Are you getting excited about the Absolute Sandman? I am. The first volume is now down tentatively for a November publication (which means someone will be getting a very nice Christmas present this winter. Yes, I know I shouldn’t mention the ‘C’ word in June, but I’m excited so you have to excuse me.
This first volume is due to cover the first 20 issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Which means it will have the Preludes and Nocturnes segment which really introduces us to Dream, imprisoned for decades by an Aleister Crowley-like magician, freeing himself and returning to the Dreaming to find it chaotic, with some dreams having escaped to the Waking World (the Fashion Thing apparently spent some time on Earth as a Mad Madonna Witch, demanding ‘blood and Perrier, dammit!’) and his artefacts of power such as his ruby, helm and endless bag of sand gone, setting in motion a quest which takes him from the Dreaming through the Waking World and into Hell.
It also introduces us to the delightful company of his older sister Death (who would later have two Gaiman-written mini-series herself, Death: the High Cost of Living and Time of Your Life, as well as Jill Thompson’s fun manga-style At Death’s Door). As far from the ‘candy-coloured clown’ of the old song Mr Sandman, Dream/Morpheus/Lord Shaper – call him what you will – is a brooding, often morose, selfish entity. Big sister Death is in complete contrast, despite her duty of having to separate everything that lives from everything that doesn’t she is cheerful, outgoing, fun and instantly became the poster girl for a generation of Goth and comics kids (check out Rosanne and you see her on those Sandman posters in Darlene’s bedroom – I confess I still have the same prints myself, carefully framed).
Also in this first Absolute Sandman will be The Doll’s House, the first major story arc in the series’ run and, for many readers, the point where the comic went from ‘this is an interesting idea and unusual’ to ‘wow, this is astonishing, I need more right now’. How well I remember picking up those particular issues of the Doll’s House each month from the Glasgow FPI, reading and re-reading them on the train home and then realising I had weeks to wait for the next issue (something those who read the graphic novel volumes bypass – perhaps wisely sometimes!). I know Neil won’t be put out if I say I think this is where Sandman really began to come together into the astonishingly intricate, multi-layered, inter-textual jewel we came to know later, because I’ve heard him saying something similar himself, that this is where both he and the series are coming to know one another and it shows.
The Doll’s House is incredibly rich and one of those tales where quite often Dream himself takes a back seat to other characters (this was common throughout the Sandman). We have a guest house run by cross-dressing cabaret star Hal, a search for a lost sibling, a threat to the Dreaming, a couple of errant dreams wandering the Waking World (one charming, one very nasty – in fact he is a Nightmare), hints that some of the younger Endless (Dream’s family) play devious schemes (which becomes very important further down the line) and we have the fantastic notion of a convention for serial killers.
The Absolute treatment means we get this in a fine hardback with a slipcase along with a feast of extras, including some of Charles Vess’ lovely, original pencil work (as the series went on printing technology allowed some artists like Vess to use their techniques to greater effect) and the original script by Neil for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the beautiful tale which saw William Shakespeare’s troupe performing the titular play on a South Downs hillside in front of the real Oberon and Titania. It was also the first time a comic issue had won the short story category in the prestigious World Fantasy Awards – yes, it is that good; it is also one of those tales which reaches out beyond the traditional comics readership, showing many folks unfamiliar with the medium just how intelligent and diverse it could be (even earning Neil and Dream a name-check in Tori Amos’ debut album Little Earthquakes “me and Neil will be hanging out with the Dream King” – my Sandman attuned ears picked up on those lyrics on the first play).
Now you see why I am excited? Now you see why, even though I have all of the Sandman issues, I will be standing in line for this? Yes, I am so obviously a comics geek, but when I’m reading material this good I’m really proud to be a comics geek.