Searching Sandman – Issue 3, Part 1

The plot of issue three is pretty straight forward. Sandman is on the hunt for his three lost tools (Sandbag, Helm and Ruby). His strongest lead is for the bag of sand, the everlasting magic dust he uses to send us off to dreamland. It was last known to have been in the possession of John Constantine. Since I’m pretty ignorant of DC Characters, even one with the fan following of Hellblazer, this was my introduction to the character.

They track the sand down to an old junkie girlfriend of John’s, only to realize she has become addicted to the dreams. Over the years they have ravaged her to the point that her body is only alive because of the dreams.

What has stuck with me ever since I read this series is how Gaiman dug down deep into what the real world repercussions of his concept. Not everyone would have asked what might happen if an endless supply of dreams fell into the hands of a normal human.

The sand dust the mythical Sandman sprinkles in our eyes is a harmless bedtime story. But if we’re to believe that there is a real world equivalent, with this type of power, it does make sense that it could be abused. It grounds high fantasy into reality with the ultimate consequence.

When I say I absorbed this idea, it’s probably more fair to say I stole it.  The fact our fantasy Tart involves time travel, we have the freedom to set our stories anywhere and anytime we desire. Which allows us to play with any historical mysteries we feel fit with our bigger story. We do this mostly because it is FUN. If you’ve read Tart 5, you know that we answer WHAT haunts Truk Lagoon, the world’s most haunted waterway. Later in our series we’ll answer why. This is a blast to do!

Almost as important as it being fun; pegging our character’s adventures to legends and mysteries we’ve all heard about throughout our lives creates a reality for the character. When a series involves The King of Hell, time travelers, inter-dimensional teleportation etc, a little reality is very important to have.

Please remember you can read all five issues of Tart for free if you’re enjoying these essays:


Robert Rodriguez does 10 minute film school (check it out if you have any interest in producing indie films at all), and since I steal from creators I love, I’m going to steal from Rodriguez. I don’t know how many cinematic tools I’ll catch while reading Sandman, but if I do I’ll share them under this title.

Anyway, reading Sandman 3, two different film techniques jumped out at me as extremely effective, at least as used here.

The first is called FRAMING (interestingly that’s what I always called it. My googling has made me wonder if it isn’t usually called a doorway shot? Film school buddies, please answer which is best).

Framing is a classic film technique to focus the viewer’s attention on a character in order to bestow power or importance to them. The cinematographer places the character between structures such as doors, trees, or any structure creating a picture frame-like visual. Usually, we in the audience can pick and choose where we look (it will usually be the lead characters, but not always), but when a character is framed, we unconsciously turn all of our attention on them. The act of that focus creates a sub-conscious feeling in the audience that the character being framed is strong, powerful and/or noteworthy.

An interesting article on Framing/The Doorway Shot can be found here:

The Doorway Shot

Now, how does this matter to Sandman? Let’s see how the team decides to introduce Morpheus to John Constantine:

John Constantine has seen a lot of stuff. In order to have him cower in front of anyone, the Team needed to introduce Morpheus in the strongest visual style possible. The quickest way to do that: Framing him/ The doorway shot.

I also want to talk about CANTED SHOTS (also called DUTCH ANGLES).

Canted shots are any time the camera in a film is tilted in a way that the natural vertical lines (such as doorways or walls) run at an angle. It is used to create unease in an audience, since it messes with our equilibrium.

It looks a lot like this:

You want to talk about messed up equilibriums, let’s talk 12 Monkeys!

In Sandman 3, Gaiman and Kieth use a Canted Angle in the layout of one of their pages to tremendous effect. The top to panels are more or less normal, but as they enter the part of the house controlled by dreams everything goes wonky

Wonky – Sorry about using such technical jargon.

I really wanted to point that out because it works beautifully. I think used too often or for the wrong reasons, it might be more annoying than effective. But in this case… Bravissimo!


No. Not in the slightest. The easiest mistake to make writing a comic is to fall into the trap of expecting movement within panels. Except for a few tricks like the following image…

… it is a bad idea to write motion into any single panel of your comic. I’ve caught myself writing a panel that says something like, “She picks up a soda. Takes a drink. Sets it down and is off on her way.”


So film techniques that rely on motion are probably out. I’m thinking specifically of zoom/dollies right now. If you want that Vertigo effect, you need to figure out a different way to convey it.

Next: Sandman can go to Hell. And we can go with him


All Comic images Copyright DC Comics.

The Searchers Image Copyright Warner Brothers (I think)

Twelve Monkeys Image Copyright Universal Pictures

PS – The image of Superdog is a great way to show motion, which I’ve always called Ghosting. I talked about this on twitter and have learned that I am the only human in existence to call this Ghosting. My friend Wills P says it’s usually called “after images.”

After images makes sense, but could you guys please help me out. I may never be able to make “Fetch” happen, but darn it together we can make Ghosting happen!

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