Neil Gaiman has written comics and novels for all ages. He has written movie scripts, two episodes of the British series Doctor Who and just created the Amazon Prime adaptation of Good Omens, the novel he co-wrote with Sir Terry Pratchett. For many Americans, their first exposure to Gaiman was his comic Sandman.
Sandman follows Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, who had been imprisoned for over 70 years by minor mages. He rebuilt his realm and righted the many wrongs that he committed over his long life. Throughout that journey, secrets were revealed about the character and the writer.
10 The Sandman Wasn’t Neil Gaiman’s First Choice
Most people thought that Sandman was Neil Gaiman’s first comic work for DC. However, it was Sheldon Meyer who created the character in Black Orchid. Later, Gaiman received a call from Karen Berger. The higher-ups at DC were worried about Black Orchid because Gaiman and David McKean were virtual unknowns and the belief was that female-led books “didn’t sell”.
To address this, they wanted to give Gaiman a monthly title to write. He had mentioned using the existing Sandman character in Black Orchid in a dream sequence. The idea wasn’t used because Roy Thomas was using that Sandman in Infinity Inc. Karen Berger’s solution was for Gaiman to use the Sandman name but to make it his own.
9 Cover Artist Dave McKean Was Fired But Never Stopped Making Covers
Dave McKean’s Sandman covers were a departure from everything else on the comics rack. For each cover, McKean built tall 3-D dioramas using images related to the story for the month. He would paint or photograph an appropriate image in the center, then would photo-collage this into a single image.
Arkham Asylum was the big Batman book and word came down that Berger wanted McKean to focus on it full time and would be firing him from Sandman. McKean took the weekend and finished the next six covers. Berger never “un-fired” him, but it was never mentioned again. McKean finished Arkham Asylum to tremendous success and continued to create Sandman covers.
8 The Sandman Isn’t Male
Nor female, transgender, or even human. The Sandman, or Dream, is an anthropomorphic personification. He is a non-human entity that takes on human qualities. Different cultures see him differently and he appears differently to different species.
For example, when Dream visited the Justice League International, the Martian Manhunter saw him as Lord L’Joril, a flaming Martian skull, while Mister Miracle saw a white-skinned man dressed in black. In the story “Dream of a Thousand Cats” Dream appeared as a black cat with glowing red eyes. He appears to have dark skin in African stories and Japanese in the tales of a Buddhist monk. For simplicity's sake, we will be referring to him as male because Dream was portrayed male in Sandman.
7 Neil Gaiman Did Not Create All of the “Endless”
Neil Gaiman didn’t create The Sandman alone. He took a few existing seeds and grew a world. The character of Dream sprang from an earlier character created by Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Michael Fleischer. Destiny, another member of Dream’s family was also a pre-existing character.
Destiny wore a dark hooded robe and held a book that was chained to his wrist. Inside the book is all that has, is, or ever will happen. Destiny’s realm is a garden of endless paths that people walk throughout their lives. Destiny was created as the host of the anthology comic Weird Mystery Tales by Marv Wolfman and Bernie Wrightson.
6 The Dreaming
The Dreaming is the world that everyone goes to when they dream. It is a place for all sorts of dreams, from the bright and happy to the terrifyingly nightmarish. It is the realm of The Sandman. The shape of the Dreaming is constantly in flux but there are constants.
Dream’s Castle is always at the heart of the Dreaming. Within the castle is the Library of every book that has ever been dreamed, even those that have never been printed. Lucien cares for the Library. Dream himself carved the Gates of Horn and Ivory in front of the Castle that is guarded by a gryphon, a wyvern, and a hippogriff. The Houses of Mystery and Secret exist both in the real world and the Dreaming.
5 The Lack of Mainstream Characters in Sandman
Sandman was set within the DC universe but Neil Gaiman found that it just wasn’t worth the struggles to deal with mainstream characters. Neil knew he was good to use an existing character for a story and Karen Berger’s first response would be “Who?”
At a book signing, Gaiman recalled one story of the Joker hanging himself for a joke. He received all the approvals but was stopped at the last minute by the Batman editor who told him that something had just happened with the Joker and he wasn’t allowed to appear for six months and that Gaiman should use the Scarecrow. But the story didn’t work with the Scarecrow. So Gaiman threw out the whole idea.
4 A Death Misconception
Sandman was an incredible success and one of the breakout stars was the character of Death, the happy, ankh wearing member of the Endless that shepherds souls on to the next phase. There had been other personifications of Death before, but for Gaiman, she was meant to be the last word.
In Captain Atom #42, written by Cary Bates and Greg Weisman, the Captain is being dragged through the underworld by Nekron and is faced with a variety of personifications of Death, including Jack Kirby’s Black Racer and Neil Gaiman’s Death. It is implied that Gaiman’s Death is a friend or lover. This annoyed Gaiman to the point that he rewrote his contract with DC that he controlled any appearance of his characters.
3 The Award That Sandman Shouldn’t Have Won
Sandman Issue # 19 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess showed the first of two plays that “Will” Shakespeare created for Dream as payment for helping him with his creative endeavors. The audience for the first performance was Lord Oberon, Lady Titania, and members of the Faerie Folk.
This issue won the World Fantasy Award in 1919 for Best Short Fiction. The larger literary community wasn’t thrilled. The very next day, the rules were rewritten so that a comic book story could never win this award again.
2 How Neil Gaiman and Sandman Changed the Landscape of Comics
The comics world was struggling through the “grim and gritty” era and the slow implosion of Image Comics. Into this, Neil Gaiman created a book unlike anything on the shelves. A book with a lead that wasn’t a superhero, with stories that dealt in horror, dark fantasy, and Gothic drama. It touched on history, psychology, philosophy, and the human condition.
It also helped build the Vertigo imprint that brought in more college students, intellectuals, and women into comic stores. It re-awoke the idea of a specific creator being connected with a specific book. Normally in comics, one creator leaves, another picks up and moves on with the character. The higher-ups quickly realized that there was no continuing Sandman without Neil Gaiman.
1 The Question That Required a Comic 20+ Years Later
The series had ended and Sandman passed into literary legend. The story evolved into spin-off series from various characters like Death, Lucifer and the denizens of the Dreaming. Neil Gaiman himself went on to major success writing novels, poems, and stories that have become beloved. But one question kept coming up.
Gaiman was often asked if Dream is an all-powerful being, how did a minor magician like Roderick Burgess capture him and keep him imprisoned for over 70 years. Sandman Overture explains how Morpheus had just come from saving all of reality from a dream vortex. The effort drained the Dream Lord and made him susceptible to Burgess and his clumsy magic.