Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Dreamland : When Neil Gaiman Writes the Last Chapter of 'The Sandman' This Fall, the Greatest Epic in the History of Comic Books--Seven Years and 2,000 Pages--Will Come to a Close.

September 03, 1995|Steve Erickson | Steve Erickson's last article for the magazine was "American Weimar," an essay on modern democracy and politics . His latest novel, "Amnesiascope," will be published next spring by Henry Holt and Co

Neil Gaiman never remembers his dreams. They are devoured by his imagination before consciousness can reach them. If he has one recurring dream, it's of a house. "I think it's always the same house," he says, "but I don't think I've ever visited the same room twice. And the house continues for practically forever, and it's, you know, not really a house at all--it's a life ." It doesn't seem to be the house of Gaiman's childhood in England, or the house he lived in outside London before he moved to the United States, or even the old red-brick Victorian house he lives in now, an hour outside Minneapolis, that looks like it could be from a dream. The glass gazebo in back, where the hill begins to slope into the woods, could be from a dream as well. Isolated, incommunicado, there Gaiman writes about dreams all the time--not his, because he doesn't remember his, but yours, because yours he remembers before you have them.

He writes about them in a comic book. "The Sandman," published by DC Comics, is Gaiman's rapid-eye almanac of a "place" called The Dreaming. This is a landscape of psychic rather than physical borders, with a topography as amorphous as mist. It's a little like a five-dimensional chessboard, time being the fourth dimension and memory the fifth, over and across which all of us move every night. Every night each of us returns to the Dreaming in our most primal form, perhaps as the little boy or girl we once were and never completely left behind, perhaps as a cat we once held or a raven that once perched outside our window, perhaps not as an animate object at all but a particularly lovely knoll, green and shady, that we saw as a child for only a few moments. Perhaps as a long-buried secret about ourselves that we never knew or wanted to know. But sooner or later in The Dreaming, we bump into him . He's never actually called the Sandman. The more classically bent would prefer to know him as Morpheus; to the populists among us, his name is just Dream. At any rate, he runs the joint.

Well, not really. Neil Gaiman runs the joint, and over seven years and nearly 2,000 pages he has moved over and across The Dreaming in seemingly every direction at once, teetering on occasion but never toppling. An open-ended epic, the narrative, and the stories within it, and the stories within the stories, move from the atriums of ancient Greek myth to the veldt of African folklore, from the French Revolution to modern-day Manhattan, from the tale of a man who has decided never to die to the bodiless head of Orpheus begging someone to kill him, from Shakespeare making the terrible bargain that will transform him from hack to genius, to Thomas Paine muttering in his jail cell about the ideal that betrayed him, from a novelist who locks his muse in his attic, defiling her for black inspiration, to a convention of serial killers in the American South with a guest of honor who swallows people's eyes. Literate and sophisticated by any measure, let alone that of comic books, "The Sandman" is complex to the point of labyrinthine, non-linear to the point of vertiginous. Reading the whole thing, the reader wants to lay out all the pages in a field somewhere, and look at it from the vantage point of a bird circling overhead.

Besides being the best monthly comic book in the world, "The Sandman" is also one of the most popular. Many of its most devoted fans are people who don't otherwise read comics, and it has won not only the praise of literary big shots ("A comic strip for intellectuals," Norman Mailer declared a few years back, "and I say it's about time") but more prizes than Gaiman can find room for in his house, including four straight Eisner awards--the comic book Oscar--and the World Fantasy Award, the only time this has gone to a comic. Immediately afterward, the World Fantasy people changed the rules so such an outrage could never happen again. "Sandman" has inspired college doctorates and songs by Metallica and Tori Amos, it is the primary text for classes on myth at the University of California, and a film is in the works to which Gaiman has offered his blessing though nothing else. Gaiman claims, and DC does not dispute, that the Sandman is the company's third-most popular character after Batman and Superman, and at L.A.'s Golden Apple store it is consistently DC's best seller; in college towns it sometimes outsells "X-Men," published by DC rival Marvel Comics and the single biggest title of the last 20 years. The entire run of "Sandman" has been collected in deluxe bound volumes (start with "Preludes & Nocturnes" and "The Doll's House"), with comments by Stephen King, Clive Barker, Mikal Gilmore, Peter Straub and Gene Wolfe genuflecting before Gaiman's brilliance. . . .

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|