Leslie S. Klinger is considered to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on Sherlock Holmes and Dracula. The winner of the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Work, Klinger is also currently annotating, in collaboration with creator Neil Gaiman, the New York Times bestselling series, “The Sandman” for Vertigo Comics with the first two volumes already released.
“The Sandman,” which debuted in 1989 and ran for 75 issues through 1996, is one of the most — if the not the most — critically acclaimed comic book series of all-time. Winner of 26 Eisner Awards (including those given to spinoffs), “The Sandman” chronicles the life and times of Dream, an Endless (god-like being) that governs the world of dreams as both Lord and personification.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Vertigo Comics announced at Comic-Con International last year that a prequel would be released in 2013. With “The Sandman: Overture” #1 released last week, CBR News connected with Klinger for his initial thoughts on the rebirth of Dream and discussed the Book of Backward Seas, the Council of the First Circle and the awesome four-page spread featuring multiple iterations of Dream, illustrated by series artist J.H. Williams III.
CBR News: You have been collaborating with Neil Gaiman and annotating “The Sandman” for many years. Were you surprised when “The Sandman: Overture” was announced?
Leslie S. Klinger: Yes, I was surprised. I found out about it at Comic-Con 2012. I had lunch with Karen Berger and she mentioned it. I jumped up and down and shortly thereafter there was the public announcement. [Laughs] But yes, I was very surprised. I thought Neil had hung it up. Not that he doesn’t love “The Sandman” but I thought that his creative juices were taking him in different directions. So yes, I was very excited but also very surprised.
By adding a new chapter to his opus, should it — or will it — alter people’s views of the original run? Or are these two separate works of fiction?
No, not at all. It’s only supplemental. But I immediately have more questions. I’ve already e-mailed Neil asking more questions, which I want answered. I may be able to answer some of them when I see the script.
There’s actually been talk that we may do a fifth volume of “The Annotated Sandman.” Right now, we’re committed to doing four and we’ve talked about doing a fifth one, which would include “Dreamhunters” and the same material that’s in “The Absolute Sandman” Volume 5, plus these new issues. That’s not a done deal yet but we’re talking about it.
We’ll let you save some of your new questions and answers for a fifth volume of “The Annotated Sandman” but what were a few things that jumped out at you from this first issue?
I met J.H. Williams at Comic-Con last summer. He’s a wonderful artist. And it’s fascinating to see some of the new looks. These are fresh takes — clearly Death and Destiny look different then we’ve seen before. The Corinthian looks different. But they are also clearly true to the bones of what came before. They’re easily recognizable. This isn’t somebody reinventing characters. They’re all here. In a sense, it’s this wonderful combination of familiarity and brilliant originality. Dream as a flower. Dream as a slightly Victorian gentleman. It’s good to see Lucien back too.
And there are some new ideas — some fascinating new ideas. It’s a backstory, of course, so we see the fruits of the Corinthian’s rebellion in the convention of serial killers episode. And there is this startling scene at the end where we see multiple incarnations of Dream. We always knew that he looked different depending on who saw him but there are actually separate manifestations of Dream? That’s a whole new idea by Neil. And I want to see how that plays out. It’s all very appetite whetting. I can’t wait for the next issue.
A few years back I interviewed Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman about “Cowboys & Aliens” and asked them about meeting Harrison Ford. The conversation drifted to the prequel trilogy and I asked them if my son, at the time not old enough to watch “Star Wars” movies, should watch “Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” before the original trilogy and they said I was being sacrilegious. Same question to you. If you haven’t read “The Sandman,” should you be reading “The Sandman: Overture” first and then you can read the story in order?
I think you could but I think it would be very, very confusing. I never really thought about that. It’s a fascinating question, Jeff. I guess if you look at the arc of “The Sandman,” in the beginning stories, you slowly figure out, as it’s done in the correct narrative way so you’re not being hit over the head with it, who these people are. We see Dream in the context of him having been captured and there’s some explanation of who he is and all that. And only slowly did we get to Death. She doesn’t appear for the first seven issues. And certainly Destiny doesn’t show up for a long time. And even really the family, the whole context of that, doesn’t show up for a while. It’s all introduced very slowly.
