Category Archives: Neil Gaiman

Getting Graphic: "The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You" by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryant Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, and Dick Giordano
DC Comics/Vertigo (1993)
ISBN 1563890895
Where previous volumes in the Sandman series have walked along a dark path, A Game of You takes a bit more of an adventurous approach through the eyes of a troubled young woman named Barbie, while Morpheus is a minor character who only makes a cameo appearance. The story still has its share of dark elements, but where previous volumes had a clearer horror tinge to them, this volume reminded me more of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
Barbie’s a bit of a washout cover girl reduced to living in a New York City slum with an eclectic band of neighbors, including her transvestite best friend, Wanda. She hasn’t dreamed in a long time, and now–years later–her dreams have come looking for her. So, while a hurricane looms off the coast in her world, Barbie dreams for the first time in ages, back in the same landscape she knew as a little girl. There’s a sinister force called the Cuckoo, however, that wants her destroyed so it can escape the dreamworld and infect Barbie’s world and many others. This leads to a few of Barbie’s friends following into her dream to save her, while Wanda stays behind and guards Barbie’s sleeping self from harm.
This story, while a bit understated compared to other stories with the Sandman, really exemplified Gaiman’s ability to take disparate and seemingly unrelated pieces and bringing them together in such a way that it makes total sense at the end. As for the artwork, it seemed to really carry that early 90s vibe, though don’t press me to explain that. I just remember reading a few comics from that time and seeing some of the frames in this book brought that all back. So, I guess there’s a good nostalgia trip for anyone who read comics back in those days.
The characters, for the most part, were incredibly well defined as the story progressed. Thessaly, one of Barbie’s neighbors with a knack for witchcraft, had to be my favorite from the book. Just imagine a mousy brunette in glasses with no compunction towards snapping the neck of anyone who assaults her. The dreamland characters were a tad annoying, and the one I liked the most even wound up getting killed first–how do ya like that.
A Game of You is basically just one more clear example of how damned good Neil Gaiman is at storytelling. I just hope there’s more of Dream in the sixth volume–or Death. She’s cool too.

CymLowell
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Filed under comic book review, Dave McKean, DC Comics, fantasy, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, Neil Gaiman, Sandman, Shawn McManus

Getting Graphic: "The Sandman (Vol. 4): Seasons of the Mist" by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Volume 4): Seasons of the Mist
by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, P. Craig Russell
DC Comics (1992)
ISBN 15638890410 (Trade Paperback)


It seems that with each volume in Gaiman’s Sandman Library, the further down the rabbit hole I go. After reading the first three volumes, I found myself irreparably haunted by Morpheus the Lord of Dreams, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one to feel that way having read these stories. Turnabout is fair play it seems, as the fourth volume Season of Mists shows a haunted side of Morpheus.


After a gracious introduction by the pontifical Harlan Ellison, Gaiman whisks us into the Sandman’s world with a family reunion of sorts called by Destiny. Dream, Desire, Delirium, Death, and Despair attend and are given a vague premonition that their meeting is meant to kick-start a major change. Lo and behold, ol’ Dreamboat is sent on a guilt trip over an act of spite he committed several millennia ago when he condemned an ex-lover to Hell.


So far, reading the Sandman Library has been a pleasurable reading experience with only one lull, but Season of Mists managed to steal the show for me and is now my favorite volume in the series so far. The Sandman has to contend with Lucifer only to have the Devil give him Hell–literally. The story diverges from its initial plot, which is Dream’s mission to save his ex-lover, but everything has its own way of working out … at least as well as any Sandman story can. The artwork continues to dazzle, accentuating by voice bubbles with varying fonts to denote certain characters’ voices and temperaments, which I think is really well done in the Sandman series.


Lucifer is a fantastically wicked character, as he should be, and I hope he and Morpheus cross paths again in a future volume. And with Morpheus gradually acquiring depth as a character in each successive volume, I become ever more intrigued by where his ultimate story is headed. Definitely looking forward to reading the fifth volume down the road, A Game of You.

