Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reader's Diary #447- Neil Gaiman: The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1

I'm only on my 2nd book for the Graphic Novel Challenge and already I'm departing from my original list. It's been much harder to find my first choices at the local library.

I read Gaiman's short story "I Cthulhu" a couple years back and enjoyed it enough to promise exploring him further. It's taken me this long to come round to him again, but when I saw the massive Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 (612 pages, comprised of the first 19 issues of Gaiman's Sandman comics first published in 1989), it refreshed my memory.

My first Graphic Novel Challenge book was Seth's It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and the two books couldn't be more different. Where Seth's art had simplistic lines with white, black and shades of gray, Gaiman, who didn't draw himself, had a team of artists (including Sam Kieth, Michael Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Colleen Doran and others), who drew with lots of hatching, cross-hatching and general scratches for detail and worked in colour. But the differences didn't just exist in art. Whereas Seth's story was realistic, slow-paced, and tame, Gaiman's was surreal, fast-paced, and often pretty horrific. The Sandman (a.k.a. Morpheus, The Lord of Dreams, and a few other names) is supposed to be the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. With a description like that, you'd be correct in assuming he's a little more cerebral than Freddy Krueger.

I definitely prefer Seth's book, but after a while, I also came to enjoy Gaiman's. At the beginning I was enjoying the story but was distracted and unimpressed with the artwork. It reminded me of the style of Tales From The Crypt and seemed too stereotypically comic book (which for some readers might be a good thing.) Plus, I wasn't crazy about the Sandman's look. Resembling the unholy love child of Alice Cooper and the Cure's Robert Smith couldn't possibly be a good thing, but it was made even worse when the artists couldn't decide on a consistent head size. Eventually I either got used to it or Sam Keith's departure (after the first five stories) made the subtle difference. Towards the middle I thought it came together really well. Then, at the end, I thought Gaiman was stretching for story ideas. The Sandman's siblings started to get bigger roles, there was a whole story devoted to cats (apparently a popular issue with the fans), and while I enjoy Shakespeare, and although it's the one Gaiman won a World Fantasy Award for, I really didn't like the 19th Sandman story, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." It seemed silly and felt out of place with the rest of the collection, hardly having anything to do with dreams. I hope those last few stories are not representative of the later volumes because I'd still like to continue on with the series.

(Cross posted at the Graphic Novels Challenge blog.)


Wanda said...

Horror stories are not my thing and can't really say that graphic novels are for me either but if I had to pick one over the other, I'd definitely go with Seth's.

Your review however, is much appreciated if for no other reason than the opportunity to visualize the image of "the unholy love child of Alice Cooper and the Cure's Robert Smith". LMAO! That was great, John. Thanks! :D

Sherrie said...

Hi John,
I have finished another book for the 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge. Mister Sandman - Barbara Gowdy. You can see my post on this book here:


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have been meaning to read some of Neil Gaiman's books for a long time now, but I think I will start with a different one.

Anonymous said...

The Sandman started as a horror comic, and if it had stayed that way, it probably would be mostly forgotten today. The further it gets from Morpheus as a protagonist (and he rarely is), the better it tends to get.

The Sandman is far and away Neil Gaiman's strongest work, with is children's books coming in second. I know people love his novels, but they don't have the same kind of vision or sense that he's in control of the material and in command of the format.

John Mutford said...

Wanda: With all the technology out there, maybe Smith and Cooper could make it a reality.

Splummer: Well done!

Barbara: I still haven't tried a novel of his, but at this point, I think I'm safe to say that I can take him or leave him.

August: I'm not so sure if it'd been forgotten had it stuck to the horror themes. There's a lot of horror that has stood the test of time, and I think I prefered that aspect of the book rather than the mythology/fantasy that started to creep in.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with horror as a genre, it's just that Neil Gaiman ultimately isn't as good at it, and the horror aspects weren't a very big part of why The Sandman became this big groundbreaking acclaimed phenomenon. It was Hellblazer and Swamp Thing that were really blazing trails for horror. Even the Sandman stories that seem like horror on the surface (The Collectors, for example, about the serial killers' convention) are really about how and why we create myths. Preludes and Nocturnes is probably the only time the book could ever have been truly called a horror comic. But don't worry, with the possible exception of A Game of You (the weakest arc in the series, imho), all the best stuff starts with Season of Mists, when Gaiman hits his stride.

Wanda said...

lol, OMG John, .. Let's hope not!!