I usually start these essays with a spoiler warning. And so I’m sort of doing it now. But it really isn’t a big spoiler to say the following:
DREAM IS A REAL DICK.
In issue 1 Morpheus condemns (with good reason) the son of his captor to an everlasting nightmare. Brutally forcing him to forever “wake up” in the context of a new nightmare. In issue three he’s more than willing to let a human whose body has been destroyed by her addiction to his dream sand die a terribly painful death. He only sends her off the mortal plane painlessly when John Constantine intervenes on her behalf. But in issue 4… jeez.
The Demon Etrigan leads Dream to his meeting with Lucifer along a circuitous, but, Sandman soon realizes, deliberate path. Right past a woman named Nada. And she recognizes Dream immediately (even if the way she sees him is slightly different than what we’re used to):
I apologize for the low tech photos in my blog. I’m taking photos with my iphone and transferring. If you can’t read it, Nada is saying, “Kai’Ckul! Dreamlord! I hoped one day you would come to me! Free me, my love. Please?”
At this point we don’t know who this woman in hell is, nor why she ended up in such torment. But we do know a few things. She recognizes him immediately. She is in severe distress. She asks him for freedom. Sandman reacts to this in the dickiest way possible:
His answer, “It has been ten thousand years, Nada. Ues I still love you. But I have not forgiven you.”
I am playing this Sandman is a dick angle for humorous, effect, but now I’m dead serious.
This is the reaction of a terrible person. Sandman has some sort of say over whether this character spends an eternity being tortured in hell. A place we will learn later in the series that other characters only end up at if THEY think they deserve it. And after ten thousand years, Sandman doesn’t think her crime has been punished enough. If I remember correctly, Nada’s crime is… breaking up with Sandman.
This is a Goth bully being shitty about a bad break up and sending the girl who broke his little heart to eternal damnation.
Being able to keep an audience after this heartless act is an example of how majestic Gaiman’s story is. Very few writers would dare place such a character flaw in their protagonist. Most who do fail to get the audience behind them. I’m going to be honest. At this stage in my writing career, I have not had the courage to do this. My lead character’s have flaws (or else it gets boring), but I have yet to conceptualize a story that could protect a character making such terrible choices and keep the audience engaged.
But just because I haven’t figure out how, doesn’t mean I don’t know how it could be done.
And now we segue into the weirdest tangent so far in the Searching Sandman project. Kurt Russel’s decades old advice on how to get an audience (at least an American audience) to root for a jerk.
I was watching the DVD commentary on a little known comedy of his called “Used Cars.” I highly recommend it. Directed by Bob Zemekis (who coincidentally directed Gaiman’s screenplay for “Beowolf”), it stars Kurt as a dirtbag used car salesman in a fight with the richer dirt bag used car salesman across the street. It’s an 80’s comedy that at least most of the time holds up.
Well, as Kurt describes his character he relays this sage wisdom someone passed on to him (I paraphrase because it’s been years since I heard it, but it stuck): You don’t have to make a character a good person to get Americans to root for him. You just have to make him good at his job.
So if you dare write your story around a lead character with despicable traits, do what Gaiman does. Show that they are exceptionally good at what they do. It will buy you time until the audience grows to love them warts and all (out of nowhere I was reminded of Jack Nicholson’s character in “As Good as it Gets”).
We are winding down on our time with Sam Kieth on the title, so I’ll just leave this here as a testament to how good he was when his style fit:
Next week. Parallel cutting and how to make your comic a race without the audience even realizing.
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