I’m continuing with posting about the books I’ve read. The tag has changed to #booksread2023, but not much has changed: the posts get published with some lag—though I’m trying to shorten the lag a little, too.
This time, I’m discussing the first half of the Sandman series. I should count that as multiple graphic novels, but, eh, whatever.
I discovered that the local branch of the national library had all three volumes of the Sandman Omnibus Edition—that is, the edition that collects the entire run of Sandman and Death comics—and figured I might as well read them while I had a chance, and while I was busy with a winter class.
Well, I underestimated what kind of a time investment it is to read 1000 pages of wordy comics, I guess: I barely finished Volume 1, which is just issues #1–37 plus The Sandman Special No. 1. Well, I say “just” but it’s approximately half of the entire print run for the main series. (The second volume has the remainder of that print run, and the third volume collects the Death comics plus apparently some other Sandman stuff.)
These are seriously big books, and as I commented to my wife the other day, their design lends to the feeling that one is handling some ancient grimoire: the fake-leather cover, the black edging on the pages, and the fact the things weigh an absolute ton. You don’t want to try read them lying down, anyway.
As for the stories, it was interesting because I knew I’d previously read some of Sandman before, but I never knew what. Turns out it was easy to recognize the parts I’d read before, and they were all in two of the trade paperbacks: The Doll’s House and Dream Country (so, issues #9–20).
Why not more? Well, I’m not really all that deep into Gaiman’s work. I’m slightly put off by celebrity, which may not be fair to the man, but it’s how I’m wired. It’s not just his celebrity, either. I was well aware of the references in some Tori Amos songs to Sandman, and vice versa:
As Elizabeth Sandifer notes, besides their being pals, the back-and-forth citation of one another in their work is more than coincidental. I don’t mean that it was some kind of conspiracy of audience-sharing—if only artists could make such a conspiracy work!—but rather that it probably has something to do with the amount of overlap between their audiences as new niches were carved out of areas where none had been previously imagined. They’re both into telling stories about regret, sorrow, powerlessness, and emotional pain, but they’re also both savvy popular artists with a keen eye for the cultivation of a fandom. That is quite interesting, actually.
Unfortunately, my experience of Amos is that her listenership is propagated by heartbreaks. Everyone I know who listens to her (me included) got into her because of someone else who was into her music, and who broke their heart. That’s how I was made aware of Amos, and that’s how the person who introduced me to her songs got into Amos’ work. It’s not a universal phenomenon, of course, but I’ve known others who looked at me in shock when I’ve described this, saying, “That happened to me, too!” (Or, you know, to a friend of theirs.) So you can see why I kept my distance from her, and from Gaiman’s work too. Is it logical? No, not really. But it’s what happened.
Anyway, I can definitely see why the series attracted a readership outside of the mainstream comics audience. The first few issues are clearly awkward, but that seems to resolve itself once Gaiman realized it was no good trying to fit into the DC Comics Universe: the references to superheroes in the early issues felt really ill-fitting and confusing to me, and I think it was the right choice to move away from that, toward more literary references. They are, of course, somewhat obvious literary references: Milton and Shakespeare stand out as both “high literary cachet,” if a bit obvious because of that cachet, at least to me. But they’re also reasonable choices given the themes, scope, and genre of the comic.
One thing that surprised me is how episodic the series actually is—there are story arcs, but each one seems so different from the last that I sometimes find myself reeling at the transitions. Perhaps I’m probably reading these books the “wrong” way? Well, there is no “wrong” way, but what I mean is that this story was first published in a serial format, slowly unfolding over a decade. That can’t help but affect its structure, and reading 3000+ pages back to back in the space of a few months is going to be a very different experience, where very different things stick out.
I don’t see myself becoming a huge fan of the Sandman, but I’m enjoying these comics enough to have Volume II of the omnibus signed out from the library, even if I haven’t actually cracked it open yet.