The Sandman Saga: Mind Mapping a Chunk of My Life

Back when I picked up the first issue of The Sandman, I was 17. To say that I was probably the quintessential, total cliche of a Sandman reader would be a bit of an understatement. Of course I had no idea of that fact, no clue that I was part of some large, amorphous group of disenfranchised, completely typical, black-uniformed teenagers. Like most teens, I thought I was completely alone, that no one had ever felt like me. I thought my misery, fear, mourning, and general outsiders-status, was entirely new and unique (which is so wrong that it’s funny, in retrospect). In the midst of all of this private drama and a complete inability to communicate my internal world, I thought that I alone had been chosen to suffer the terrible agony of this confusing, painful experience, and without understanding that I had any other option, I dived headfirst into years of shirt-rending, melodramatic, mental self-flagellation.

What a pointless waste of time, energy and effort. But of course, if I’d known I had a choice, I wouldn’t have done so, who would? Instead I could have gotten enough sleep, eaten a healthy balanced diet, engaged in regular exercise, and maybe got a pet. Then I could have avoided years of general crappiness, and perhaps been a very different person now. But I didn’t.

Lucky for me then, that The Sandman came out just at the right time. Gaiman acted as an accessible errant philosopher, sharing his musings in this strange and entertaining comic. Here was a place where the shifting landscape of characters seemed to seek the same sort of escape from reality that I did; through their dreams, art, and literature. The Dreaming is a place ruled by the Sandman, a man/thing/idea who seemed to see himself very much as I wanted to be; dispassionate, disconnected, and strong. Of course he was none of these things, and neither was I, no matter how much we wished it. He was connected to others, he cared for and cosseted them, he hurt when he lost people, and mourned them, no matter how much he distanced himself from them. And in the end, when it all got too much, he had to let a part of himself go, to die and be reborn as someone with a far greater capacity for warmth and life. Reading his journey of discovery, and all of the little adventures held in his realm along the way, I was unconsciously provided with a dialogue for my own journey.

At the time when I originally read the books, this was all opaque to me. I simply read them and enjoyed them, it never occurred to me to ask why, or look at how it was affecting me or enriching my life. But recently, given the questionable gift of some weeks in bed to recover from an injury, I had the opportunity to do a lot of reading, and this massive opus of 10 volumes of The Sandman became perfect entertainment. I had always thought it would be interesting to re-read the Sandman books, all in one go, rather than month by month. I wanted to experience the different effect of the story told all at once, sort of like a tsunami of a read, instead of the meager trickle that it was, when I was buying the comics on monthly basis over 9 years (which was really some of the most unsettled – and so confusing – time of my life.) When I began reading the books recently, it felt like a simple, mindless indulgence, I saw no value in the endeavor. After all, reading thousands of pages of a story that I already read, when there are so many new books to read… well at first it just seemed a bit pointless. My memories surprised me, how much felt familiar after so long, I’d expected to have forgotten more. At first that familiarity fooled me into thinking that I already knew the stories, that they had nothing new to show me. Of course I was wrong, but it took me about 8 of the 10 volumes to start to see a pattern of growth and exploration that I’d missed on first reading.

At this point I need to go off on a bit of a tangent and tell a story about reading and understanding. One of the first books that I stole from my parents to read, was The Princess Bride. I think I was about 8. I was a slow reader, and my parents were worried that I was a bit thick. And I don’t mean a little bit slow, I mean they were really concerned that I might be a lost cause. At the time, I remember trying to read, I was so bored by the books in school: “The boy picked up the ball”. Turn the page; “The boy throws the ball.” I mean really?! That’s no page-turner is it? Where’s the intrigue? Where’s my motivation to read it? I remember thinking, “This is so boring, when can I stop doing this?” Then I saw my mum reading The Princess Bride, and I liked the cover, so I took it, and read it, pretty quickly. And I still remember how the story was, that it was a delightful, girl-friendly fairy tale, quite straightforward, just the kind of thing I wanted to read as an 8 years old little girl. Many many years later, they made a film of the book, and I remarked to friends that I liked all of the humor that was added in. They looked at my strangely, and explained that the humor was in the book. So I went back, and reread it. Incredibly, all of the sarcasm, wit, and any sexual innuendo had gone so far over my tiny 8 year old head, that I’d missed it completely on that first reading.

Rereading The Sandman was similar to that, in a less literal way. At the time when I’d first read it, I’d understood it, got all of the nuances and implications, the references and humor… but missed why it was appealing to me, the basic way it spoke to me when I was in the middle of figuring out who I was. I’m not talking about the broad, life-journey way, (because we’re all continually seeking our own identity, “know thyself” and all that), that’s never over. More specifically, I mean finding myself in a really childish way. As an adolescent I was confused and floundering, I was literally lost. I don’t know whether it was because of the loss of loved ones, or the trauma of physically growing, or just finding a home, but (like most people that age) I felt like I was lost in a stormy sea, and at that age, I didn’t know that life would ever be any different. I didn’t know my arse from my elbow. It was scary. The Sandman books are filled with people like that, and the character of Sandman himself is like that too, and through the analogy of this strange world Gaiman created, every aspect of that exploration and interaction is examined.