Here, we’re jumping right in. My goodness. On page 1, we have Dream and we have no clue what’s going on with these flowers. We know. But a new reader would just find it baffling to figure out. What is this black flower that’s appeared? And a new reader would have no clue who The Corinthian is. And that’s okay. And then suddenly, on the fifth or sixth page, there’s Destiny and Death.
If you read this first, you would lose the buildup. You would lose the slow let’s-get-used-to-Dream-first approach. I don’t think it would be terrible but you would need lots of footnotes. [Laughs] If you read this first, you’d have to read my footnotes, which would say: “This is Destiny, who we will learn later is Dream’s brother.”
So sequentially it might make sense along a timeline but as reader, the original series should really come before the prequel if you want it all to make sense?
It’s what I always expect from Neil. It’s a script that is tantalizingly ambiguous in certain parts — What the heck is going on? Who are these people? And yet, lots of familiarity and lots of little things in the background. I need to read this three or four more times to pick up all of the little stuff that isn’t apparent the first time you read it. You start noticing things.
It’s easier when you read the script because Neil has said something. He has called for something to appear in the scene so you know it’s not some little filler that the artist has added out of pure whim. It’s something that’s supposed to be there and make us think about something so I am looking forward to reading the script, which I haven’t seen yet. I’ve e-mailed Neil and said, “Please, please, send me the script.”
Was there one panel or story beat that really piqued your interest above all others?
Oh yeah, it’s the shot of Lucien holding the book. I immediately got my magnifying glass out to look at the title of the book and started to try and figure out what the heck is “The Book of Backward Seas” and I e-mailed Neil and asked, “Who is the author of that book.” I can’t figure out who that is. Maybe he will give me a hint.
I think Neil put that in there for people like me, who love Easter eggs and surprises. The only mention I can see so far to ‘backward seas’ is an Amy Lowell Victorian poem that refers to it but I don’t see a connection yet. Maybe I will eventually.
It’s all very interesting for me, of course, because Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker aren’t around for me to ask them questions. It’s very different to have a living author to ask these questions.
Was this first issue what you expected in terms of a starting point for this story or were expecting something else entirely?
We really don’t know too much yet but it looks like this is going to set up something quite cataclysmic. When Death says to Destiny: “When one of us dies, it never ends well. I’m worried about Dream. He’ll find out soon enough. Poor Dream.” That’s an extremely tantalizing line. We’ll certainly find that out but not now. This is the beginning. This is set in 1915. And, of course, in the world of the Endless, Dream dies “soon” but in our timescale he doesn’t die for another 80 years. Is that what Death is talking about? Is she talking about something else? How does she know? Wow.
Clearly, you can see already that the events that are going to occur here are going to neatly tie into the exhaustion that we see at the beginning of “The Sandman” #1.
You mentioned this earlier but there is an absolutely awesome four-page spread by J.H. Williams that features multiple versions of Dream. Are those all entirely new iterations or are there echoes from the original run that you recognize?
There are definitely things there that we should be spotting. Taking a quick look at them, they’re clearly all Dream. But they are from alternate worlds, none of whom that we’ve heard about. Okay, maybe the cat. We’ve seen Cat Lord Dream before. Some of them we could vaguely identify as being in some of the alternate stories. We’ve certainly seen alternate versions of Dream in other issues but there are tons more here than were ever hinted at.
From my first quick pass, the only one that I recognized was the cat. I don’t even see the Martian one in here. But that’s encouraging because Neil’s invented many more, as he should. Obviously, if we are talking about a galaxy of planets why wouldn’t there Dream have different appearances? But why are they all here? Like I already said, what I thought before was that it was simply a matter of Dream being so plastic that we impose our own anthropomorphization on Dream depending on who we are.
And yet, this appears to be more of a Brotherhood of Dream.
Yes, exactly. So we want to figure out what’s going on here. And there’s another nugget in here, that’s like “What?” It’s where Dream says something to the Corinthian about the Council of the First Circle. It’s like, “Whoa. What’s that?” That’s news. It doesn’t come up anywhere else that I recall. I don’t think I missed that before so I am sure we are going to learn more about that.
There are some really tantalizing things going on here.
“The Sandman: Overture” #2 by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III goes on sale February 26. Leslie S. Klinger’s next book, “The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft,” will be published by the Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton & Co. Norton in October 2014.