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Issue two of SANDMAN brought in a group of familiar characters from DC's various mystery/horror anthologies: Cain and Abel, and the Three Witches; and Neil handled them with respect but also some delightful humor. Neil's landscape was continuing to widen. Also included were ties to the DC Universe, and new (to me, at least) characters Goldie the baby gargoyle and Lucien the librarian of dreams. Goldie was cute in a pathetic sort of way, a nice contrast to the darker aspects of the story, and any realm with a librarian was right up my alley.

I'm not sure when Neil and I first spoke on the phone, but I do recall our first meeting in person. It was while I was working on issue three, at the DC offices, where we both happened to be visiting on the same day, probably in early 1988. I remember telling Neil how much I was enjoying SANDMAN, and how impressed I was with all the things he'd managed to get into it already, in the space of three issues. We got to talking about books we'd both read and enjoyed, and there seemed to be a lot we had in common, from children's books by E. Nesbit and C.S. Lewis to fantasy novels by James Branch Cabell and Hope Mirrlees. We also talked about artists we'd both like to work with. We continued to have those conversations from time to time. Meanwhile, Neil wanted to know if it was okay to ask for special styles for characters, as we'd done with Dream. I said I was all for it. And thus, from issue 4, when Dream goes to Hell, new style requests started coming at a more rapid pace in the scripts. This is the sort of thing that can easily be overdone. Special styles should only be used when there's a good reason for them, I say. But in Neil's excellent scripts, he kept coming up with good reasons. Lucifer, the ruler of Hell, and some of his chief demons, for instance...surely they qualified.

Sandman 4 sample

Sandman #4 © DC Comics

Incidentally, that style used for Lucifer was later used by me, with a different balloon shape, for Jack Kirby's Demon, though I didn't use it for his appearance in this issue, as that would have been confusing.

Sandman #6, the diner of horrors, showed that Neil had really begun to transcend the usual comics horror story, with its fine character development and truly chilling acts of madness, but it was issue 8 where everything seemed to click into place, and the real genius of Neil's SANDMAN emerged. The unexpected characterization of Dream's sister Death went exactly to the opposite of what anyone might expect, yet Neil made her wonderfully real. I followed his lead with her lettering style, making it absolutely white- bread normal.

With issue 10, the beginning of The Doll's House, we first meet Dream's sibling, Desire. Neil's script called for Desire to be exotic and enigmatic, and I tried to emulate that in her lettering style. A little oriental, a bit of Art Nouveau. Issues 11 and 12 were the ones John Costanza lettered while I was away on my honeymoon, though I had started 11, and bits of my lettering survive, including the title. Issue 14, the Serial Convention, was another even more harrowing horror tale, but does bring forth the delightful character of Fiddler's Green and the frightening one of The Corinthian. I had a hard time making Corinthian's "eyes" talk...even with the tails going toward the eyes, it didn't quite work for me.

Issue 15, "Into the Night" once again called for a variety of new styles, and I got into some trouble on this one. The artist, Mike Dringenberg, followed a practice common with some artists of doing the pages out of order. I got them to letter out of order with just the script for those pages each time, and suddenly realized I was supposed to be doing all these different styles about halfway through. I had to letter some patches and corrections to make it all work, and from then on requested that I always get the full script at the beginning of each issue so I could be aware of anything I needed to be doing with the lettering.

Beginning with issue 16, "Calliope", Dringenberg was not available, opening the door to other artists for a few issues, and soon SANDMAN became that rare series, a completely writer-driven epic, with artists coming in for an issue or three, or a series, but the main constant being Neil's excellent writing. I like to think I helped tie things together, too, since I lettered every subsequent issue.

For issue 17 Neil wanted some sort of hybrid balloon style for the cats, so that it wouldn't look like they were talking cats, but also not like they were all telepathic. We settled on regular balloons with the tails broken by thought bubbles. I think it works.

Sandman 17 sample

Sandman #17 © DC Comics

Issue 19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" really pulled out all the stops both artistically (Charles Vess's wonderful fantasy art) and literarily, if that's a word, with Neil boldly taking on Shakespeare and his world as well as the realm of Faery. A tour-de-force! A World Fantasy Award winner! Great coloring by Steve Oliffe! I just tried to stay out of the way on that one.

But up next was the Season of Mists storyline, where my lettering styles really got a workout.

Continue with more about NEIL GAIMAN / SANDMAN


All text and images © Todd Klein, except as noted. All rights reserved.


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