he Sandman was a comic book series, written by Neil Gaiman and published by DC Comics from 1988 until 1996, becoming the flagship of DC's Vertigo imprint, and kept in print as a series of ten graphic novels. It is widely considered one of the most original, sophisticated and artistically ambitious comic book series of the modern age. By the time the series concluded, it had made significant contributions to the artistic maturity of comic books and had become a pop culture phenomenon in its own right.
The protagonist of Sandman is Dream of the Endless, the immortal anthropomorphic personification of dreams and storytelling. He is known by an array of names, most often Morpheus, but also Oneiros, Lord Shaper, the Prince of Stories, and, very occasionally, the Sandman. He is one of a family of seven siblings known as the Endless, all of whom personify some conscious experience: the others being Death, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium and their missing brother, whose name is initially not revealed.
Gaiman has summarized the story of the series as “The king of dreams learns one must change or die and then makes his decision.” The character's haughty, often cruel manner in the stories set in the past is somewhat softened by his years of imprisonment: but how far can a being as old as the universe change? An important theme of the series is that of rules and responsibilities: whether imposed from without or self-imposed, are we slaves to our obligations, or can we lay them down and walk away?
Most storylines took place between the Dreaming, Morpheus's realm, and the waking world, with visits to other domains such as Hell, Faerie, Asgard, and the realms of the other Endless. Many used the contemporary United States of America as a backdrop. (The DC Universe was the official backdrop of the series but well-known DC characters and places were rarely featured after 1990). However, Gaiman occasionally told stories involving Morpheus and his family set throughout world history.
Unlike most US comic books, The Sandman existed almost completely outside the superhero genre. The first third of the series somewhat conformed to the horror genre, but it later bloomed into an elaborate fantasy series, incorporating elements of classical and contemporary mythology.
Also unlike most comic books, The Sandman did not feature a regular illustrator. Instead different artists were hired for the duration of a storyline, or for a single issue. Aside from co-creator Sam Kieth, artists who illustrated a significant number of issues include Colleen Doran, Mike Dringenberg, Marc Hempel, Kelley Jones, Jill Thompson and Michael Zulli. Their styles ranged from cartoony expressionism (Hempel) to detailed, delicate realism with a hint of the Pre-Raphaelites (Zulli).
Each issue featured a cover created by Dave McKean. McKean’s approach combined painting, photography, pencil and ink drawings, collage, digital art, found objects and even sculpture, resulting in distinctive, often abstract or surreal, images.
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