Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why I like The Sandman

Why I like The Sandman

1) I fell into Goth quite by accident. I was in my teens, hanging out with a bunch of angry suburban punk kids, and slowly figuring out that I didn't really fit in with them. I was getting into Vampire: the Masquerade and I was checking out vampire books and movies by the dozen. They opened up a Hot Topic at the Serramonte shopping mall in Daly City, and I talked my mom into buying me a big black vampire tee-shirt and some black jeans. I wore them with pride the following day and one of my shitty punk friends snorted that I looked like a Goth. I had no idea what the term meant, but I liked the sound of it. I bought the Goth Rock 2 sampler CD from the used-CD store near campus, which lead to zines, which lead to concerts, which lead to clubs, and the rest is history. 90s-era Goth comes with a reading list. The Sandman rests pretty high on top of it.

2) Calling The Sandman horror is a little reductive. While the series was marketed as a horror title early on ("I will show you fear in a handful of dust") it grew to encompass all manner of speculative fiction. Most of my favorite issues -- especially the serial killer convention -- fit squarely in the horror genre, but the book is really a meta-story about storytelling itself.

3) The Sandman is about Dream of the Endless, a personification of dreams, imagination, fantasy, and storytelling that threads through all creation. He's a Byronic hero, constantly brooding and taking himself far too seriously. The book starts with him being taken hostage by an Aleister Crowley-esque occultist. The experience traumatizes him so deeply that he spends the rest of his series pushing against the boundaries of his responsibilities. It ends with him either dying or recreating himself into a more compassionate incarnation. Despite the wild digressions, the book really centers around the character of Dream. Every story presents a new facet of his personality and the strain he's under, until the tragic ending seems both inevitable and self-directed.

4) It seems like the most popular character in the series is Death, Dream's older sister. Unlike most incarnations of the Grim Reaper, The Sandman's Death is a chipper Perky Goth with a positive attitude on life and boundless reserves of compassion. My own opinion has changed on her has changed significantly over the years. At first, oh my god, I luuurved her and we should be best friends. As time went on and I had my own experiences with people passing, I got angry with how flip the Death character came off. Death is the root of all horror in existence, so the idea of making it into a goth version of every Connie Cheerful Church Camp I've ever met made me very angry in a way that now feels like I'm projected my own fears onto the character. I've eased up some, and I've come to love Death's compassion for her charges, but I still feel like I have a different experience with the character than a lot of the fans of the book.

5) There are lots of fantastic moments both great and small in the book; Dream's dinner with his brother Destruction, the lovely African story of two lovers separated by fate, a weary yet still deadly Lucifer, the long-lived oaf Hob Gadling, the Lovecraftian dreams of cities, the illustrated difference between the fantasies of girls and boys. My favorite was the aforementioned serial killer convention. I've seen dozens of serial killer stories in my time, but I've never seen one that so viciously attacks the self-aggrandizing mythologies that serial killers create for themselves to justify their behavior. Dream seems to take a swipe at the very concept of turning the serial killer into dark heroes and it works beautifully.

6) My friends and I tried to record a Sandman podcast recently, but we got tripped up on technical issues. As the conversation grew, I was impressed that there was so much stuff to cover: so many great moments and fantastic ideas, each of us with our own interpretation of the story. People gravitate to different elements of The Sandman and each experience has it's own rewards.

Conclusion: The Sandman is one of the best stories I've ever read. I return to it from time to time. Like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, it's a barometer for seeing how I've changed over the years.

I promised myself that the first money I ever make selling my fiction will go a statue of Dream than I can put on my writing desk. Gaiman taught me that stories are sacred and I'm honored to both draw from and add my own small contribution to the Dreaming. 

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