Saturday, February 7, 2015

Completed: The Sandman #1-20

All right. We read the first 20 books in the series, which are broken down into three trade paperbacks. We're going to do a little live-blogging here and discuss each book as we read it.

Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

Kelly: All right. I'm just going to jot down some initial thoughts here and we can take it from there. Warning -- these are seriously random thoughts. One random thought per paragraph. Ya ready? Go!

First impression: this book is very beautiful. I didn't realize that Neil Gaiman used different illustrators, so that was news to me. Looking ahead, even more artists will come into play with future issues, so that will be interesting.

The word that came to mind when I first started reading these was "dense." I read a lot of comics/graphic novels and they are often easy to burn right through. But not these. I'm not sure if it's the super-intense illustrations, or the complexity of the writing, or the fact that I really had to pay careful attention to figure out WTF was going on a lot of the time... thoughts?

One thing I find jarring about reading collections of previously released comics like this is the sometimes abrupt transitions between issues. I realize that these books were originally released with time between them, so the changes from story to story would not have been so dramatic then, but when reading them as a book, it can be hard to follow. I guess it's just like reading a collection of short stories, but with the overall story arc and recurring themes and characters, it can feel a little bit jerky sometimes.

Aaand... this book is way more horror-y than I knew it was going to be! I feel a little stupid about that, but then I just googled it and really, none of the cursory search results (Wikipedia, Goodreads, Amazon...) indicate that these books are super f-ing terrifying! Neil Gaiman's site is a bit more forthcoming with this line: "we explore a magical world filled with stories both horrific and beautiful." But still...  In particular, the issue with the diner (24 hours) -- ugh! Really terrible. I am struggling to get that story and those images out of my mind.

When reading comics, I often struggle to recognize characters from page to page (Bill and I read The Walking Dead and I frequently have to point to characters and ask Bill, "Who is that?") The technique in this book of all of the Sandman's word bubbles being white writing on a black background really helped me with that -- especially when... um, did the character actually change his look entirely in the story A Hope in Hell, where he's interacting with that Nada babe in hell? That threw me off.

I liked the Hecateae -- the changing positions, the dialog, the three of them eating that rat-like creature. I don't know. I just enjoyed that scene.

Jenny: Yeah, dense is the perfect word to describe the reading experience so far. And what's interesting is that I get into a rhythm, but then I'll slow down again when something becomes particularly confusing. It might be, as you point out, the change from issue to issue. I don't know if you read the afterward by Neil Gaiman, but he actually talks about how rough he feels the first issues are. I think that will be very interesting to see as time goes on and the style and storytelling coalesce. It's like when you go back and watch the first season of a TV show---it's surprisingly *rough* and you can see how the showrunners start to winnow down and finalize the storytelling, the characters, and the writing. I think we're seeing something similar in these first issues.

I'm going to definitely agree that the book itself is just gorgeous, so full of rich details. I'm trying to read slowly and be mindful of the illustrations. I've actually been thinking I should look for a primer on the imagery in The Sandman. I bet there are images and motifs that I'm missing. I can't decide if I should wait until after or let myself be led by an expert. I mean, for general book reading, I trust my judgement, but graphic novels are just trickier.

Something else that's funny: we running into the same stumbling blocks. I actually took a picture of that Nada page, because I read it several times. Here's my chain of thought: Um, this must be the Sandman because it's Sandman word bubbles. But this is not a skinny albino with 70's Rock Band hair...this is a black guy. Maybe I should read that again? [Repeat at least five times.]

At some point, I just had to move past it. The Dreamlord has different appearances to different people? Which begs the question: why do we get the version that looks like he's an original member of Kiss? Heh.

The 24 Hours story was truly scary. I wasn't expecting that at all, but I liked how it ended up with the destruction of the ruby causing Morpheus/Dream to realize just how much of his power he had given away to his tools.