While The Sandman may not be the perfect reading material for adult-me, there was a time when it couldn’t have been a better fit. I still have great affection for the characters (even the weird, nasty, peripheral ones), at this point it’s like a time capsule. It’s nice to have a chunk of my life so completely bracketed by something external to me. I don’t want to get into a specific review of this comic; It’s out there, in all different formats, and it’s definitely recommended reading.

I begin to think that a lot of my favorite authors might be philosophers in disguise as comic book writers and artists.


Sonia Harris is a Londoner, living and working in San Francisco. As much as she likes all of the comics about life and magic and stuff, she loves the ones about idiots in spandex who fly around hitting things. Please do send whatever damn mail you please to her at


  1. I try re-reading Sandman almost every summer….but once I hit volume 7 I just get into a coma and dont come out until autumn. Not to say it’s bad, it’s just waay too much for one sit threw for a person like myself.

    But I have grown to like the series over the years, ask TNC 5 years ago about reading this and I would’ve laughed at you.

  2. Great article Sonia. 

     Love Sandman myself. Read through it all three time, a couple volumes more than that. There’s just so much good stuff in their and a nice variety to the stories and storytelling formats.  

  3. This article is complete bollocks.

  4. Very insightful. Sandman is full of that emo/teen angst kind of thing, but upon further readings, you come to appreciate it for what it is – not just great comics, but great storytelling. I couldn’t imagine reading it monthly, though. Must have been torture.

  5. @TheNextChampion Yes! I almost didn’t make it past 7, but it’s all fluid after that.

    @JoeCasey Bugger off you talentless hack.

  6. I’ve been reading comics regularly for years (not as long as most of you, my six years feels like nothing compared to some of the others here) but I have never read Sandman. I read the first issue once, and liked it, but I’ve never read anything past that. I guess it just seemed too daunting to me, but after reading this, I really think I need to finally pick these up.

  7. I can’t decide if I want to hold on to all 10 volumes of Y The Last Man for future reviewing, or see how much loot I can get for them on Ebay.  I’m certainly not going to be in the mood to reread them anytime soon.  Maybe once the movie comes out though.

  8. I’ve never gotten past World Without End (? Or a trade with a title at least vaguely like that?). I really love the one where him and Delirium search for Destruction and SEASON OF MIST… and while there is some great stuff (The Corinthian is terrifying :< ) i just feel like its too much of a mixed bag for me. I love specific trades and parts but overall I just dont know.

  9. Ron is right though from the video show…..Dream is certainly sulking and being gloomy a lot.

  10. It is a rather nostalgic book (if you read it back in the day), isn’t it? My wife just brought up the Corinthian last night. Scary dude.

  11. @sgrssickness I think that if you wanted to, you could just skim the World’s End one, if you wanted to read more. My favorite is also the storyline with Delirium and Dream on their mission.

    @crogdad The Corinthian is an amazing invention, but I like Doctor Dee best, for scary bastards.

  12. is joecasey stalking you?

  13. If he is a stalker then he may have touret’s. 

  14. I tried reading a Sandman trade back when I first got back into comics but the art bugged me and the story/mood was too depressing hehe.

  15. all joecasey has done is say ‘This article is complete bollocks.’ on your last 3 articals. he sooo fancy’s he is saying bollocks not very american they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

  16. I’ve got and read the first trade of Sandman, most of it was only ok.  But the issue with Death towards the end really made me want to try out more.  It (like Y) is one of those series I want to read.  Just a really intimidating start.

  17. i always was curious about this book ( i was the CLICHE dark an moody kid) but was weary of it because of the art and the fantasy aspect. i got a death trade a few years back and liked it but still couldnt bring myself to get sandman. so last week i got the 1st trade(due to gaimans awsome batman story) and liked it alot, took me awhile tho to get into the story structure. i probly wont get any more soon tho but as soon as the economy gets better its on my list. like you it reminded me of my younger darker self who would have freakin loved this.

  18. The more you read, the more it makes sense.  Each trade fleshed out the background of another (and not necessarily in order of publication.)

    Brief Lives, at the time, was the best comic I had ever read.

  19. @savinglala I can understand being intimidated by the scope of it. If I hadn’t read it month-to-month, I probably wouldn’t start now. I’d say the same of Y. I’m lucky that I started when it was just one or two books and seemed less daunting.

  20. @sonia; What is "shirt-rending, melodramatic, mental self-flagellation" exactly? Just curious. Thanks, Dave.

