Onto the issue-by-issue analysis. As always; HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!! Read at your own risk.
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg
Lettered by Todd Klein
Colored by Daniel Vozzo
Asst. Editor – Art Young
Editor – Karen Berger
I actually came up with the idea to count the number of panels per page after flipping through issue #1. At first glance, it looked like they used an inordinate amount of panels per page. But they didn’t. Sam Kieth is so inventive, and intricate, that it tricks you into thinking it is full of panels. The detail this guy puts into everything is incredible.
Let me pause for a moment. I’m pretty much going to use two pronouns until we run into a female artist. “They” will usually mean the entire team (Neil Gaiman, the penciler, the inker, the colorist, Todd Klein and Karen Berger). He will usually refer to Neil. If that ever gets confusing, please let me know. I sometimes type faster than I can think.
With a 40 page introductory issue, they averaged out at 6.4 panels a page. And the easy mean per page is 6. I do not know if Gaiman’s script was extremely inventive in the panel layouts or Sam Kieth took some basic story scripting and went ballistic (I assume this to be the case), but either way the Look of Sandman #1 is of a panel heavy book, when it really isn’t. Every page is ornate and amazingly detailed, but it is quite normally paced out panel-wise.
My first thought rereading this is that Gaiman is lucky DC gave him forty pages to set up this series. It is not a particularly action-heavy debut. It is BEST that this series starts out this way, as action is never the point of Sandman, even when you think it is going to be, but I can’t imagine a company nowadays allowing a newcomer to fill the middle thirty pages of his project’s debut with the naked male protagonist doing nothing in a glass bubble.
Before I go on, I want to call out the unsung hero of Sandman. Neil Gaiman (rightly) gets most of the credit. And Karen Berger who hired Neil and shepherded the entire Vertigo line deserves a ton, too. But there is another name that was with Sandman the entire way: Letterer Todd Klein. I’m putting this first and foremost, because as important as Letterers are to comics, they do not get their due.
Todd Klein is amazing. He is regarded as one of our best modern Letterers and many consider him to be one of the tops of all time (I did a twitter request for confirmation and learned about Gaspar. So if you’re interested in Lettering, you’ve got two names to google). Though, Todd gets most of his credit on this run for the seven different fonts he created for The Endless, look how he saves this page:
You are probably aware that panel progression in comics follows the rules of reading English. Left to right, then down to the next level of panels, and left to right again until the page is finished. If that is so, how does Sam Kieth get away with a layout that has you read the upper left panel first, the lower left panel second, the middle panel third, the top right panel fourth, middle right fifth, and bottom right last. This layout breaks basic storytelling rules in comics…
Except, it works.
Because Todd Klein PULLS your eyes to the next correct panel with his word balloons even though you are accustomed to read in a different order. Writers and artists, try not to do this to your Letterers. Letterers, we writers and artists are going to do this to you, remember this trick to get us all out of trouble.
- Note: I couldn’t tell you if this was a rookie writing mistake Gaiman made that Kieth followed, Kieth went off reservation, Gaiman said, I have an idea, but it breaks some rules and Berger said, that’s great, we can fix it with Todd, or everybody turned it over to Klein and he made an omelette. I don’t care, because the page is AMAZING. It works beautifully. But only because Todd Klein makes it work.
The next really cool moment I wanted to point out is the ritual that catches Dream (Morpheus, Sandman, Dream – I have no idea what I’ll use as his title so bear with me).
I tend to write out everything. What I think needs to be on the page visually. And then all of the dialogue and narration. Then the artist has free reign to design the page how he/she sees fit. If they do their job, I can often pull entire paragraphs of narration out of the book. In the case I’m going to share, it looks more like Kieth chose to ignore some elements the dialogue hints at in order to focus on the most visually interesting ones. I say it looks like Kieth’s choice because, again, I’m not privy to the inside info. Either way the team wisely decided that this still worked. Your readers do not have to see the claw of a rat, or a stick that was stuck in a dead man’s eye to believe they were used in the ritual. And Gaiman’s dialogue here is so mesmerizing that you are drawn into the magic.
So I’m reminded that the golden rule “show don’t tell” should actually be “Show don’t tell, unless the story is told just as well, and in a more visually appealing way, by telling more than you show – also it helps if Sam Kieth is your artist.” That is a very, very specific rule, isn’t it? Maybe we should leave it at, “Work as a team to show/tell the story in the best way possible. ”
(Trigger Warning – Sexual Assault)
This issue covers 88 years in 40 pages. At many points, Gaiman returns to a few characters that were affected deeply by Dream’s imprisonment. We are shown decades pass where a little girl grows into a woman, asleep nearly every day of her life, a man becomes a walking zombie, and a woman (Unity Kinkaid) sleeps so soundly she is unaware of an entire pregnancy, including birth. The conception, the result of a mysterious rape.
When I first read Sandman, I thought Gaiman made Sleepy Sickness up. But apparently there was a bout of it right around the year he had Sandman imprisoned. One of my favortite things in sci fi/fantasy is when an explanation for a real world event is given within the fantastic elements of the story.
While the little girl and the zombie man (as far as I remember) do not have much of a role going forward, the child born as a result of the rape of Unity Kinkaid is very important in the second arc of the series. Who the rapist is a very quiet mystery that runs through much of the series, as well. You can google the answer if you want it spoiled, right now I don’t Desire to do it.
I THINK THIS IS ENOUGH FOR NOW
When I envisioned doing this, I thought I’d do 75 posts. One for each issue. But Sandman #1 is forty pages long. And I’m not sure I’m even past page 10 here. I’d rather do multiple short posts than inundate you with really long readings, so I’m going to cut it here.
I hope this was as fun for you as it was for me. Let me know in the comments. Especially if you have questions or suggestions.
PS – All Sandman imagery is the property and copyright of DC Comics. Used here under under the Fair Use Copyright provision.
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