Neil Gaiman's Sandman: Award-Winning Classic Graphic Novels

by JoHarrington

The Sandman graphic novels are arguably the best in the genre. After 25 years, new fans are still finding and gaping over them. Find out why I'm a huge fan.

In 1991, the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction went to Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. They won it for a stand-alone tale entitled 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

The prize sent shock-waves through the literary community. Fantasy genre fans and fellow authors alike were stunned. It wasn't the fact that the story wasn't fabulous (it was unbelievably good), but the medium through which it was told was the problem.

Graphic novels aren't supposed to be great. Light-weight entertainment targeting children, nerds and those without the patience to read a proper book, that was the preconceived notions of most. Yet the award had been given for a chapter in 'Sandman'.

There's an urban myth which sprang up in the aftermath, that the rules were changed to stop 'comic books' ever winning again. That's a fallacy. It's just that no other graphic novel has won before or since. 'Sandman' broke the mold.

A Wonderful Journey into the Endless Universe

Sandman came at a very impressionable time in my life. It lifted me out of my woes and into a startling new world. Is it too hyperbolic to say that it saved my sanity?

Image: Dream and Death from The SandmanI wasn't in a great place in 1993. My mind was all over the place and my stress levels were through the roof.

I was studying History for my Bachelor's degree, so the vast majority of my reading matter was about the Holocaust. Hardly a subject for escapism, yet that was what my psyche desperately craved.

That was when a friend handed me Neil Gaiman's Sandman novel The Doll's House. She thought it might appeal to me. I opened the book, stared at the pictures, then began to read.

It was the first time I'd ever encountered a graphic novel.  Maus was on my reading list, but I hadn't got there yet. My introduction to the whole genre came from that opening chapter The Sound of her Wings.

I was entranced. My friend quietly pottered around, fetching drinks and waving at me to carry on, whenever I apologetically glanced up. Her remit had been to calm me down. As far as she was concerned, this was job done.

I dived furthermore into the realm of the Endless, losing myself in stories and characterizations unlike anything that I'd ever read before. While I was there, I failed to notice anything more of the world around me. I didn't notice it subtly changing in my view.

Two decades later, I'm not entirely sure I ever came back.

Sandman described a universe so vividly etched in my imagination, that I have to occasionally remind myself that it's not real. I quote it a lot. It's become a frame of reference, shortcuts to describing a mood, between myself and the friends familiar with these tales. The characters populating them are like old friends, once removed, on the other side of fiction.

Twenty years later, I realize that so much of my philosophy and outlook on life was tempered by reading Sandman back then.  It remains so to this day.

Sandman 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

Sandman 2: The Doll's House

Enter the Sandman

The Sandman is Morpheus, or any one of a trillion names used to mean him. He is one of the eldest of the Endless.

Before celebrities, Gods and the universe, there were the Endless. Before the big bang spluttered our solar system into being, the Endless were already ancient.

They assumed their roles for us, as they had always done for others. When the first single cell split into a burgeoning hungry consciousness, the Endless were ready and waiting.

No-one really knows their origin. It's possible that they merely popped into being, at the instant that awareness broke through to reality. A primal something, incomprehensibly old and distant - probably not in our cosmos nor even our dimension - must have been the first to think and feel.

All things start somewhere. 

Sandman 3: Dream Country

Sandman 4: Season of Mists

Who are the Endless from Sandman?

They are the beings who govern all that moves us through our lives. Sometimes assisting, sometimes disturbing, sometimes simply there.

Before there was life, there was the potential for life. All those wisps of gas which never burned. Falling stardust which could not form a critical mass. The Logos which was not spoken; the Word without a God.

They had their journeys too. Some might be still on-going. But even those which flickered briefly - pregnant with possibility - and were gone, caused a path to be forged. A beginning, a middle and an end.  Its passage was marked in the annals of Destiny.

Destiny is the eldest of the Endless. Did he watch alone throughout all those seemingly infinite eons when nothing much happened? He must have, because he's the eldest.

It's perhaps more comforting to believe that he existed only when a thinking mind rationalized that he must have been there. But that would require something alive enough to philosophize such things.

But all things living must die. Death is Destiny's younger sister. She came next. When finally matters arranged themselves enough for life to occur, Death found Destiny already waiting. If he told her about the fathomless expanse of time before, then we never got to find out.

The Endless were not created because a striving mind imagined them into creation. Because two of them were there before it was possible. Dream is the third sibling. It is he who is also known as the Sandman, and the hero of these stories.

All life (and potential life) has its destiny; all life must some day expire. But it takes full awareness to dream.

Those earliest dreams must have been about sustenance - food, shelter, comforts - wished into being when those essentials were left unsatisfied.  Dream would have stood by witnessing the very moment when 'I want' became 'I will have'.

When the first grasping mind propelled its owner into fighting, the fourth of the Endless was there. Destruction presided over those primal struggles for resources. He went on to nurture the ways of war.

Destiny saw it coming. Death collected the fallen. Dream continued to build worlds of imagination, pressing consciousness into awareness of self and needs. Destruction took the fallout to its logical conclusion.