I liked the introduction of his sister, Death. The scene where they go out collecting souls made me think of The Book Thief. I'll be pretty interested to see how the next books unroll.

One final thought for me in this section: I found the DC tie-ins to feel a little forced and weird. I'm thinking they're going to stop with that business, it's just strange. I'm sure that there's some sort of explanation about the DC comics-Vertigo publishing business, but I don't know what it is, and if I ask, I'm sure I'll get some crazy-long explanation. I'll just have to live with the mystery.

Volume 2: The Doll's House

Kelly: All right! Very first story and we get a return to Nada's story, which explains his different appearance when we saw her in Hell in Volume 1... he looks different, depending on the time and place in history. That is driven home even more explicitly in Men of Good Fortune, as we seem him changing every 100 years as he meets Hob/Robert (also -- I loved that story!) These books were originally published in the late 80s, so I guess that explains the "rocker" Sandman that we usually see (as well as his super-fun Joan Jett-style sister, Death). The series ran through 1996, so I wonder if his look will change as we go on. Also, I wonder what 2015 Sandman would look like. A hipster? Ha.

Also, I did read the afterward in the first volume and Gaiman nailed it -- the story definitely hits its stride in Volume 2. I felt like the horror stories (like the serial ["Cereal" -- HA!] killer convention, Rose's brother's foster care issues, Hippolyta's story, etc.) in this one were so much more subtle than 24 Hours. Maybe I was just more prepared this time, but even though the stories were horrific, I found them much easier to take. Although... that MF'er with mouths for eyes can hit it.

Speaking of the "Cereal" convention, I loved that Sandman's punishment of the killers was taking away their daydreams and giving them an awareness of their deeds. It made me think of Angel and his torment of having a soul, which, of course, was after this -- over the years, I have seen many comments about the influence that this book has had on popular culture and I am beginning to see that more and more as we keep reading.

Random notes (cause I marked these pages):
Is this the first time we've had to turn the book sideways? In The Doll's House, when Rosie falls asleep in the backseat, I love the turning of the book to transition from the real world into the census-taking in Sandman's world. Also, the "census" was a plot device I really appreciated to catch me up on some of the characters!

My laugh-out-loud moment came from the spooky spider sisters: "Zelda has a reassuring moral homily concerning God, difficult times, and a variable number of footprints in the sand." Hee.

I absolutely loved how the "vortex" storyline ended up. Given the horrors, I was worried we would have to see Rose die, but the already-dying/dead grandmother was the perfect out. I'm a sucker for a happy ending, so I'll take that.

On the other hand, I sniffled for Fiddler's Green. I loved Gilbert and his/its relationship with Rose!

Re: Your comment above about the DC tie-ins. I cannot remember where I read this (Wikipedia, perhaps?), but I guess that's how Sandman got started and it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the The Time. You're right -- it wasn't. I just skimmed Wikipedia to see if I could find info on it but I stopped on this fascinating tidbit: "By the time the series concluded in 1996, it was outselling the titles of DC's flagship characters of Superman and Batman." (Source) Whoa.

Jenny: This sums it up perfectly: "that MF'er with mouths for eyes." I think I actually had to fan myself when that dude took off his glasses. I have always been super creeped out by any artwork that replaces eyes with something else. In fact, I was thinking of something specific that I'd seen a museum and just did a google image search for "artwork eyes as mouth" AND I REALLY SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT.

The serial/cereal killer convention definitely sticks with me in this book. It was creepy and horrifying, but not as over the top terrible as the diner one. I feel like The Sandman is hitting its stride with this volume. It feels less scattered and as if there's a clearer acceleration of the plot. I like how a lot of what's going on here is the remnants of Dream's entrapment, and how he's cleaning up messes that were created while he was gone. Absolutely agreed that his punishment was just brutal. Is there anything more terrible than forcing someone to see the real truth of their actions? It was a nice twist, too. Dream knows that reality can be more terrifying.

