Ten Essential October Comics: ‘The Sandman’

Today’s Essential October Comic is one of the most critically lauded comic series of all time, and it kickstarted the career of one of today’s most popular and accomplished storytellers. Read on, and pleasant dreams….

9. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (and many others)

The Sandman is not a horror series, but that doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly suited for this time of year. Much like Halloween, Sandman is a grand celebration of imagination. It’s also, in many ways, a repurposing and reinterpretation of ancient myths for modern times. Similar to the way we’ve torn All Hallows Eve from its ancient roots and turned it into a modern, commercial holiday, Neil Gaiman took folklore and legend and turned it into a timeless classic.

The Sandman is Morpheus, The Dream King, a part of the family known as the Endless. Dream’s siblings include Desire, Destiny, Destruction and Death, and among them lies the true and hidden power of the world. Over the course of 75 issues (plus a few side projects), Gaiman weaves an amazing tale that reaches far and wide. He uses this canvas to talk about the power of storytelling (a subject near and dear to his heart) as well as the intricacies of human nature – something it turns out not even the gods are immune to.

He also tells some brilliant horror stories, like the one about the serial killer convention, and the one in the diner where….well, I can’t spoil it. Through it all, he breathes such life into these characters that by the time the last two arcs of the story, “The Kindly Ones” and “The Wake,” roll around, the emotional effects of the events that occur are both devastating and liberating.

It should be noted that Gaiman didn’t accomplish this alone. Some of the comics industry’s most talented artists joined Gaiman to give The Sandman  a visual identity both distinct and diverse. Michael Zulli, Jill Thompson, Mike Dringenberg and Charles Vess number among the contributors creating beautiful art on a monthly basis, while letterer Todd Klein and cover artist Dave McKean likewise made indelible contributions.

Individual issues may be hard to come by these days, but DC Comics has kept the series accessible in a wide variety of trade paperback and hardcover collections. If your wallet can take the hit I highly recommend the Absolute editions – oversized, slipcased hardcovers that are as beautifully made as the stories they contain.

In whatever format you read it, though, the power of the series is undeniable. Heartfelt, thought-provoking, chilling and exhilirating, The Sandman has the power to conjure up the full range of emotions, and to remain alive in your dreams long after you’ve put it aside.

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