INTERVIEW. With its swirling blend of mythology, fantasy and horror, Neil Gaiman’s seminal “The Sandman” series, about the Lord of Dreams, remains one of the finest achievements in comic book history to date. “The Sandman” title was published in 75 monthly issues from 1989 through 1996. “The Absolute Sandman” collection, the fourth and final edition of which was recently published, is a gorgeous reproduction of the series in hard bound, handsome volumes with extensive bonus material such as original sketches, scripts and extra short stories. When it first appeared 20 years ago it combined a literary credibility with a crossover appeal and radically changed the pop culture landscape for years to come. We spoke with the British ex-pat about the recent release of the fourth “The Absolute Sandman” collection and the legacy of the series.
How do you explain “The Sandman”’s sustained crossover appeal over all these years?
If you asked me while it was going on what the appeal of “Sandman” was I would’ve talked about it not being costumes and capes, [but] about writing something for an audience of people like me, and hoping that they were out there. But I don’t think even at my most madly optimistic I would ever have predicted a future in which 20 years after the first issue it would be selling more copies with each passing year.
Has the genre ghettoization of graphic novels and literature abated since then?
Well, for a start, no one would have used the phrase ‘graphic novels’ because nobody knew what it meant. Today, of course, no one knows what it means, but we use it all the time, which is different. ... Back then “Sandman” wasn’t making it onto university syllabuses. Students would discover it and the professors would have no idea what they were talking about and they would make their professors read it. Now, of course, you have professors making their students read it, which is kind of different. When we began, “Sandman” was pirate literature. The idea that you could have a quality monthly comic with a story was strange.
Do you think it was sort of a Trojan Horse, sneaking literature in through the back door?
I don’t think it was exactly a Trojan Horse, but whatever it was, the magic of it was that it was happening in a place that nobody was looking. ... I think part of the strength and the power that it had was that it existed in the gutter. Nobody looked and nobody cared, and that in itself is a wonderful and empowering sort of thing because it gives you complete freedom.
New York Metro