One of my favorite things about the Rose/Unity wrap up is how Unity is this young, vibrant woman when she appears. I love that she sees herself as so young, because she didn't have a chance to grow old in her body. [As an aside, one thing I am ALWAYS bothered by in graphic novels is the random nudity of women. Like, why? Why are they all floating around naked? What men are treated like that? It's one of the primary reasons I struggle with comic books, actually. I don't know if you have thoughts on this since you read more of them than I do.]

I think my favorite in this book was Men of Good Fortune, which obviously reveals his changing look over time (love the punk rock look on Morpheus and the Miami Vice vibe from his friend), but also his changing and evolving relationships with humanity. This seems to be an emerging theme in the series, which I think is why Men of Good Fortune is especially interesting in comparison to the story of Nada. There is a human he has tremendously strong feelings for, and he can't forgive what he sees as her betrayal. By the way---when they showed Nada in hell, I absolutely thought it was a man! Whoops.

Volume 3: Dream Country

Kelly: Before I get into this, I'll respond to your comments:

You thought Nada in hell was a man -- really?! I didn't get that at all! (In fact, I referred to her above [oh-so-elegantly] as "that Nada babe," which, in Kellish = a woman.) Of course, now that I'm looking at it again, I can see it. Maybe I am overly hetero-biased (Dream just seems so, SO straight to me...)

And in answer to your "why are women always naked in graphic novels?" UGH!! And do I have thoughts on this? YES. Aaaand... it's because most graphic novelists are men! The graphic novel/comic world is SUCH a Boys' Club. At comics stores, I am usually the only woman shopping and I have only ever seen one woman working at one. The vast majority of comics are written by men -- even some of the most popular comics among women. Like... Sandman!  And another favorite of mine called Strangers in Paradise, which is often heralded as "The comic book to introduce women to comics." I love those books and the storyline revolves completely around two women characters (who are great!) but the writer is still... a man. And therefore, there are plenty of nekkid (or at least scantily clad) lay-deees in it.

Yes, there are some women comic artists, but they are the minority. And the two I just thought of immediately (Bechdel and Schrag) are lesbians and therefore, ironically, include plenty of boobs in their books. So even the women are doing it! At this point, I basically just try to skim over it, but yes -- it's an issue. And it drives me bonkers. But... that's the world of comics, right? I mean... Wonder Woman and Superman both wear skin-tight clothing, but at least Superman gets to wear tights and a long-sleeved shirt.

Okay! Onto Book 3!
Speaking of nekkid ladies, amiright? Heh. Oof.

This one seemed more like a sort of random collection of stories than the first two which, while sometimes disjointed, did seem more like whole "books" to me -- with a beginning/middle/end and at least a semi-cohesive plot line going through them. Which has made me wonder as we have read... did Gaiman plan for the eventual release of these stories together as "books"? (Cause.. this one didn't seem like it.) I'm sure I could look it up and find out, but... you know, I'm enjoying the random speculation. Heh.

Our stories this time were: Calliope, A Dream of a Thousand Cats, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Façade. I thought they were all pretty great, but they each seemed like one-offs. Even the artistry was so different between them! Did you have a favorite story? Brief thoughts --  Calliope: Too much nekkid lady, but a good spooky story w/ a great ending; Cats: I was so sad about the drowned kittens (and I am now a little nervous about the cats...); Midsummer: Pretty fabulous combo of the play and the "real life"; Façade: Wacky and confusing, but enjoyable (and I love that Death!)

And here's a weird random story: A couple of weeks ago, I saw this print and I bookmarked it because I really liked it. Then I'm reading Sandman and I see this:

Coincidence? Weird, right? Feels like I absolutely need a fang portrait in my life now. Heh.

