Every year on my birthday I do something I’ve never done before. This year I decided to read a book for every year I’d been alive before my next birthday. It works out to about a book a week.
I’ve never been one for comic books or graphic novels. On paper it totally should be my thing: I love art, I love speculative fiction especially with heroes and villains and anti-heroes and I love pretty much every TV show or movie that’s been translated from comic books and graphic novels, so why does this format not draw me in?!
To explore this I chose the Sandman by Neil Gaiman because I’ve heard, from some of my most discerning compatriots of science fiction/fantasy critical thought, that it would be the true test. If I don’t like this then I should just give up the genre and go back to my novels, movies and tv. High praise Mr. Gaiman, high praise that fuels lofty expectations. Alrighty, let’s do this!
Before the introduction, before the dedications, before the first graphic image (other than the cover art), the first thing I see is a Book of Job quote .. and it’s a gooder, “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living… for the price of wisdom is above rubies.”
— The Book of Job, chapter 28, verses 12,13,18
Then in the introduction by Karen Berger, long-time editor of the Sandman, gives this great overview of Ssandman himself and introduces me to the character Death as, “adorable and ultimately pragmatic”. Ok. My interest is piqued. How can a character be adorable and pragmatic. Especially when the word pragmatic is often a euphemism for evil and used to justify evil behaviour. I read on ….
Wait. Is death a woman? Huh. How fun.
Wait. Death is adorable? Ok, super fun.
Now I remember why I have a hard time getting into Sandman when I tried it years ago. It’s an unfortunate case of expectations interfering with the experience. So many people have told me how innovative it is, so when I look at the first page of artwork I am expecting work that’s taking graphic art in a completely new direction. I expect something like the cover art with its mix of the real-world with the drawn-world artwork. This expectation added to the fact that I’m not well versed in graphic art makes my first impression of the art somewhat lackluster. That’s at first glance. Then when I started reading it and really looking at the art form, even down to how the images/text are arranged, it’s hard not to be impressed with its ingenuity coupled with the era in which it was created. I can see how it was groundbreaking.
I am loving that hell is ruled by a triumvirate: 1) Lucifer Morningstar (a super hot redhead with large bat wings), 2) Beelzebub, the Lord of Flies (large, hairy fly/man/bird thing .. I guess) and 3) Azazel (I have no idea .. lots of eyes). All are excellent characters and it’s nice to have several lords of hell personae linked together.
Now it’s time for one of my favourite quotes: Dr. Destiny, “I was a real doctor. Not a medical one. A scientist one.” Hahahaha.
All good points aside, I don’t like these throwbacks to the JLA (Justice League of America) and other DC comic folks. They fall flat and seem to fight against what Sandman is trying to become. Oooo, except for Constantine. I love him. He totally works with the feel and look of Sandman.
Several days later when I was done reading the first volume and was reading the afterword, in Gaiman’s own words, “coming up with the Lord of Dreams seems less like an act of creation than one of sculpture: as if he were already waiting, grave and patient, inside a block of white marble and all I needed to do was chip away everything that wasn’t him.” It feels like these throwbacks to DC characters like Martian Manhunter were some of those bits that needed to be chipped away. What am I’m trying to say?! It seems to me that the collection of stories in Vol 1 are the growing pains the Sandman went through in order to become the legend that he is today while still keeping some more traditional superhero characters, maybe to keep the audience that was used to a certain aesthetic interested? Possibly. I’m looking forward to seeing the sculpture in it’s further evolution as there are many nuggets of greatness throughout that I can’t wait to see evolve.
Last thought: linguist nerd rears her pretty, pretty head and loves a graphic novel that uses words like surfeit, travail, susurrus …
Last, last thought: is it just my imagination or does sandman look a lot like Neil?