Friday, August 20, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 22

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Sandman: Season of Mists
by Neil Gaiman

To try and explain The Sandman graphic novels to one not already in the know is nearly a possibility, at least in the limited space of a blog post.

But I'll try. Briefly.

For those who only know comic books as a medium full of super heroes in spandex outfits ... that's not The Sandman. The Sandman was a comic book, and eventually graphic novels, about a powerful, immortal being named Morpheus, also known by some as the Sandman. Morpheus is a member of a family of immortals called the Endless. They are sort of like ancient gods of mythology, except they don't see out worshipers.

The Endless do, however, have major influence (and some would argue out-and-out control) over certain portions of reality. Morpheus is in charge of dreams. His oldest sister is in charge of death. His oldest brother is in charge of destiny. The list goes on.

Morpheus himself has pale white skin and black hair. He also usually dresses in lots of black. He's got a goth thing going on, in his wardrobe and his attitude. But he can pretty much look like whomever he wants, if it came down to it.

The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of MistsIn Season of Mists, the fourth collection of stories from The Sandman, Morpheus travels to Hell. Yes, the Hell. He's going to Hell to right a wrong he did thousands of years earlier. See, he sent a woman he loved to Hell. For ever. Because she spurned him. Yeah, Morpheus wasn't always such a nice guy.

Upon arriving in Hell, Morpheus expects to have to do battle with Lucifer himself. Lucifer and the Sandman have some history, and Lucifer isn't real crazy about or protagonist.

However, it turns out Lucifer doesn't attack Morpheus. Lucifer is busy with other things. He's shutting down Hell. Kicking out the demons, closing the doors and locking them. Lucifer apparently has had enough of being God's whipping boy through all the eons, and has decided to retire.

That's when Morpheus shows up. And Lucifer gives Morpheus the key to Hell.

I won't tell any more of the tale, but I will say this story is quite possibly the best comic book writing I have ever read in my life. Truly, I rank it right up there with several of Shakespeare's plays.

When Season of Mists first came out in 1992, I was still in college. I had returned to reading comic books a few years earlier, but The Sandman at the time was by far my favorite. I couldn't wait until the next issue came out.

Since that time, The Sandman has come and gone. The comic is no longer a regular series, though from time to time original author Neil Gaiman will put out a special issue or some other writer will do a short series on some of the characters from The Sandman.

The Sandman had a story arch. A huge story arch. It took 75 issues of the comic, as well as a few special editions on the side, to tell the story of Morpheus.

For the time, it was one of the most epic comic book tales ever, and still is right up there at the top though a few indie comic writers have since gone on to larger works (Cerebus by Dave Simm rounded out at 300 issues, for example).

As a reader, I loved The Sandman. As a writer, it taught me much.

For instance, The Sandman showed that a beautiful tale could be told in any medium, including comic books. Up until that time, I would never had expected such a major, epic, beautiful story as The Sandman could be told in graphic fashion.

The Sandman, and author Neil Gaiman, also opened my eyes to the beauty of words. I've always been one of those working-class writers who doesn't worry so much about words being pretty, but The Sandman opened my eyes to new possibilities. Without The Sandman, I probably would never have my own John Dee character, for instance (Dee's an immortal wizard, by the way, based upon a minor Biblical character). Heck, there's even a character named John Dee who appears early in The Sandman, though my character is not named for him but is named for the actual, historical figure named John Dee (an astrologer of sorts for Queen Elizabeth, in case you wanted to know).

So, if you are one of those readers who tosses up their nose at comic books and graphic novels, you are really doing yourself a disservice by not reading The Sandman. It's much more than just a comic book. It's literature at its finest.

Up next: Homeland, by R.A. Salvatore

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I almost bought these when I was in Texas after Hurricane Katrina, but they were uber expensive. I've thus never read them.