiman’s reading lists, I see many of the same authors.
I read comics as as a kid too, mostly Avengers and X-Men and the like, but also a random sampling of whatever else I could get my hands on, contemporary or hand-me-down, none of which are near as well-remembered nor –regarded as those heavy hitters (random shout-outs: Nova! Firestorm, the Nuclear Man! Micronauts! Legion of Super-Heroes!).
But I stopped reading comics at some point, due to the loss of much of my collection in a garage sale ‘incident’ that my mom continues to perhaps-disingenuously characterize as an ‘accident’, roughly coinciding with my twin discoveries that not only were there other people in the world, but at least half of them appeared to be fascinatingly, confoundingly, girls.
My first exposure to Sandman, then, was in ’89. I was a high-school senior, and my best friend’s younger brother, an art student and aspiring comic artist, had a few of the early issues lying around on his bedroom floor (I remember he was also a big Sim/Cerebus guy, as well as Moebius). I read a few of these while waiting for my friend to get ready, and was immediately intrigued.
These comics were…different from any I had read before. They were dark, disturbing in story and artwork.
I wish I could say I was back into comics right away, but the truth is, I wasn’t. My friend finished getting ready, and we went somewhere where I am sure I attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to talk to girls.
No, Sandman hit me a couple of years later, in the midst of college. I knew some art-school friends (some of who were girls, not that THAT had anything at all to do with it) reading the TPBs, and I remembered having been interested before.
I started, and was sucked into a land – no, universe no, multiverse – of Story. Pure story. Distilled and mainlined story. I was lost, again, in that best and happiest of ways, those golden dustmotes again swirling and clashing above my head in their intricate and eternal microscopic battledance.
I purchased each of the TPBs as they became available, read & re-read them, and passed them on to as many people who’d listen to me.
I have at this point purchased the entire original Sandman run 3 times – the TPB’s, then again when they came out in hardcover (because I wanted my kids, if I ever had any, to read these stories when they were old enough), and AGAIN in the Absolute Editions when they were cheap on Amazon.
I will probably get the digital version for my brain implant when that becomes available (but that is the last time, dammit; I mean it!)
This is all to tell you with whom you are dealing here – I am not any kind of comic expert. I know very little about the art side of it (though I can appreciate good art I think, and I like some artists & styles better than others), but I follow favorite writers in the medium religiously. I love Alan Moore, Brian Vaughan, Mike Carey, and to lesser and varying degrees Ennis, Ellis, Morrison, Wood, Willingham. Basically, the Vertigo thing (and Vertigo is in part the house that Sandman’s runaway success built). Outside Vertigo, I have comics by Charles Burns, Craig Thompson, and Brian O’Malley, among many others, and they are terrific.
Even so, I know I am a dilettante when it comes to comics. There is just too much great stuff out there to ever read/know all of it, and my middle and high school lacuna means I lost too much reading time to ever be any kind of expert.
So I am no expert.
I am a fanboy.
I am a fanboy when it comes to Sandman. It is Gaiman’s crowning achievement, and will be his legacy as a writer. Nothing else he has done in comics or in prose comes close (though I have read most all of the rest of his published work, and never found it less than entertaining).
Sandman is better than Watchmen – while Watchmen (which I love) has the full power of the diabolical precision, diamond intelligence and internal consistency of Gaiman’s friend and mentor Alan Moore, Watchmen only needed to sustain that story over 12 issues.
Whereas every time I re-read the 75-issue sprawl comprising Sandman ‘proper’ (and I do this roughly every 2 years) I find something new that fits into the story and its themes – and it is an epic story, spanning millions (billions?) of years with a cast of dozens (hundreds?).
I have no idea if Gaiman planned it all out from the beginning or not, but if not, he was able to improvise and retrofit nearly everything, so that at the end, the whole edifice holds together in a way that awes me and moves me. There are loose ends, certainly, but those loose ends simply whet my appetite to know more, and reinforce the feel of the ‘story outside this story’ as infinite.
If you haven’t read Sandman, I am asking you, no, begging you, to please give it a try.
Don’t trust Glyph’s opinion? Trust Norman Mailer’s, who blurbed one of the collections with this: “Along with all else, Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it’s about time.”
If it is too expensive, check with your local library. It might seem too ‘wussy’, not ‘super’ enough. Trust me, there is ownage aplenty, if sometimes slightly of the more cerebral variety than of the punching variety.
You might think it looks too ‘goth’, but…well, it is a little goth, actually. But not overly so, and anyway, what’s wrong with a little dark whimsy in your life?
Don’t you always need more Story?