The Kindly Ones was the ninth in Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman graphic novels. All of the other stories had been leading up to this, and it was glorious!

It took a long time for life-forms to progress from such simple minds to those capable of complex thoughts. Brains had to grow large enough to make possible emotion, and to attach those feelings to stimuli from the wider world. Then to act upon them.

The twins Desire and Despair were next. They took their places amongst the Endless, weaving much more complicated journeys to be charted in Destiny's book.

How many more ages passed before the youngest of the Endless joined their ranks?  Did Delight come the second one of Desire's goals was sated?  Or when hope was developed as defense against Despair's cruel hooks?

Maybe it was much later than that. A living being found sanctuary, all that it wanted was right there. Safe from all predators with no need to fight. No burning desires nor reason for anxiety. Perhaps this was the mind which formed around the notion that life was good, and Delight was there to welcome the realization.

We do not know, but this we can say with certainty - Delight could not last.

Civilizations rose and fell. The Endless were there to perform their duties well. But with sophistication of minds and society comes the need to escape reality.  Fragile Delight was lost under the weight of myriad pressures, distractions, wild imaginings, competing agendas, grief and loss, more things to want, conflicting advice, social scares, anxieties, and the sheer cacophony of being alive in a world with such much in it.

The Endless did their jobs well. Delight transmuted into Delirium, and she never did come back.

The Sandman Stories

It should be needless to say by now that I thoroughly recommend reading The Sandman.

All of the above isn't even spoilers. It's been drawn from the rich characterization of only seven beings in a series with a cast of thousands.

Preludes and Nocturnes begins with Dream lying captured and contained within a magic circle. His human tormenters stand unacknowledged at its edges.

They were really after Death, acting upon the desire for immortality. But that's fine. This is what needed to occur in order for a great destiny to play out.

'Don't trust the story-teller, only the story,' quips a wise, old character much later on, and this is a story so epic that it took eight years, and 75 issues, to tell.

It's one of just four graphic novels to make it onto the New York Times best-seller list.

You're going to love it.

Miscellaneous Sandman Graphic Novels

Sandman: Dream Hunters

THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a comics adaptation of Gaiman's original prose novella by the same name illustrated by Yoshitako Amano. This graphic novel was illustrated by t...

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Sandman, The: Endless Nights (Sandman (Graphic Novels))

Written by Neil Gaiman; Art by P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, Bill Sienkiewicz, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Glenn Fabry, and Frank Quitely; painted cover and book design by...

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DEATH Deluxe Edition

A New York Times Best Seller!From the pages of Newbery Medal winner Neil Gaiman's THE SANDMAN comes fan-favorite character Death in a new deluxe hardcover edition collecting her...

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Tori Amos 'Tear in Your Hand'

Spot the references to Neil Gaiman's Sandman in this song from 'Little Earthquakes'. The compliment was repaid, when Delirium was later illustrated as Tori Amos.

More Books about The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Discover more about both the character and the classic graphic novels! Only note that once you've delved into this universe, there's no looking back.
Sandman Overture #1

Twenty-five years since THE SANDMAN changed the landscape of modern comics, Neil Gaiman's legendary series is back! THE SANDMAN: OVERTURE heralds New York Times best-selling wri...

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The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1

Written by Neil Gaiman Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Steve Parkhouse, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess and Colleen Doran Cover b...

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Sandman 10 Volume Slipcase Set

New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman's transcendent series The Sandman is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic st...

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Annotated Sandman Vol. 1

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! Meet the Endless, a family of immortals that govern all aspects of life and death throughout the universe. However, one of their own lays captured - Dre...

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The Sandman Companion: A Dreamer's Guide to the Award-Winning Comic Series (Sandman (Graphic Nove...

Finally, what Sandman fans have been waiting for - the most comprehensive work ever on Neil Gaiman's masterpiece series. This entertaining read will appeal to both long-time fan...

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Sandman Papers: An Exploration of the Sandman Mythology

The definitive exploration of the Sandman mythology. Neil Gaiman's Sandman is a phenomenon - a mass-circulation comic book that caught and held the attention of serious readers. B...

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Updated: 05/09/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/12/2014

The Dragonriders of Pern is a great series. I haven't read the I Am Number Four one, so I'll be interested in what you recommend from that.

Jyreeil on 02/11/2014

This sounds like an interesting series. I be sure to keep it in mind for whenever I finish all the other books I have in my list to read. Tbh I don't really have an actual list it's just a bunch of mental notes that I've made, like I need to finish the Dragonriders of Pern series, and the I Am Number Four series. But, when ever I run out I'll be sure to click on the links in your article to get these books.

JoHarrington on 02/06/2014

Sandman makes 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' look like child's play. I do feel sorry for Neil Gaiman in many ways, because he'll never be able to beat what he wrote at the beginning of his career.

Richard on 02/06/2014

This sounds like a cool book! I recently read 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by him and I loved it, and I never looked into any of his other works.

JoHarrington on 02/05/2014

Oooh! Let us know what you think when you have read it. :)

Ember on 02/04/2014

I haven't read it yet, but I'm really excited about the copy you sent me! :D I was just looking at it today :)

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