This is a follow-up to Glyph’s introductory Sandman post.  You should read that first.

First, I have to get technical, for the folks that aren’t routine readers of comics.  You can skip to the jump if you want to get straight to the “art of Sandman” part.

Comic books go together quite a bit like bands record music.  Each team of contributors approaches the subject slightly differently.  Sometimes, when you’re writing music, you pen lyrics first.  Sometimes you lay down the bass line or the drums and then riff off of that.  Sometimes the guitar player does something really wicked and the band gets together and jams off of that and hooray!   A new song is born.

The production of a comic book generally follows a similar non-pattern.  However, you *do* need a few basic things to happen.

One, somebody needs to provide a story.  In the case of our current work, that’s Mr. Gaiman.  Two, someone needs to provide pencils and inking.  These are the sketch drawings that start out like his:

… drafted typically first by pencils, and then finished by inking.  You then have to assemble the panels in a layout that progressively tells the story.  In standard off-the-shelf comic books, it’s atypical for this to span more than a single page, because the person laying out the story doesn’t know if the pages are going to be interrupted by ads or whatnot.  Whenever you see a dual-page spread in an older comic book, you know that the artist and/or the story layout guy had meetings with the editor.  As you may have noticed in the Sandman books, the graphic novel format doesn’t have this limitation.  Then, you have the colorist, who takes the black-and-white drawing and adds the color to it, and finally the letterer, who adds the thought balloons, dialogue, etc.

Of course, when looking at certain comic books you’ll see that one guy is often playing multiple roles in there.

The early parts of The Sandman series have a core group of five artists (six for the purposes of this post):

Sam Keith.  Keith was the creator of one of the original Image books, The Maxx, and the inker for the entire run of Fish Police (which is where I first saw his stuff and seriously, Fish Police is *awesome*).  He penciled the first five issues of The Sandman (including the ones we talk about this week).  These are my favorites of the series, deliciously creepy and earthy.  No offense to the inker of four of those issues…

Mike Dringenberg, who inked the first four issues of The Sandman, then took one issue off, and then returned and penciled issues 6-11 and 14, 15 (with Sam’s help), 16, 21, and 28.  Mike is co-credited with Gaiman for creating the visual for both Death and Desire.  Mike follows Keith’s lead, or Keith and Mike were doing some sort of symbiosis thing in issues 1-4 that needed to wear off in issues 6 and 7, and starting in issue 8 we begin to see Mike’s work moving on and adapting as the series develops.

Malcolm Jones III took over the inking job from Mike in issue 4, and continued on inking issues 5-12, 14-18, 20-23, and 25.

Robbie Busch, the colorist.  I’m not going to talk about Robbie in this post, actually, because the copy of Preludes and Nocturnes that I have is the new recolored edition which has been completely recolored by Daniel Vozzo, who colored some of the later issues in the series.  I might do a post later on about what I think of the change.  There is definitely a difference in the series with Vozzo coloring, it’s cleaner and less muddled.  I think this actually goes better with Mike and Malcolm’s later work, but the first four issues take on a less earthy appeal.

Todd Klein, the letterer.  Klein literally wrote the book (well, the chapter) about lettering and text in the DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics.  He was the letterer for many of the DC titles of the late 80s/early 90s, lettering the entire run of Suicide Squad, one of my personal favorite titles, as well as many others.  From Klein’s Wikipedia page, a summation of the awesome: “As of 2011, Klein has won 16 of the 19 “Best Letterer/Lettering” Eisner Awards that have been given out since the category was established in 1993. He has won the Best Letterer Harvey Award eight times, the first time in 1992 and the most recent one in 2005.”  He’s like the Meryl Streep of comic book lettering, if Meryl actually won for every time she was nominated for an Oscar. It’s not a stretch to say that his work on The Sandman was a large part of his success.  The lettering in this entire series is excellent.

There’s the background… panels after the jump!  (Warning, here be images you may find disturbing…)

Click any of the images to embiggen it for detail.

Apologies for the gross-out factor, especially for those of you with the “eye thing”, but this is the first really noteworthy panel in the series.  Not that the art up to this point hasn’t been interesting, but this panel tell us in no uncertain terms that you’re not reading a kiddie book, gentle reader.  Heads explode here.  This is where Ruthven Sykes, former second-in-command of The Order of Ancient Mysteries, is assassinated for his treachery by The Magus, in a manner most unpleasant.  It is also marks the beginning of the end for the humans that have dared dance with Morpheus and/or his tools of power.  Sykes is the first to go, by his fellow human’s magics, but he’s hardly the last.  Indeed, as ugly of a death as it is, it’s undoubtedly over in a few seconds, which is more than we can say for Alex.

