The Sandman. Artist: Sam Kieth.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1989
Creator: Neil Gaiman
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The first two Sandman characters DC Comics did were lighthearted, brightly colored superheroes. The third wasn't. British writer …

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… Neil Gaiman (Violent Cases, Miracleman) had some interest in the 1970s Sandman, who more-or-less lived in Dreamland, as a vehicle for serious fantasy stories. But when DC editor Karen Berger offered it to him as a monthly series, he wasn't sure he could keep it going on a continuing basis — until she said he could do his own version of the Lord of the Dream Realm.

Gaiman's Sandman was introduced in The Sandman #1, dated January, 1989. He wasn't a crime fighter, like DC's first Sandman, or a man having adventures in a dream-like landscape, like the second. He was The Sandman himself, the one parents tell their children about, the supernatural creature who brings them restful sleep and pleasant dreams. But he was based on an older version of the legend, before it became fodder for children's tales. This Sandman was the dark, powerful master of the night — Death's younger brother.

He was an instant hit, both with critics and with the general comics-buying public. Gaiman had initially plotted only the first seven-issue story and a one-issue epilog, figuring DC probably wouldn't be interested in publishing it much beyond that. Instead, it became one of the most talked-about comic books of the early 1990s. In 1993, it and Swamp Thing served as cornerstones in DC's launch of Vertigo, a new imprint devoted mostly to darker stories, aimed at adults.

Death herself was introduced early on as a character in the series, and became so popular she was the first of many Sandman characters spun off into mini-series of their own. The other siblings, Destiny (no relation), Delerium, Despair, etc., collectively known as The Endless, came along as the series developed, as did quite a few notable mortal characters. Dream (as The Sandman was usually addressed by Death, Destiny, etc.) often served as a catalyst in stories that were really about others; and yet, the series as a whole functioned as a meta-story about an important aspect of his personal odyssey as an immortal being.

Gaiman's first artistic collaborator on The Sandman was Sam Kieth (Epicurus the Sage, The Maxx), who drew the first story. After that, each was handled by a different artist. Jill Thompson (The Black Orchid, Scary Godmother), Shawn McManus (Doctor Fate, Omega Men), Marc Hempel (Mars, Jonny Quest), Kelley Jones (Aliens, Deadman) and others all contributed their diverse visions to the series; yet, Gaiman maintained consistency, to the point where it eventually became clear to him where the series was going and how it would to end.

He wrapped it up with its 75th issue (March, 1996), then moved on to other projects. Most, so far, have been prose novels, but he's also done some comics work, such as Stardust, with Charles Vess (Books of Faerie, Ballads); and The Children's Crusade, with several different artists.

Since The Sandman ended, DC has issued a steady stream of mini-series spin-offs of varying quality, featuring its characters, both major and not-so-major. All the story arcs from the series have been collected into book editions, and are kept in print. And Vertigo Comics, the imprint that Sandman helped found, continues to thrive, reaching an audience that isn't served by any other line in American comic books.


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Text ©2003-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.