My favorite part about this book is the script at the end. Such a fascinating insight into how comics are made -- I'll never read another graphic novel the same way again! Especially ones like this, where the author is not the artist. Which I thought was so strange the first time I encountered it with Harvey Pekar -- have you read any of his stuff? As a Clevelander, I think you might appreciate it.  Did you see the movie American Splendor? I guess that might give you an idea if you'd like Pekar or not -- the movie did a great job of capturing his work. At any rate, reading the guidelines/directions/thoughts/exchanges was absolutely fascinating. I kept flipping back to the original story to see how/if things lined up according to the original "vision."

Jenny:  I actually read these a few weeks ago now and had to go back and remind myself of what was going on here. I was super horrified by the Calliope story, so much so that I don't feel like I focused much on what came after. I don't know, the brutal treatment of women is getting to me, and I'm finding myself needing to take a break for a while. The Shakespeare one---I really wanted to love it, but just felt *meh* about it. Not sure why, maybe I should read it again. Of these, Façade was my favorite. I can't help but like Death, which is surprising. She's so much more lively than her brother!

One thing that I'm sort of struggling with is how different the Sandman's actual features look from version to version. I don't know why, I mean he actually changes to be a black man for Nada, so whatever, but I wish there was more consistency. At the same time, I feel idiotic for saying that. I mean, obviously, he can be whatever he wants to be, but for whatever reason, I wish there was more consistency in his facial features. I am sort of fascinated by the fact that there are so many different artists working on The Sandman. That's pretty cool, and I guess I just need to accept the outcome is going to be that Morpheus is going to look different.

I guess I'd say that I like the longer plot arcs, these one-off stories seem mostly forgettable. I'm pretty sure I'm reading it all too fast and not taking it all in. I'm trying!

Back to the nekkid ladies, thing: I just read this today on Facebook. There's part of me that think it's great this guy finally gets it, and there's part of me that wants to punch him in the face. I don't know. I think the naked lady factor is a big problem for me, and honestly, I don't see myself reading many graphic novels because of it. It's too infuriating. I will likely finish The Sandman, but it's just a problematic genre for me in so many ways because of the pervasive and in-your-face sexism.


  1. Re: Changing faces of Sandman -- I agree that it's confusing. I guess it's because of the different artists, but it can be difficult. I'm grateful for the consistent white-on-black word bubble effect for him, so I can figure out who the heck he is.

    Re: The article you linked to. Yes -- the guy gets it! Awesome! But also yes -- the face punching! How did he *never notice this was going on* before? There is a rhetoric going on right now about how being a "father of daughters" makes you understand what women are dealing with, but gosh... can't people be empathetic without having a relation that is ____ (fill in the blank for oppressed class)?! I mean, I guess it makes things more "real" when you can put a face with the oppression, but imagine how different the world would be without us *having to put a face on* these things? To just... see the problem and appreciate the issue. Do we need to have a black/gay/female/blind/etc friend to recognize the way that these people are being either ignored or repressed? It sure seems like it.

    If you're interested in reading some non-sexist comics, I can certainly recommend them -- next time you're here, I can even loan you some good books that *don't* involve half-naked women. I am super disappointed in The Sandman for featuring so much of that -- most of the people who have recommended these books to me have been women. I guess we just... accept the problem, shake our heads and keep reading? UGH. Such a bummer. (But I guess that's true for much of life, right? Grr.)

  2. Yeah, I'm actually surprised by how much the naked lady problem is getting to me.

    I was making pretty good progress (I'm reading them digitally now, so I had to look at wikipedia to see which "book" I'm on. It seems I'm done with "Season of MIsts" and am now on a story that's in "Fables and Reflections" which collects together the stories that are how Morpheus influences various kings and rulers through history. Actually, I'm really glad I looked that up. I was sort of bored with the "historical plots" of those and I'm glad to know they are one-offs rather than a big part of the plot. Then, I'll be done with those and moving on to "A Game of You." Another good thing about this, I think, is that a friend said that the middle books were not her favorites, but they are about to get really good. Maybe I'm just in a dead space with them.

    What about you? Where are you with the rest of the series?