  21. @DenverDave: Hehe, well… It’s that typical, miserable, teen angst crap. All that over-the-top, mind-fucking about how horrible life is, and how no one will ever really understand. The really obnoxious part of it is that it’s nothing special, or unusual. Everyone goes through a confused, dissilusionment at some point. It’s nice getting older and getting over that silliness.

  22. never read this. i always was intrested though. thoughts??

  23. Good stuff, I agree with lots of it but I always felt the best stories were the single issue ones.  Men of Good Fortune in particular stands out as one of the best comics I’ve read as well as the Cain and Abel story, which I think was from the first arc.  I felt sometimes the longer ones lost their way.  When he was on form though there was no one better than Gaiman.  

  24. @sonia: What was your favorite story out of Sandman? I dont think you covered it in your article…

    ‘Seasons of Mist’ (or vol.4) always has a place in my heart

  25. @TheNextChampion ‘Brief Lives’, and ‘Doll’s House’ are my favorites. It’s all part of a whole that seems to work well together.

  26. Sonia.  I can relate to your story.  When Sandman started in ’89 I was 23 and still completely lost identity-wise.  Sandman hit so many cords with me, but I really had no clue why.  I simply thought it was because I was clever and cultured 🙂  I recently got separated and divorced (a friendly one but a strange self-discovery tour) and by coincident was supplied by a friend with a number of TV shows I loved when I was young.  I started rewatching them and, prompted by nostalgia, found the long box containing my original issues of Sandman and started re-reading.  

    As an aside, I love the sulfurous smell of old comics.

    It’s amazing, now that I’m approaching 43, how obviously all these stories explain and mirror my journey through life and all the brilliant crap that comes with that.  Not the actual events, of course. That would be weird.  But the feelings that knock you around as you figure out who you really are.

    From this ripe old age it’s completely evident why I love certain stories.  The character of Sandman is as confused as I was way back then; as confused as I was to some degree up until I turned 40 and figured out which direction I was supposed to be going in.  

    Now, with more self-awareness under my belt, I love these stories even more.  It’s like looking back at who I was before I figured out who I was.

    Thanks for another thoughtful article.  And thanks for making one of my rare posts sound so lame in the reread. 🙂

    BTW, I also totally get why I loved the "Land of the Lost" TV show too. And "Catweazel".  And "The Lost Islands".  But that’s another story.

  27. Never grow up! Working sucks.

    Great article. Makes me want to read the entire thing. I read the first trade and it is kind of offputting but I enjoyed it enough to get the second one (sometime before the messiah’s arrival). It doesn’t help that the "people got sick, he was locked up etc" part wan’t important really. A review of the first trade would be weird, telling what happened but stating it’s not important and to forget about it. It might be important for the continuation but as a first trade, it’s pretty weird.

    A swamp thing bit in the end with some drawings that look like they have been made by Bill Plympton,  a double page spread of hell in a Dr. Seuss style and colors, a weird talk with a weird woman out of nowhere after the swamp thing bit, a long start that leads nowhere but takes a hundred years or so, etc. I guess it can be a little daunting.

    I enjoyed it and I don’t know why. Also doctors never give toys to adults after a procedure, and adults get the most sucky medical procedures performed on them… don’t age.

  28. I’m actually re-reading the whole thing again for the umpteenth time, this time in Absolute format. I still love it, but i think towards the end it started to take itself a little too seriously. But it’s still one of my favorite series ever.

  29. @delphan Great story, thanks for sharing!

    @chlop I agree on the first book, it’s a hell of a lot of scene setting. But it’s all redeemed by the Doctor Dee story. And regarding growing up; I love it! I have more money now than I did then, so I can afford better toys. When I was kid, I was so much more reserved and afraid, now I know that I have a grown up at my back to take care of the important stuff – me! And after my most nasty recent medical procedure (a spinal injection on friday), they gave me a huge pile of jelly beans. So I felt like a little kid (the heavy drugs helped that too).

  30. I don’t know. Hearing my father singing "We Don’t Need No Education" added a decade of childish behavior. Also work still sucks no matter how many times you put your cat on a Roomba.

  31. The Sandman was the first comic I truly loved; I had been on a sort of comic hiatus for a few years (more like….oh…seven years), and it was a welcome introduction; I too don’t really care to be labeled under the entire canon of solipsistic teenagers who aren’t really aware of the world around them….so fuck the whole "who am I" stage of life all teens believe they are going through at this time, especially in this day and age (contradictory, because I am still in that stage, but not to such a level as your average seventeen year old)…but back to the Sandman, one of my favorite mini-stories is from Fables and Reflections: Three Septembers and a January. It’s a mix of the American ethos that our interesting and borrowed history has birthed, part the power of a single dream, and part insane guy walking through the streets of San Francisco shouting OFF WITH HIS HEAD! in his Emperor-iest voice. Great story, great characters, one of my favorite characters is Rose, because of the difficulty I faced in really recognizing how she related to the story…sometimes you gotta just let got of preconceptions of what you know or don’t.