A Handful Of Dust: Amaro Reflects on "Sandman" At Gallery Nucleus

At the opening for Gallery Nucleus' new exhibit, "A Handful Of Dust: 25 Years Of Sandman," the Alhambra, California-based venue kicked off a night of celebration honoring the 25 anniversary of Neil Gaiman's dark fantasy series with the comic world's top artists and "Sandman" alumni, including artist and gallery guest Gary Amaro.

Amaro, who also worked as a penciler on series such as "The Books Of Magic" and "Gotham Central," began his comics career fresh out of school illustrating the "World's End" issue of "Sandman." Standing by his gallery piece, a painting of Death and Delirium under the "World's End" red moon, the illustrator and Berkeley-based artist remembered how his involvement with "Sandman" began as simple fandom.

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"A friend of mine had seen the first issue of 'Sandman' before I did and ran over and told me I had to read it. I read it and was a fan ever since," Amaro recalled. Shortly after graduation, "I met Neil and showed him some of my artwork. He told me I should get in touch with his editor and I did and I sent them some artwork and they tried me out and gave me a job on 'Sandman.' So my first professional job out of school was illustrating this episode of the 'Sandman" from 'World's End.'"

A contributor to Nucleus' 2008 20th Anniversary "Sandman" exhibit "Endless Reflections: 20 Years Of Sandman," Amaro's piece hung by his fellow "Sandman" contributors such as Michael Zulli ("Shade") Dave McKean ("Black Orchid"), Jill Thompson ("Scary Godmother"), Sam Kieth ("The Maxx") and Mike Dringenberg ("Sandman," "Doom Patrol"). Rounding out the exhibit is a veritable Who's Who of independent and mainstream artists, including Becky Cloonan ("Demo"), veteran illustrator Barron Storey, Yoshitako Amano ("Vampire Hunter D") and Francis Manapul ("The Flash").

Curated by artist representative Ryan Graff, the exhibit was pulled together from Graff's own personal and professional network of comic artists. "I have a really long history with 'Sandman,' it was one of the first books I started reading 25 years ago, the day it was on shelves," Graff told CBR News. "I have slowly over the years have developed relationships that began as friendships and slowly developed into professional relationships with a ton of the artists who worked on the book... It's fantastic, it's amazing stuff."

"Even though it's theoretically supernatural, when it comes down to the baseline of what 'Sandman' is about it has very, very humanist values. It's all about life and change, and it uses different avenues of myth to explore, basically, the question of, 'What does it mean to be human?'" Graff added. "And then it makes it interesting by exploring it from the point of a view of a god."

That question was evident in the pieces selected for the exhibit, depicting various members of the Endless across multiple artistic mediums. "When this show came about, Ryan told me he was interested in having the artists do something narrative. I thought, I did that [issue] a long time ago; I've changed quite a bit as an artist. I want to revisit it and see what it looks like now," Amaro said, gesturing to his acrylic panel painting.

Surrounded by gallery attendees and a handful of fans dressed as Death, Amaro recalled working on his section of "World's End" with Gaiman, explaining that he felt everyone who worked on the book began as "a fan."

"I was getting script pages from Neil via fax as he was traveling around the country, and a couple of the pages he had written he had gotten them lost or locked into the word processor he was using, and he refused to rewrite them because he thought he got them right the first time!" Amaro laughed. "So he just described to me over the phone vaguely what he wanted to see, but I didn't get the text for a couple of the pages I drew until it came out into the book! It was fun -- I had a very short time to do the pages, but it was a spectacular assignment."

Vertigo Comics, who published the original "Sandman" run, is currently the midst of releasing "Sandman: Overture," a prologue to "Sandman" written by Gaiman and illustrated by J.H. Williams III (who also contributed to the exhibit). While the second issue is delayed until 2014 due to conflicts in Gaiman's book touring schedule, Amaro heaped praise upon the first issue and Williams' artistic style.

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"It looks beautiful!" Amaro enthused. "I like very much what they're doing with that, I'm catching all kinds of little things. I'm a pretty close reader of stories in general so I catch little things going on, and the artwork there I think, wow, he's playing little games to pick up on, something here echoes something else that was in a background."

Reflecting on the entirety of the series, Amaro believed the continuing popularity of a group of characters now twenty-five years old came down to the simplicity of the story, both scripted and visual.

"It was just good, deep, powerful storytelling that was about people's connection with stories, and how stories change lives. It was moving -- it was exactly what I wanted to read. When that was coming out, that made me know I wanted to do comics: someone is publishing stories like this. There's a home for me," Amaro said, concluding, "It was incredible."

Gallery Nucleus' "A Handful Of Dust: 25 Years Of Sandman" is free and open for public viewing until December 8, 2013.

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