EdBookFest | Neil Gaiman on ‘Sandman’
When Neil Gaiman was a young man, he discovered that comic books were banned at his school. Considering them as valid as any ‘high’ art form Gaiman took his teacher aside and demanded to know why such authoritarian rules existed. ‘Well, it’s very simple – if you read comic books it’s like eating junk food, you won’t appreciate or read ‘good’ things.’ This would all have seemed well and good had it not been for the fact that Gaiman was a) the only boy in school to read comic books, but more importantly b) also the only one to have read the entire contents of the school library. Junk food may rot your teeth but apparently brain-rot isn’t so easily done. This episode only strengthened his pro-Comic resolve, and the discovery as a young adult that even Brits could write ‘American’ Comics was a huge moment in Gaiman’s life. After an unofficial apprenticeship under Alan Moore (Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta), Gaiman began writing his own strip for DC Comics with Dave McKean (Coraline), ‘Black Orchid’.
Unfortunately the big-wigs at DC weren’t sure about an unknown female protagonist in a comic being produced by two unknowns themselves, and suggested Gaiman try his hand at a monthly release first. And so, out of an old wish to revive a 1970s strip, Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ was born. ‘The important thing to know about Sandman, which we didn’t, is that it was impossible.’ Sandman was the first monthly based on an essentially new character to do so well, and was also the first comic to be printed in collection whilst it was still running. More importantly though, Sandman was also uniquely allowed to run until a definite finish, and when that finish was reached no-one was allowed to take up the story and carry it on or regenerate it. It is unsurprising then that fans are more than excited about the prospect of ‘Sandman: Overture’, a non-prequel series of comics that are nonetheless a preface to the original works.
‘Sandman was for me built as a kind of storytelling machine’ claims Gaiman, referring to the unique malleability of time and space that the character allows him. In a medium that can be rather restrictive compared to straight literature, these tropes are more than useful. Once again a link to a Gaiman as a child is here glimpsed, as his love of Dr. Who is well documented, and said Time Lord’s interstellar movements can’t have failed to make an impression. So, Ouverture could never be a prequel in the normal sense of the word. It will however, have the exact same feel as the original works, as Gaiman has once more called on his old collaborators Dave McKean and J.H. Williams for the covers and artwork respectively. ‘Putting ‘Sandman’ back together was like one of those old caper movies – getting the old team back together.’ Hopefully then, we can expect yet more fantastic, weird and wonderful things from Sandman in the future. Maybe we’ll even learn why Sandman was so tired at the beginning of Sandman One…
Words: Joanna Thompson
Picture: Neil Gaiman signing books at the Edinburgh International Books Festival, © chrisdonia