Reading into Dreams: The Annotated Sandman

 

The Sandman, that archetypal Vertigo title, gets an annotated treatment in a really big way. Literally. This sucker is 12″ x 1.5″ x 12″, more than five pounds, and 500-odd pages. Impressive, and a nice treatment for an important work of comics. Introductions by Neil Gaiman and annotator Leslie S. Klinger help set the stage for a volume that will take a diligent reader a rather long time to slog through . . . and not just because the book itself is rather unwieldy. There’s a ton of info packed in here.

In theory, treating the first 20 issues of The Sandman as an object of literature seems a fine idea. After all, it’s a fantastic read, and Neil Gaiman’s stories are steeped in mythology and history that has come before (as is most of the best literature). But the flip side of an annotation is that the focus is taken off the art and put on to the process and the surrounding ephemera. Seeing some of how the sausage is made, as it were. In some cases it serves to inform wonderfully (particularly when Klinger refers to Gaiman’s own notes and scripts), but at other times it serves to turn the wonder into something akin to academic droning.

Even as the color has literally been stripped from the comic pages, in a sense some of the commentary makes the “color” of the tale itself more mundane. Some of the facts provide interesting context, though: DC’s promo copy that ran on ad pages describing what you’re reading, for instance, or notes about where adverts appeared, and how that may have affected the content decisions of artists or the writer.
There are a few errors in there as well. Not fact-errors, at least not that I noticed (I would never be so presumptuous; Mr. Klinger certainly convincingly presents as an expert), but a few errors where descriptions refer to or appear on the wrong page. It’s a minor criticism, sure, but in a book weighing in at many pounds, one that’s such a beautiful testament to a comic’s worthiness as part of the literary canon–a tome clearly meant to stand the test of time–minor copy errors or similar are doubly annoying than they would be in a less-permanent publication.

The annotations really are informative; even with the “seeing the sausage,” they really present a fine view into the creative process and show that: (a) Gaiman is a very, very learned dude, and (b) so much more goes into The Sandman than simply a wonderful creativity and sense of drama and terror. Some, or maybe much, of his mastery is earned by seeing what’s compelling and what can be adapted from subjects many fans of his fantasy stories could find rather rote. The annotations also cover comics history, both from a real-world perspective and a continuity perspective, as they relate to The Sandman. It’s easy to forget that Dream of the Endless interacted from the very beginning with the likes of Martian Manhunter and Mr. Miracle (stalwarts of the Justice League at the time of publication), and that one of Dream’s foes in the initial story arc is in fact classic JLA foe Dr. Destiny.

There is some confusing conflation of these real-world historical annotations and DC history annotations that I think Klinger could have made more clear, but that is my only real critique of the annotator himself. Some of the other interesting annotations include the publishing decisions by DC; what changed between different volumes and such.

Here’s my main gripe: I want to get lost in the story, man. Maybe annotated editions just aren’t for me, generally speaking. Then again, I gobbled up many of the fine “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” annotations out there, especially for “Black Dossier” (thank you, Jess Nevins). In those cases, though, the extra notes were like a key to unlocking meaning; the Sandman annotations are interesting, but not especially transformative for the source material.

It’s hard to picture what could be a better dissection into the parts comprising The Sandman nos. 1-20 aside from that. At minimum, this is a nice book that can respectfully display a fan’s appreciation for a wonderful run of the comics that built DC’s Vertigo brand. The story is all there, and you can ignore the margins as you wish. While I would not recommend this as a fan’s first foray into The Sandman, considering the uncolored art, the heft, and the expense of this edition, it’s certainly a good complement for those already into Gaiman’s works. This will inform a fan’s immersion into the genesis of The Sandman like little else can. I think the book accomplishes what it sets out to.

And great news if you’re into this kind of thing: three more are on the way.

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