Review: Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

DC COMICS, 1993/1991

Written by Neil Gaiman; Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones, III; Painted Cover by Dave McKean

The Sandman is the most acclaimed and award-winning comics series of the 1990s for good reason: a smart and deeply brooding epic, elegantly penned by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by a rotating cast of comics’ most sought-after artists, it is a rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama, and legend are seamlessly interwoven. The saga of The Sandman encompasses a series of tales unique in graphic literature and is a story you will never forget.

Preludes & Nocturnes introduces readers to a dark and enchanting world of dreams and nightmares – the home of The Sandman, Master of Dreams, and his kin, The Endless. This first collection of Neil Gaiman’s multi-award-winning title introduces key themes and characters, combining myth, magic, and black humour.

There’s this fascination around Neil Gaiman that I’ve tried to understand. I, perhaps a little foolishly, started with his children’s book – Fortunately, the Milk – which was hilarious and inventive, but not all-encompassingly amazing. After that I read the generally loved The Graveyard Book, and though it’s very clever and imaginative, I found that it didn’t really spark anything within me to award such high praise. However, if anything, I am stubborn (see for example my weird habit of reading David Nicholls) and I am determined to find out what it is about Neil Gaiman’s work that makes so many love it. The Sandman is one of those comics series that everyone seems to know and love, so when I saw that my local library had the first volume, I went with it.

Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes kicks off with a ceremony heldon a dark night in a gothic mansion in the beginning of 20th century. A man attempts to capture Death in hopes of bargaining for special gifts, but something goes wrong and instead he ends up with the brother, Sandman. At the same time, several people across the world fall asleep and never wake up – or stay forever awake because they fear to sleep. Generations pass until Sandman manages to escape his confinement, but when he does, he has been robbed of his powers, his kingdom lies in shatters, and he has to rely on his kin, The Endless, to help him gain back what he had lost. Sandman’s powerful talismans have, however, over the years fallen into wrong hands and are inflicting much misery and pain to the world.

The first thing that you notice with The Sandman, vol. 1 is that it is dark – not just the subject matter or the humour, but also the art. The pictures are in multi-colour, but the colouring still uses a lot of black and for example Sandman’s speech bubbles have a black background colour as opposed to the normal white. The first volume, Preludes & Nocturnes, focuses mainly in introducing the main character and the world from which he comes from. There are some interesting cameos as well as references to other DC superheroes, but for the most part I was fascinated by the ingenious use of panels and the beautifully constructed covers as well as frames. Neil Gaiman has a twisted imagination – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything as horrible as “24 hours” –, but I also liked how he combines epic myths and pop culture in this fantastical story. There is so much detail that it almost forces you to take your time when reading it and to really look at the pictures and their relationship with the story. I very much liked the twist that Gaiman gave to Death – not going to spoil it for you here – and I wished I could have immediately jumped on to the second volume as soon as I had finished the first one. I’ll have to check out more volumes next time, because despite enjoying the complexity of a single volume, I’m a voracious reader.

I’ve never read anything like The Sandman before, and I can bet that you haven’t either. There’s a reason why “everyone has read it”, even though it’s once again one of those that is not for everyone – it is quite graphic and almost ultraviolent. Through Sandman I’ve also found that I prefer the adult Gaiman over his children’s books. Not that my opinion is set in stone seeing as I’ve only scratched the top of the vast amount of work he has published. However, what I do know is that I will definitely continue to explore Neil Gaiman and The Sandman universe.