February 4, 2009

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 Book Mine Set.)

No comments: