A few years ago, I found TPBs (trade paperbacks) volume one and three of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman in a used book bin. I didn’t know anything about them, but figured for 50c each, it was worth a shot. I wasn’t really into comics at the time, so they sat on my shelf unread until fairly recently. After finishing up a few books that I had, I was out of reading material so I went through my bookshelf to find something interesting. That was when I spotted those Sandman books I had acquired a few years back. I pulled volume one off the shelf and started into it.
Let me start by saying that I’m not really into artsy (aka pretentious) type books. As far as comics go, I like them to be fairly straightforward with some action and good storytelling. I find that if I have to think too much about what I am reading, it breaks me out of the world of the story and I’m not really a big fan of that. Sandman stands right on that edge. Based on the reviews that I had read on it, I was pretty skeptical. It is overwhelmingly respected and well received by readers and critics, but there are lots of comments about it being groundbreaking and deep and stuff like that, which all probably sound like praise, but were kind of red flags for me. Had I not been out of stuff to read, preludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman TPB One) would have probably stayed on the shelf. I’m glad I ran out of reading material and picked it up, though. The story is pretty far out there.
In Preludes and Nocturnes these people are trying to trap death, but instead capture his brother Morpheus, The Sandman, the Dream King. They keep him trapped in some sort of spiritual cage for decades until someone accidentally breaks the circle and frees him. He spends the rest of the book trying to regain his tools (bag of sand and similar items) and restore order to the dream world. This seems like a super bizarre story (and probably is) but it is told in a very accessible way, so it doesn’t seem nearly as outlandish when you are reading it as it just did when I explained it. You get sucked in, and that, in my opinion, is what good story telling is all about. You care about the characters, you want to see things work out for them. That means someone is doing a good job building these characters.
As far as the art is concerned, it is as bizarre yet engrossing as the story itself. As you can probably imagine, a story about the Dream Lord in the Dreaming (the dream world) with his cast of sidekicks, including Cane and Able among many others, as well as some of his siblings: desire, death and so on, has lots of room for some great visual story telling. While the art has the feel of old super hero comics, the content of the art is really unusual.
If you want a comic that is a little out of the norm (ok, a lot) and, I guess, has importance to the evolution of the genre, I think Sandman is worth picking up. You probably won’t find it for 50c anywhere so it may be a little more of a risk for you than it was for me, but I think you will find it worth it.