CymLowell

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Filed under comic book review, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, Neil Gaiman, Seasons of the Mist, The Sandman

Wish List Wednesday #78: Neil Gaiman’s & Al Sarrantonio’s "Stories" (anthology)

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July ’09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list–whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.All December, I’m shining a light on anthologies.

All I needed was a look at the cover and a peak at the list of contributing authors to know this anthology was likely to be good. Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, have brought together the talents of Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk, Joyce Carol Oates, Jodi Picoult–to name but a few–in an expansive anthology of never before published tales.

The list of authors is ecclectic, and I’m sure the stories will be equally so. I’ve sure enjoyed Gaiman’s work as an author, and have read a couple of Sarrantonio’s short stories thus far, so I’m interested to see how they work together to bring together all those other authors under one tent. Should be fun.

Have you heard of this one, or had a chance to read it?

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Filed under Al Sarrantonio, Neil Gaiman, Stories, Wish List Wednesday

Chasing Tale in November: Ray Bradbury, Tonia Brown, Neil Gaiman …

November was a weird month. The whole month just gave me a very odd, slightly unsettling feeling. I think it may have been the roller coaster ride that was the weather. Rain, sun, gale-force winds, serene clouds, drizzly overcast, localized flooding, and that goddamn humidity even came back for a couple of days. And snow! November 20th marked the first snowfall of the season. I know the joke is that if you don’t like the weather in the Maritimes wait five minutes, but this is ridiculous.

Bah, enough of me kvetching about the weather. Here are the books I added to my horde.

The Cat’s Pajamas by Ray Bradbury – I love Ray Bradbury. Not in the same way as the cutie-pie who made the musicvideo, “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury”, but still … Anyway, I spied this on a bookshelf and I couldn’t recall ever hearing about this collection before. Sufficed to say I scooped it up pretty quick for a couple of bucks. I still have to get around to The Illustrated Man, so this one may be waiting a while.

Lucky Stiff: Memoirs of an Undead Lover by Tonia Brown – I first caught wind of this novel via one of my favorite podcasts, The Funky Werepig, and threw it on the wish list. Then, I won it a while ago from vvb32reads (thanks again, Velvet) and wound up corresponding a bit with Tonia to contribute a guest post in October for my Monster Movie Marathon. The idea of a comedic zombie horror novel with an erotica twist has got to be a new one for the zombie genre. Should be interesting.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Gaiman is an author who simply does not disappoint. This award-winning novel has been on my wish list for a while and I managed to scope out a copy of it on the cheap. It’s the most recent paperback release, but it still has the illustrations by Dave McKean. It had been a while since I’d visited the independent bookstore from where I bought it, and I was glad to see that this time there were more customers in there than just me. My last visit depressed me. Support indy bookstores, people!

“Duel” Novella Series Volume 1 (The Orpheus & The Pearl by Kim Paffenroth and Nevermore by David Dunwoody) – I won this from Belfire Press and was immediately impressed by it. They took a novella from an established author and coupled it with an original novella by an up-and-coming author. The two stories even have a vague connection as each deals with resurrection and the undead in some fashion. That’s where the similarities end, though. You can find my reviews of each novella at Skull Salad Reviews. And hopefully you’ve entered my giveaway which ends at midnight tonight–someone will get my copy mailed to them.

So that’s what I got in November. What titles did you snag in November?

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Filed under Chasing Tale, David Dunwoody, Kim Paffenroth, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Tonia Brown

Getting Graphic: "The Sandman Vol. III: Dream Country" by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country
by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Malcolm Jones III
DC Comics Vertigo (1995); series originally published in 1990
ISBN 1-56389-016-x

Where the two previous volumes of The Sandman have had a fairly focused storyline, Dream Country strikes a different chord, offering four stand-alone stories in the Sandman library. All things considered, it serves as a nice diversion from Morpheus’ personal tale and turns the focus again to lesser characters through which we get to learn a little more about the master of dreams.

