Neil Gaiman Month!!! Part 2 – The Annotated Sandman Volume 1

So this post is going to be a bit different. I could write for hours… for DAYS about how spectacular Neil Gaiman’s comic The Sandman is. In fact, I probably will at some point. Maybe this month, even.

But that isn’t what this post is about. Mostly… I want to discuss the necessity of The Annotated Sandman. Why annotate a comic book, one might ask? And certainly, this is a good question.

If you’re reading some Superman back issues, chances are you’re probably not all that interested in which issue a certain character is referring to (and even if you aren’t, don’t worry… if you’re reading The Death and\or Return of Superman, the editor will step in and tell you… repeatedly). Or, if you’re reading an Iron Man comic, you won’t need to have every panel, every speech balloon, ever WORD analyzed over and over again.

But in Sandman… you very well could. And fortunately, Leslie Klinger has done so. Thanks to help from Neil Himself, all seventy-some-odd issues of The Sandman are presented (unfortunately in black-and-white, to reduce costs) with accompanying annotations.

So the question… Why the fuck would you annotate comic books? More specifically, why would someone of Leslie Klinger’s caliber (star annotator of both Dracula and just about everything Sherlock Holmes related) annotate a comic book?

Well… mainly because it requires it.

I’m not going to be one of those Modernist assholes who just comes out and says that unless you’re understanding every single reference an author makes, you aren’t enjoying it.  I can’t.  I’m not T.S. Eliot.  Nor am meant to be.

And yet… The Sandman is heavily allusive in so many places.  And not just to other works of literature (though there are certainly references in spades to classic mythology, The Bible, and a host of other older and newer texts).  A large number of references come from DC Comics’ own history, both recent (Hellblazer’s John Constantine) and less so (the title of Sandman has been claimed by two other characters in DC’s history, one in 1939, the other in 1974 and both make brief appearances in the series).  The allusiveness in Gaiman’s writing necessitates this series of volumes, not only for the enjoyment of book nerds such as myself, but also for scholars who are already beginning to study The Sandman in classroom settings.

One of the best “in” references in the series occurs in volume 2 The Doll’s House, where current protagonist Rose ends up at a serial killer convention.  Of all the serial killers mentioned in issue 14, only two are worthy of nerdgasm.  The first is The Family Man, who is supposed to be the “Guest of Honor” but has not arrived.  Savvy readers of Hellblazer will know The Family Man won’t be there because he was already killed by John Constantine.

Similarly, when one of the convention guests refers to himself as The Bogeyman, the comic reader who enjoyed Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run know that the real Bogeyman drowned in Louisiana more than five years previous to this story.  Gaiman’s ability to make these connections in his script are fantastic… but would be missed by many readers who may have not branched out into the rest of the DC\Vertigo family of titles.  Fortunately for us, Klinger is aware of these connections and draws our attention to them.

Klinger, working closely with Gaiman from Gaiman’s own scripts, has put together a truly remarkable collection of information about both the Sandman series as a whole (check out the extensive annotations to the award-winning issue 20, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Worth the price of admission alone, those), but also to Gaiman’s connections to the greater DC Universe, history, mythology… just everything.  Many notations are extensively cross-referenced as well (e.g.: a note will point to 2.5.1, meaning issue 2, page 5, panel 1) and show the amount of time and effort that both Klinger and Gaiman have put in to try to make this collection as extensive and detailed as possible.

So the most important question… is it worth it to drop $50 (or whatever the lowest online price is currently) on this new version of the classic series.  From my perspective (the perspective of someone who owns the complete set of the Absolute Sandman books) yes.  But not if it will be your first collection of Sandman books.

For one thing, the art is presented in black-and-white.  While this is fine for the purposes of the book, it would be an incredible disservice to the series as a whole to not get the full experience of the color and detail present in the newly recovered trades, or the Absolute editions.

That said… if you’re a huge fan of the series, have a large collection of the books in color, and have spent hours pouring over single panels of the issues… this could be a good investment.  Considering very few of Gaiman’s full scripts have made it into the public eye, this is about as close as most of us will get to the information contained within.

The books are solid, well produced, and a great scholarly resource… not to mention just damned interesting.  Did Neil Gaiman just pull a date out of his ass for a particular scene and\or panel?  Not bloody likely.  Klinger will tell you the historical reference behind that date.  If you have an interest in the series, particularly in the mythological connotations behind it, the Annotated Sandman is an excellent edition to your collection.

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