Sand­man un­locks a new uni­verse

Ground­break­ing comics au­thor Neil Gaiman has be­queathed his fan­tasy world to a new gen­er­a­tion of writ­ers, who re­veal their changes to his story, says David Bar­nett

Friday - - AUTHOR -

When Neil Gaiman an­nounced in March that he would be re­turn­ing to the world of Sand­man, the comic that made his name back in the 1980s, fans were de­lighted. But the writ­ers he chose to de­velop four new strands to the story of Mor­pheus – Si­mon Spurrier , Nalo Hop­kin­son , Dan Wat­ters and Kat Howard – ad­mit they were a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive.

‘We all went into the pro­ject with an un­der­stand­able amount of trep­i­da­tion to colour the en­thu­si­asm,’ says Spurrier, who has joined forces with the artist Bilquis Evely on The Dreaming, ‘imag­in­ing our­selves po­litely bor­row­ing Neil’s toys, re­spect­fully spend­ing a lit­tle time muck­ing about in his prover­bial sand­pit, but ul­ti­mately re­turn­ing ev­ery­thing un­marked and un­changed.’

Gaiman isn’t writ­ing the four new books him­self – he’s busy with TV adap­ta­tions of the nov­els Amer­i­can Gods and Good Omens

– but hav­ing picked the cre­ative teams he con­ducted a brain­storm­ing ses­sion in New Or­leans, where he out­lined a vi­sion for the in­ter­con­nect­ing se­ries, and en­cour­aged the writ­ers to en­joy them­selves.

‘Neil’s first set of feed­back to our ear­li­est ideas was to tac­itly give us per­mis­sion to stop wor­ry­ing so much,’ Spurrier says, ‘to treat the toys with the sort of lov­ing reck­less­ness one re­ally needs to build great sto­ries. To add new toys and to break some of the old ones if nec­es­sary. He’s main­tained an ap­pro­pri­ately god­fa­therly pos­ture ever since.’

One of the flag­ship ti­tles of DC’s ma­ture read­ers’ im­print Ver­tigo when it launched in 1988, Sand­man ran for eight years and 75 monthly is­sues. Gaiman charted the ad­ven­tures of Mor­pheus, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of dreams, and his oth­er­wordly sib­lings who hold sway over realms such as de­sire, des­tiny and delir­ium. Af­ter a hia­tus of 17 years, he re­turned to the char­ac­ter in 2013 for a pre­quel, The Sand­man: Over­ture, and in March 2018 Gaiman re­vealed he had been feel­ing guilty that no one was play­ing with a story he de­scribed as ‘a huge sand­box with so many won­der­ful toys’.

DC helped Gaiman se­lect cre­ative teams to ex­pand the story’s world with four monthly comics that would be­come a self­con­tained ‘Sand­man Uni­verse’ within the wider DC con­ti­nu­ity – House of Whispers, The Books of Magic, Lu­cifer and The Dreaming. But Gaiman hasn’t left the writ­ers with­out a map.

‘Neil has been a com­pass keep­ing the ship on course this en­tire time,’ says Dan Wat­ters, the writer of Lu­cifer. ‘Neil ba­si­cally gave me a nu­cleus that [artists Se­bas­tian and Max] Fi­u­maras and I have ex­trap­o­lated out into some­thing else, which I think is ex­actly what Neil wanted us to do with it, and has been there since with a nudge and a sug­ges­tion to cu­rate it into the best book it can be.’

Sand­man, which has sold more than 7m copies, was the comic book that brought a new read­er­ship to comics; peo­ple who didn’t re­ally read comics were happy to make an ex­cep­tion for Gaiman’s sto­ry­telling. In the 80s, its cast of char­ac­ters was also notably di­verse. That might have been new in 1988, but surely the world – and comics – have changed for the bet­ter in the last 30 years?

Whereas The Dreaming, Lu­cifer and The Books of Magic take ex­ist­ing and fa­mil­iar Sand­man char­ac­ters, the fourth new Sand­man comic, The House of Whispers, writ­ten by Nalo Hop­kin­son with art by Do­minike Stan­ton, in­tro­duces a whole new realm to the uni­verse, one pop­u­lated by peo­ple of colour and in­fused with voodoo.

Hop­kin­son told the web­site io9 : ‘What’s won­der­ful is that Neil and the artists who did the orig­i­nal Sand­man se­ries wrote the roads into in­clu­siv­ity. So, yes, it’s a white world ... But the spa­ces are there, the sen­si­bil­ity is there, and the sup­port is there. Neil knows what I’m go­ing to bring to it. He’s read my work and my pitch. That en­cour­age­ment is there.’

The re­lease of The Books of Magic means the de­but is­sues of the four comics in the Sand­man Uni­verse are now all pub­lished, their uni­fy­ing theme that the Lord of Dreams is miss­ing. But his shadow hangs over all these new sto­ry­lines, just as Gaiman’s does. So is this the old Sand­man come back, or a new thing en­tirely?

‘Nei­ther? Both?’ says Howard. ‘I def­i­nitely think new read­ers could pick up any of these four new sto­ries and be per­fectly at home. At the same time, Sand­man is there, the Dreaming is there, it’s not as if those threads of story were sev­ered. It’s a new thing that knows where it comes from.’

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