The first story is called “Calliope” and tells of a distraught novelist eager to make as big an impact with his sophomore novel as he did with his debut. But his imagination is tapped and he needs inspiration, which comes in the form of an enslaved muse whom he purchases from a renowned author now living in seclusion. The gorgeous woman named Calliope is an immortal and former lover of the Sandman, and who do you think she winds up seeking for help when she wants to finally be rid of her proverbial chains?

In the second story called “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, a meeting is held in a cemetery. And all of those attending are cats. A feline vagabond has arrived to tell of a time when cats were the dominant species and a dream that they might one day reclaim their dominance over humanity.

Then there is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the story of the Sandman’s relationship with William Shakespeare. After commissioning ol’ Shakes to write his comedic farce, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Sandman arranges for those who are the inspiration for the tale to be its first audience.

And finally, Gaiman offers up “Facade”. This one features a character from the DC universe named Element Girl, a superhero with the ability to transform herself into nearly any element or molecule. Sadly, she is a tragic, disfigured woman unable to reclaim her former beauty and secludes herself in an apartment wishing for a way to die. When Dream’s sister Death shows up by chance, Element Girl just might find a way to do just that.

The four stories are quite disparate in tone and subject matter, but all of them were really entertaining. The collection is yet another example of Gaiman’s boundless imagination and ability to incorporate the imaginations of others into his own work. The book, however, felt too short to be called satisfying. Where the first two volumes, Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House, had the air of sweeping epics, Dream Country felt like a modest anthology. I suppose it’s a compliment to say I enjoyed something so much I only wanted more, but when I finished the fourth and final story I was left mumbling, “That’s it?”

I guess I’ll have to hope the fourth volume, Seasons of Mists, will offer a heartier reading experience.

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Filed under book review, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Dream Country, Getting Graphic, graphic novel, Kelley Jones, Malcolm Jones III, Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

Getting Graphic: "The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House" by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrators: Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Steve Parkhouse
Published: DC Vertigo (1995); originally compiled in 1990
ISBN 0-930289-59-5

Call him the Sandman, or Morpheus, or Dream, or whatever tickles your fancy, but Neil Gaiman’s Dream Lord character is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in comics. And I still have something like eight volumes left to read.

Following up on the events of the first volume, in which Morpheus was imprisoned and the Dreaming World left unchecked until he eventually escaped and reclaimed his property, The Doll’s House has him cleaning up some of the mess left behind in his absence. Most notably, some demons/entities have gone AWOL and are hiding in the real world, plus a human girl has come to his attention when he discovered that she is actually a vortex that threatens to dismantle the entire world of dreams.

The eight chapters of this graphic novel seem even more disparate on the surface than those of the first volume, but each one offers its own contribution to the overarching story–vicariously so for one chapter in particular (Part Four, “Men of Good Fortune”). Where Gaiman introduces us to Dream’s sibling, Death, in the first volume, the second volume gives us an early glimpse of two other siblings who may have played a role in his imprisonment all those years ago: Desire and Despair.

But the story doesn’t focus solely on the Sandman and his tasks of maintaining and defending the Dreaming, as readers get to know the young woman who is linked to his past and his future, Rose Walker. A bit of an inspiration for that Kristen Stewart style of brooding teen, Rose proves to be a bit more complex than that–and far more likable. After meeting her estranged grandmother in England, she’s approached by the Fates and given a glimpse into the whereabouts of her little brother. In her travels to find and reunite with him that she meets an eclectic group of roommates in an old house–one that looks strikingly like her grandmother’s doll house–and also an unfortunate run-in with one or more of the entities that escapes the Dreaming.

The artwork was splendid again, and seemed to have a more cohesive feel throughout the book, whereas the first volume seemed to show a wide array of art styles. Each setting and time-frame is given its own special touches though, so nothing feels exactly the same on each page, which makes for a nice balance.

Where the balance seemed to be lost for me was the meandering focus from one chapter to the next. While it was enjoyable in its own right, there were moments where the story went in one direction while I wished it to stay on its previous trajectory. Those diverging scenes were like time capsules that exploded onto the page with more jarring effect than the most imposing flashback scene from “Lost.” The book was good overall, but didn’t hit the same high note that the first volume attained, which may be nothing more than that old sophomore jinx that is notorious in storytelling.

