This week I’ve been rereading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, a project I plan to continue as soon as I recover from my case of post-Thanksgiving sloth. Right now I’m up to volume 3 (Dream Country).
I first read Sandman in early 2004. It was one of the first works of sequential art that I’d ever read seriously. Like a lot of people who end up becoming librarians, I read voraciously as a child. But even though I read a lot (ha! understatement of the year!), I didn’t read much sequential art. I owned a few books of Garfield strips and occasionally read the Sunday funnies, but generally had no idea of what was out there. That was true when I was a child, when I was in college, and well into my twenties. I don’t suppose anyone in 2004 would have guessed that a few years later I would be buying graphic novels for an entire library system! It just goes to show that strange things can happen when you tumble down fannish rabbit holes.
I only vaguely remember what I felt and thought during that first reading. I know I went through the entire series in about three weeks–I kept sheepishly dropping into Newbury Comics after work, so I could buy the next installment–and I know that I loved it. And I have reread some individual volumes and chapters since then. But I am pretty sure this is the first time I’ve attempted a complete reread from start to finish.
[The rest of this post will include some mild spoilers for the first two volumes.]
Here are a few thoughts from the first part of my reread:
1. I am surprised by how long it is taking me to get through each volume. As any reader of this blog knows, I read a lot of manga, and I’m accustomed to reading any given volume in a single sitting. It rarely takes me more than an hour or two to finish one. I read pretty fast in general, actually, and have a reputation in my family for being a speed reader. But each of the first two volumes of Sandman (Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House) have taken me quite a bit longer to read. I’ve read both over multiple evenings; the pages just take longer for me to parse. The first time I read the series, I wondered how those readers who followed the series as it was being serialized survived waiting for each issue. This time around I’m discovering how much the art and story actually resist quick reading.
2. Though I am very much enjoying my reread, I’m also discovering how much I do prefer a black-and-white aesthetic. Color pages are mostly wasted on me. I wasn’t a huge fan of a lot of the art in the Sandman during my first read–I was really carried along by Gaiman’s script–and that actually remains true now. I appreciate it intellectually, but it’s just Not My Thing. It’s a matter of personal taste. I suspect this is one reason why it was so easy for me to become a manga reader a year after my Sandman experience.
3. In general, I tend to prefer the publishing model of having one creator or one set of creators over the course of a series to the rotating sets you often get in comics from DC and Marvel. I remember being bewildered by the constant changes in artists the first time I read Sandman; I just had no frame of reference for that sort of publishing. (Imagine how confused I would have been if Gaiman himself had not been a constant!) The shifting art styles bother me much less during this reread. I’m a better informed reader at this point, and I know what to expect. Also, as stories go, Sandman particularly lends itself to this treatment. It is, after all, a story with many voices and with many stories within stories. In some ways, the different sets of artists seem to echo and honor that multiplicity.
4. Finally, I am much less fond of Morpheus this time around. So far, at least. I’m particularly thinking of the story of Nada here. It evidently did not make much of an impression the first time I read the series, but this time it seriously annoyed me. I’ve become much more sensitive to race and gender issues in fiction in recent years, and I have very limited patience for pushy, self-absorbed lovers. Which is not to say that the narrative actually ignores the issues there; in fact, I think it’s pretty clear that the narrative disapproves quite a bit of Morpheus’s treatment of Nada. But I suspect Nada’s story is going to color my reactions to Morpheus in the rest of the series much more than it did the first time.
So yes, I’m not the reader I was in 2004, but that’s not news. That’s one of the reasons rereading can be so rewarding: the best works will reveal new things with each reading.
I’m off to start my reread Dream Country. Expect more updates on this project as I keep going.