Holiday Gift Bag: The Sandman

It’s always a little tempting to limit my gift recommendations here to books that will appeal to current comics fans. But it’s also good to point out some comics that lots of comics readers already have, but new readers might not — after all, the best way to improve the health of the comics industry is to bring in a few new readers, right? So if you’ve got a new comics reader on your gift list, you might consider introducing them to The Sandman.

Sandman is the comics masterwork of Neil Gaiman. He started it back in 1989, with a revolving stable of artists, plus Dave McKean taking care of, as far as I can recall, every single one of the covers. It started off as a horror series and quickly drifted into fantasy.

Our main character (though he wasn’t present in every issue and was sometimes present only as a minor side character) was the Sandman — also known as Morpheus, the King of Stories, or Dream. He’s a pale, grim, morose, mostly unemotional guy with a very big job — he is, for lack of a better term, the god of story-telling and the ruler of the dreamworld. Many of the stories are set in modern times, but there are many flashbacks to other periods in history and even a few flash-sideways to other, stranger worlds.

Morpheus is part of a small family called the Endless — cosmically powerful, they far surpass your average god, but they’re even more dysfunctional than any mundane family. His siblings include devious Desire, pitiful Despair, loopy Delirium, somber Destiny, the absent Destruction, and sensible, loveable Death. Morpheus meets more than his fair share of guest stars during the series, including William Shakespeare, Emperor Norton, Marco Polo, Augustus Caesar, Cain and Abel, and even a few superheroes.

There are comics out there that are more highly regarded — “Watchmen,” “The Dark Knight Returns,” and others — but this is a series I go back and re-read much more often than those. The richness of the storytelling, the emotional pull of the plotlines, the feverish glow of pure, glorious imagination — all make the Sandman stories something amazing and unique.

These are also very definitely comics for grownups. There’s some nudity, some cussin’, some sex, plenty of violence, and, as they say, adult themes a-plenty. There may be kids out there that can handle this stuff just fine — and at the same time, there may be adults out there who’ll completely freak out about it. I’ll expect y’all to know the difference when you’re handing out these gifts, okay? But I know for a fact that lots and lots of readers think this series is transcendently awesome.

I spent years aware of Sandman, but unwilling to shell out the dough to read ’em. I finally figured, what the hey, I’ll grab the first volume and see how I like it. And I liked it a lot. I think I ended up getting all the rest of the ten volumes after just two or three months. That ended up being pretty expensive, but I’ve never once regretted buying them and reading them.

Like I said, this is available in trade paperbacks in ten different volumes — getting the whole series can get a bit pricey, so you may want to start out with the first collection, “Preludes and Nocturnes.” It’s a great beginning to one of the greatest comic book series ever.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Go pick it up.

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