This second panel is part of one of the aforementioned full-page spreads, where the story begins in panel 1, top page left… and then overlaps to panel 1, top page right, followed by this shortened section.  It’s the first time we’ve seen Morpheus as anything other than otherworldly, detached, or at worst displeased.  His revenge against Alex, son of the Magus, is cold and alien.  Even when he meets Nada, in Hell, he expresses little facial emotion.  Here, there is a look of incredulous loss that represents something recognizable as… human.  Our Endless, it appears, is not quite as Other as he has so far appeared.  A product of his captivity?  It’s the last we’ll see of this side for a while.

The third and fourth panels I’ve selected are these two, which needs to be compared for full effect.

This is Lucifer Morningstar’s palace.

This is the palace of Morpheus, prior to its fall into ruin.

Perhaps the relationship between these two is not quite all that distant?  They certainly have similar taste in underlying architecture, if not the final paint and spackle stage.

Finally, we have to bounce back a tad to show this panel, the gargoyle that hatches from Cain’s gift to Abel.

Mostly because he’s so goshawful cute, really, which makes the murder going on off-screen all the more disturbing.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. Patrick, this is awesome, thank you. The artist thumbnail of ‘which musician plays what’ was great. I never really paid much attention before to what the lettering brings to the table – I haven’t compared the final product to Gaiman’s scripts, but I can definitely see how a good letterer would augment the script, like a good musician brings flavor to the written score. I actually wonder now if this could be part of why Gaiman’s straight prose, like American Gods or Neverwhere, feels a bit ‘flat’ compared to Sandman.

    Regarding the comparison of Lucifer’s and Morpheus’ castles: V jnf tbvat gb fnir guvf sbe Frnfba bs Zvfgf, orpnhfr V qvqa’g guvax vg boivbhf lrg – ohg bs pbhefr vg vf nyernql sberfunqbjrq va gur neg bs gurve pnfgyrf, nf lbh cbvag bhg naq V pna’g oryvrir V arire ernyyl abgvprq orsber – ohg Zbecurhf naq Yhpvsre ner cerggl boivbhfyl fvzcngvpb – oevatref bs obgu xabjyrqtr naq greebe, genccrq va n shapgvba/ebyr gurl arire pubfr. Naq cebhq naq iratrshy nf nyy uryy.

    Naq obgu unir snzvyl vffhrf 🙂

    • V oybj guebhtu n ybg bs guvatf ba svefg ernqvat. V zvff n ybg bs qrgnvy.

      Vg’f hfhnyyl gur frpbaq ernqvat jurer V fcbg qrgnvyf (guvf vf jul V ernq guvatf, yvxr, n tbwvyyvba gvzrf). V fcbggrq gur pnfgyr guvat evtug njnl.

  2. re: the coloring – somewhere online (maybe at TOR?) there were side-by-sides of the original coloring, and the redone/remastered coloring which is what I have now – and while the redone coloring is definitely cleaner/clearer, the original has a more lurid, phantasmagorical look, which I think well-suits material that is so horror-oriented. I kind of wish I’d kept the original TPB’s too now. Oh well.

    • I think Vozzo works better in the later stuff.

      I don’t even mind the retconning of using him to redo the earlier stuff. But I’m close to minding.

      I really, really like Kieth.

  3. Pat, I’ve been poking the internet around based on your post, and I wanted to note a couple things:

    1.) Now I need to read ‘Fish Police’.

    2.) Because any phrase with ‘X Police’ does this to me, I have been singing this all morning:

    The Fish Police, they live inside of my head (INSIDE OF MY HEAD)
    The Fish Police, they come to me in my bed (COME TO ME IN MY BED)
    The Fish Police (POLICE! POLICE!)

    3.) Apparently Sam Kieth says he quit Sandman because he felt like ‘Hendrix in the Beatles’, which I thought tied nicely into yr music analogy, and was also an interesting comment on both how Kieth saw himself, and how he saw the others.

    • If I can recommend anything in the comic book arena, it’s “Grimjack” followed by “Dynamo Joe” followed by “Fish Police”.

  4. I know nothing of comic art. I find it intriguing that the first point in these books I thought was “really well-drawn” was your first example. The “end of the Hunt” spread struck me as beautifully emotional; we see attempts at four transcendental emotions–those that cannot be communicated–relief from pain, success in vengeance, horror in capture, and…what is the fourth? It’s death, observed. The fourth panel is the reader’s(‘) emotion(s). I thought the emotional content told the whole story, but you say it’s a remarkably outstanding comic panel.

    Thanks for the brief technical analysis. I invite more detail in the future. I’d like to understand this more.

    • I’m with you, this is the whole other side (art/layout/etc.) of comics that I would like to understand better, and Patrick does a great job with this stuff.

      Plus when you click his scans, they blow up really nice and big – there’s details and nuances that I didn’t notice before.

      • I’m hoping to get into Keith more in issue 5. If we go to 2 issues per post, it will be easier.

        I’m trying to dig out the Fish Police graphic novel so that I can draw some comparisons, but things are disorganized.

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