In other words, I’ve bought The Sandman Companion, by Hy Bender. (Lateness of my step up the bandwagon is proved by the date this book was published, which was in 1999. Still, it’s all new to me.) Which states that it features “In-depth interviews with Sandman writer/creator Neil Gaiman”.
It does more than that, really. Bender’s writing what is an excellent introduction to the Sandman series. (Well, if you like your introductions with all the spoilers in. Which I do, as I like to know how everything ends.) He prefaces the interviews with a summary of the events in the particular book, follows with an analysis of the elements and plot developments in the story, and ends with the interview with Gaiman himself. This is interspersed with interviews with the artists who drew for that particular installment, or extracts which expound on the themes (oh, how my Literature teachers hated that word) and references in the series. (Like a really interesting cookbook. Oh no. Now you know what else I read.)
One thing I really like about Bender is – wait, there’s more than one. His obvious passion for the Sandman series comes across very clearly. Another is the detailed research he puts into his interviews. You don’t get stock questions like, “So, when did you start writing?” You get questions that show that this man has really been looking into everything Gaiman’s done so far, everything that’s been said about Gaiman, and best of all, Bender’s been looking into Gaiman’s influences. Bender knows what he’s talking about.
He asks questions such as, “Is it true that Season of Mists almost didn’t happen because someone else had independently come up with a similar idea?”, “What went into Lucifer’s appearance?” and “Right after the various siblings arrive, though, something unique in the series occurs – you break the action to provide six short text essays. What led you to do that?” Incisive questions. (For an utter newbie like myself.)
And what’s better is that Gaiman himself is as involved as his interviewer. Gaiman offers insights on his work, anecdotes on what inspired him – he’s amazing. Even if you let his work alone speak for him.
Oh, and there’s a sixteen-page color section. Glossy. Cover art for the original version of Sandman, insets of the Endless for the trading card set, and a rejected version of the trading card Desire. (Personally, I think the Book of Sandman Quotes had better selections of color art, but The Sandman Companion has some excellent choices of black-and-white art, including concept sketches of the Endless.)
I would like to say that I like the Ramadan version of Dream quite a bit better than the versions.
I would also like to respectfully disagree with Mr. Gaiman when he says that “Dream is the least introspective character I’ve ever written.” (Then again, I view angst as introspective. And Dream’s the one who spends days and days angsting on his balcony, in the rain he creates, over his lover, who left him. As Mervyn Pumpkinhead says, “he’s gotta be the tragic figure standing out in the rain, mournin’ the loss of his beloved… In the meantime, everybody gets dreams fulla existential angst and wakes up feeling like hell.”
Oh, and speaking of Merv:
I’ve never much cared for the Sandman art I’ve seen so far. I’ve loved the ideas. But the art was usually a major detraction. I favour idealized art (which I know is not intellectually correct. I’m supposed to go for groundbreaking concept art, stark and existential. No, wait, I’m supposed to support every form of art there is. [No sarcasm intended. I simply feel that that’s the way we’re supposed to react to works of art nowadays, sophisticated consumers that we’re intended to be. I’m not quite there yet, and I don’t expect to get there anytime soon, if at all.]). I favour conventional art forms. And I love colour. I love illustrated men and women who are beautiful. I go for landscapes and architecture and – I’m more an Impressionist than a Cubist, in my tastes. (Yes, I know, I can find all that in Sandman, but what I saw, for most part, wasn’t that.)
*is stoned by legions of Sandman fans*
The art was more of a barrier than a bridge to Gaiman’s work, for me. I have a better feel for concepts. Gaiman, give me your words. They are more than enough for me to create a vision of your worlds. (And he wrote Sandman in concept. Other artists [with a lot of his help] drew the pictures.)
I devoured this book with more enjoyment than with which I’d read his comics. I respond better to ideas than to images. I know for a certainty that I would (rather childishly) have disliked Merv the Pumpkinhead on sight, if I’d seen the art. But my first encounter with him was through the words he spoke, the words that Gaiman wrote for him. And I liked him upon hearing what he had to say about Dream and existential angst. It was only later that I saw what Merv looked like, and I was grateful that I’d seen what he was before I saw what he looked like.
(Please tell me Gilbert looks better than Merv. I like him very much in concept. Gilbert is actually Fiddler’s Green – a place, rather than a person (this paraphrased. Bender said it better.) – he sounds beautiful as a land (“an especially lovely and peaceful stretch of trees, mountains, springs, meadows and green glades” - sounds better than quite a bit of the Dreaming), and beautiful as a personality. I know when I fell for him – when he said, “I remember when I was a young vinicity”.
(Also, *tears* over what happened to Gilbert.)
Also, there were times when I could barely make out the words due to the font in which they were printed. I know this probably doesn’t count for my reluctance to really get into something as wonderful as the Sandman series, but I find my enthusiasm for anything rather tempered when I’m struggling to make out what it’s even saying.
Slightly Controversial Opinion (In my opinion):
I’ve always felt Orpheus was rather silly, really, and reading Gaiman’s portrayal of him has only reinforced my (mis)perception. I agree with what Destruction says about Orpheus being more in love with the idea of his dead love than he “ever was with the girl herself”. My agreement probably due to perverse reasons of my own (I also believe that Romeo and Juliet’s love would never have survived, even if they had). I find it hard to see Orpheus as anything more than an excessively angsty, moody teenager.
Though I’m extremely interested in acquiring “Fables and Reflections”. Why?
1. Werewolf Tale. (Honestly reminded me of Faol. I have Ratal on the brain.)
2. Robespierre. And Orpheus’ singing head. I have to see his song. Read, I mean.
3. I want to see what’s so beautiful about Ramadan, which is apparently the most popular of the Sandman stories. I saw some of the art – it’s lovely. The minarets of Baghdad – just as intricate as St. Peter’s Basilica. And that (I suspect it’s just that particular panel) in black-and-white. But the story doesn’t hook me all that well, so far, except for the ending. But that one’s a real kicker.
4. Two words. The Chibi Endless. Waiiiiii… And the description of Dream tripping over his own robes and Death attempting to restrain her giggles – priceless. And there are two pages of this?!