The Absolute Sandman

October 12, 2009 at 11:07 am (Reads) ()

AbsoluteSandmanThe Absolute Sandman by Neil Gaiman

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Before anyone asks, no, I did not spend $400 to acquire the entire Absolute editions of this series.  I discovered that a local university had the set at their library, so I borrowed it from them.  I mean, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t want to own the books — who wouldn’t? — but when I’ve already bought the series twice, in comic form and then in graphic novel form … well, let’s just say that I don’t want to go through the infinite Star Wars loop again.

Anyway, I’m not going to re-hash the whole plot of Sandman right now.  You can find those somewhere else on the ‘net, and chances are, if you’ve been reading my blog up to this point, you already know about it.  Suffice it to say, Neil does an incredible job of creating a brand new mythology by borrowing heavily from almost every one that already exists.  I figured what I should focus on is what sets the Absolute editions apart from the trade editions.

First of all, the books are much larger than the standard graphic novels that make up the trade editions.  This is good, because you can see the artwork at a higher resolution, and really see some of the detail that the artists put into the stories; this is also bad, because these books feel like they weigh a metric ton apiece, and I didn’t even have the slipcases with the books!  But when you can sit and relish over the minimalism of Jon J. Muth’s painted story, or spend minutes poring over a detailed crowd scene of the tortured souls in Hell, you realize that this is a much better format for these stories.  I’m a fan of Marc Hempel’s artwork, so re-reading The Kindly Ones in this format was a real treat.

Secondly, the production of these books is lavish.  The books, if they aren’t bound in real leather, at least do a great imitation of being leather-bound.  Each book is over 600 pages long, and the paper is the glossy, heavy stock that one would find in expensive art books.  In addition to the stories, the books also include new forewords written by folks who were closely involved with the direction of Sandman (such as artists and editors), as well as scripts and drafts of pivotal stories in the series.  This isn’t a particularly new thing in the series, since the script for “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” was featured in the original edition of Dream Country, but this time you get to see Charles Vess’s sketches and pencil art to accompany the script for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Anyone interested in the creative process would appreciate these pieces, and each volume features a separate script.  There are additional extras, like Neil’s original proposal for the series, and a timeline showing how the series progressed over its seven year run.  These are really for the die-hard fans, but again, it’s also interesting to see how the series came to be.  Plus, you may be left wishing that Neil had written that story featuring a brothel full of succubi.

Lastly, with the Absolute editions, you get the entire run of the Sandman chronicle.  The stories are by turns magical, horrifying, intriguing, referential, and amazing, but they are always interesting and compelling.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything out of the series, and it’s been even longer since I’ve read the entire series, start to finish, and I was amazed at how well the stories hold up, and how the entire series works as a whole.  Minor points from early stories wind up being critical pivots as you near the end of the story.  It’s hard to tell if Neil had the entire series and its intricacies worked out from the beginning of the story, especially when you read comments where he essentially wrote a story on a whim, for himself or an editor or artist, and managed to fit it perfectly into the mythology, but it all works.  And it’s a mighty impressive body of work, to say the least.

So, if you already own the series in one form or another, it’s probably not worth buying the absolute editions unless you’re a devoted fanboy who has to have everything that Neil ever produces.  If you haven’t yet bought the series, and don’t mind the investment, the books are definitely a good place to start.  They’re expensive, but definitely worth it, for what you get in addition to the stories themselves.

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