I started reading The Sandman the day after my 14th birthday. I turned 28 a few weeks ago. If you do that very easy math, you find out that The Sandman has been in my life for half of it.
What has changed in these 14 years? Well, for one thing, I can tell you there was no young adult novel that featured a young female Neil Gaiman fan as one of the major characters 14 years ago.
It’s impossible to know quite how The Sandman changed comics. Yes, the title gave rise to the Vertigo imprint and showed there was interest in adult stories (even if most of those take the sex-and-violence bit of “adult” too much to heart). It gave creators permission to make titles that were finite from the beginning. It opened a door for titles like Hellboy, with their mishmash of history, literature and mythology. It put comics in the hands of people who never picked up a superhero title, who in turn, put comics into the hands of other people who’d never read comics either.
And it was – and is — read by a lot of girls and women. This is undeniably important.
The comic book industry is still trying to figure out what women and girls want. They give us things like the Minx imprint, which is, at most, well-intentioned. They try out titles like Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man. They create manga-style comics. They do all the gimmicks they can think of. They never stop to think girls and women may just want something that doesn’t set out to appeal to them. They just want something that’s good.
Women read The Sandman because it’s good. Yeah, it’s a cliché that boys recommend it to their girlfriends (a few weeks ago, a man at the bar was overheard doing so to his date). And I’d gladly recommend it to women. Not in a general “you’re a woman so you’ll like this” kind of way, but to a woman I’d think would like it? Yes, there’s no question there. (Of course, I’d also gladly recommend it to men who I think would like it.)
Personally, it opened up a new world to explore. It was a world of literature and myth, of music and art. It was one I fit into. It’s one I could see myself being a part of. It’s maybe a little dramatic, but feeling trapped in the halls of high school, it was important to me to know that there was more out there. I’m not trying to give it too much credit, but I think The Sandman showed me who I could be, if I wanted. (I was 14 when I first read The Doll’s House. Rose Walker was 21. That seemed impossibly distant to me. It’s funny for me to think that I’m as far from that age now as I was then.)
I’m glad that Neil Gaiman is currently associating himself with Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls. This will only mean that a new generation of teenage girls (of certain sensibilities, of course) will want to know who this “Neil Gaiman” is and pick up The Sandman. No bad can come of this.
I still love the comic. Maybe I love it more now than I did, but it’s in a different way. I see the craft (or sometimes, the lack thereof) of it, I see the beauty and the storytelling. It’s far from perfect, but I can’t think of anything else that covers so much history, encompasses so many characters. Like I said, The Sandman just has so much stuff in it. Maybe “24 Hours” freaked you out but “Ramadan” made you cry. Maybe you wanted to smack Dream sometimes and then other times you just felt sorry for him. The Sandman feels like it set out from the beginning to be huge and ambitious. Maybe it didn’t always make it to where it should’ve gone, but it’s a fabulous, lovely series.
It deserves its reputation. I’m proud to own it. I think if I learned anything by rereading it, I learned that. Or, at the very least, just had it re-affirmed.
(And also, it was a lot of fun rereading it. I recommend it!)