by marc evan
In 1989 DC Comics (home of the comic book holy trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), took a gamble publishing a new series, starring an unknown cast of characters, written by an unknown British author. Twenty years later, Sandman, along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, is considered to be a genre-defining, transformative piece of literary fiction.
Sandman, forever changed the rules of the comic book as a story telling medium and elevated the said medium from its funny book perception to that of NY Times Bestselling literature. With its mature themes and mythological overtones, Sandman was a book that told the story of Dream, a member of the Endless. The Endless are a family of siblings, each a personification of an inherent human condition: Dream, Destiny, Desire, Delirium, Despair, Destruction, and Death. Their interactions serve as a framework for a series of stories spanning time, space, and history. Originally published as a monthly periodical, its 76 issues were later collected into ten graphic novel volumes, setting what is now the standard for the graphic novel publication format. Neil Gaiman told this tale, along with cover artist Dave McKean, and a host of interior artists, over the course of seven years. In addition to Neil Gaiman’s rabid fan base, fans of Sandman include Stephen King, Norman Mailer, Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison, and Tori Amos. Neil Gaiman is also the author of the award winning novels American Gods, Neverwhere, and Anansi Boys, as well as several collections of short stories, many children’s books, and a handful of screenplays.
Last night, in honor of the 20th anniversary of Sandman (and as a culmination to the book tour promoting his newest novel, The Graveyard Book), Neil Gaiman was interviewed by fellow author and designer, Chip Kidd, at the Kaufman Concert Hall. As far as authors go, both of these men break stereotypes. These are the rock stars of the writing world. Both of these men easily give off the impression of being equally as comfortable in front of an audience as behind the typewriter. With humor and wit, Chip Kidd questioned Neil about the stories behind the stories of Sandman. How did the initial pitch go? How much of the epic story had he plotted from the beginning? One of the most interesting things about the series is the frequent foreshadowing and layering of events to come, some of which were told years later, and only become apparent upon subsequent readings. An analogy that Neil made was that of a road trip. You know where you will start and where you will finish, and maybe most of the places you will stay, but there is always room for unexpected twists and turns. You may stay in one place longer than you thought and skip another altogether. Overall, he reiterated that he had a very clear view of the story as a whole, even in the early days when he never thought sales would permit the book to be published past issue number 8.
Gaiman talked about many of his brilliant artists and collaborators in the series. He also answered questions from Kidd about some of his upcoming projects including a Batman story for DC, that is essentially “The Last Batman Story”. Kidd, being a huge Batman fan and author of two nonfiction books on Batman, and designer for a few more was especially giddy and prodding during this question. They talked about Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance in The Dark Knight and joked about Christian Bale’s need for throat lozenges. Gaiman also talked about his upcoming film Death (sibling to the Sandman), which he will write and direct. He spoke at length about learning the craft of directing from his friend Guillermo Del Toro, who invited Gaiman to shadow him throughout the filming of Hellboy 2 in Budapest. Gaiman said that the most surprising aspect of Del Toro’s skill was not necessarily in how he handled the actors or the shots (although Gaiman stressed both were done brilliantly) but in the behind the scenes morale and team building aspects of such a huge collaborative project. He spoke about actor Doug Jones. Gaiman also gave two brilliant impersonations. The first was of rowdy and hilarious conversations (and angry voice messages) from Harlan Ellison. The second was a case of mistaken identity with William Shatner, in which Shatner realized Neil Gaiman was not in fact, Neil Diamond.
They then fielded some more questions from the audience. One of the most interesting anecdotes was about the one story that Neil chose not to publish in Sandman. Throughout the series we see Dream (or the Sandman) enter the dreams of a wide and diverse crowd. He shows us how he has affected the lives of Shakespeare, Caesar, many gods, serial killers, heroes, mortals, and even cats. The one story that Neil decided not to print was the tale of the dreams of an unborn fetus. The fetus dreams of the person who it might become but before the end of the story the fetus perishes. Neil said he loved the story but was afraid that it would be misused against his intent. Gaiman stated that he didn’t want his story to be shown as a justification for why a 14 year old incest victim shouldn’t be allowed to get an abortion, which recieved a huge round of applause. The final question asked where the omnipresent mythological influences in his work had come from. He described how his love for mythology started with a book on the tales of the Norse Gods, which he found around age 7. That led him into discovering the Greco-Roman myths along with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. His obsession grew from there.
Chip Kidd concluded the discussion by praising Neil, saying “Please never stop writing. And please don’t die!” Amen.