Whatever the case, the book didn’t thrill me, but it certainly kept me engaged and looking forward to reading the third volume in The Sandman series. And if Neil Gaiman’s imagination in these books keeps delivering such entertaining and suspenseful stuff like the “cereal” killers convention, I’ll be a happy camper.

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Filed under book review, Chris Bachalo, DC Vertigo, Getting Graphic, graphic novel, Malcolm Jones III, Michael Zulli, Mike Dringenberg, Neil Gaiman, Sandman, Steve Parkhouse, The Doll's House

Getting Graphic: "The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes" by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, and Dave McKean (covers)
Published: DC Comics, graphic novel (1995), originally as magazine series (1988)
ISBN 1-56389-011-9 (Trade Paperback)
ISBN 1-56389-227-8 (Hardcover)

I think a bit timely to read this graphic novel, as I believe it’s been re-released this year. And had I any idea of just how good a story there was inside its pages, I’d have read it a lot sooner.

I’ve professed my love for Neil Gaiman’s novels on this blog before, and I even had a chance to read his foray into the Marvel universe with 1602 (you can read my review of that graphic novel here), but now I can see why people hyped him up so much back in the 80s and 90s for his work in the comic book realm. The Sandman is a character that seems tailor-made for Gaiman’s way of storytelling, with an otherworldly atmosphere and fanciful approach.

Being ignorant of the Sandman mythos within the DC Vertigo universe, the grim and graphic nature of the violence and gore took me by surprise. Here I was expecting a little dark fantasy and wound up with that and something that crosses the border into horror–and adeptly so at that.

The story begins in England during the early 1900s when a dealer in the black arts, Roderick Burgess, comes into possession of a book called the Magdalene Grimoire. He then uses it to summon and capture Death incarnate. But something goes amiss and he and his Order of Ancient Mysteries wind up enslaving Dream, Death’s brother (aka the Sandman). As a consolation for failing to snare Death, the conjurer steals the three most prized possessions of Dream–his pouch of sand, his helmut, and his ruby amulet–only to have them stolen by defectors from the Order.

Things only get worse for them when Dream escapes nearly a century later and sets out to recover that which was stolen from him.

The graphic novel contains the first eight books of the Sandman series, and each one has its own indelible style that really shows when they’re all laid out in succession. And while that’s due in part to Neil Gaiman’s writing, it is shown to much greater effect by the artists, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III. “The Sleep of the Just” covers Dream’s imprisonment and escape with an art style that hearkens back to the old weird comic book tales with disproportionate cartoon-like characters. “Imperfect Hosts” gives more of the same visually, but ups the ante with a deeper delving into the fantasy elements as the Sandman returns home to recoup.

The other chapters–“Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “A Hope in Hell”, “Passenger”, “24 Hours”, “Sound and Fury”, and “The Sound of Her Wings”–gradually show a much more familiar yet sinister style, due I guess to the story taking the Sandman into the present day world and beyond his bastion in the dreamscape. And the color palette seems to be saturated in 80s boldness with such a penchant for purple I expected Prince to make a cameo.

The villain at work goes by the name of Doctor Destiny. I’m unsure if this is a preexisting DC character, but I do know that John Constantine and the Scarecrow are (they make cameo appearances in the story). And the elements of horror, through escalating scenes of violence and gore, really turn the tale from a hero-hunting-for-lost-treasure kind of story to one of humanity-is-royally-screwed-if-this-madness-keeps-up.

While there were moments when the story felt a bit pretentious, others were utterly charming, and others that just dropped my jaw because I didn’t expect to see them in a DC comic book. Any Gaiman fans, like me who are late to the party, ought to check this seroes out. I’ll certainly be doing what I can to read the other Sandman novels in the future.

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Filed under book review, Dave McKean, DC Comics, Getting Graphic, graphic novel, Malcolm Jones III, Mike Dringenberg, Neil Gaiman, Preludes and Nocturnes, Sam Keith, Sandman