A June evening in 1916, Wych Cross, England. The cult leader Roderick Burgess wants to summon death with the help of a black magic ritual. The occult experiment fails, and instead of Death, Dream ends up in the clutches of Burgess and his followers.
Dream, who is something of a god, has many names: Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, Sandman. The effects of Dream’s imprisonment are disastrous. A mysterious sleeping sickness spreads, no longer lets people wake up, finally kills them.
The comic books entitled “The Sandman”, which appeared monthly from 1989 to 1996, turned out to be a surprise success for the publisher DC Comics. The series has received dozens of industry awards and is considered the most influential comic of the ’90s.
Written by British author Neil Gaiman (“Coraline”, “American Gods”) and illustrated by a diverse cast of artists, the series went above and beyond visually and narratively, and was more exciting and mature than most of what was seen at the end of the twentieth century seen in comics in the 1980s.
There are the covers designed by Dave McKean, for which the British artist combines various techniques: illustration and painting, photography and sculpture.
Then the great drawings by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, which shaped the first episodes in particular. She and Gaiman let off steam in the arrangement and design of the panels, which captivate with many graphic details. Even 30 years later, it still makes one shudder to see how much naked fear and terror can be drawn into one pair of eyes, and how monstrous and demonic Gaiman’s hell is.
The images convey a wide range of suffering and horror, often in the form of collages. Many representations work with the means of magical realism, again and again dream images and more realistic representations merge with each other.
Mortally weakened, the Lord of Dreams manages to escape from captivity. In the process, however, he was stolen three essential items that he needs to rule the dream realm: a bag of dream sand, a helm, and a red ruby, the jewel of dreams. There is much power in these things that the weakened Morpheus now lacks, and only fully equipped can he regain his former greatness.
Here a special feature of Gaiman’s narrative style becomes clear. The godlike Dream is out for revenge, but won’t be eaten by it. Even with the most dangerous opponents, a conversation is sought first, and if a fight finally comes about, it takes place in the dream world. Gaiman loves his characters and has made Dream a gothic favorite for many readers.
The fourth chapter, “Hope in Hell” is particularly impressive: Dream enters the realm of his brother Lucifer Morgenstern, who looks like David Bowie in the comic. There, the audience is rewarded with a double-sided Hidden Object featuring tens of thousands of hell denizens: dripping, dripping monsters with dozens of pairs of eyes and demons of all kinds. so much can be revealed, and that’s exactly why it’s all the more entertaining.
All of this comforts the German translation, which sometimes comes across as a little awkward. But those who embark on a journey into the dream world will be richly rewarded. The mixture of rock-solid, dark fantasy, pure horror and naked fear proves to be an excellent glue that connects the dream world, the realm of Morpheus, Dream, with the “real” world.
In contrast to the enormous success of the series in the English-speaking world, the popularity of the comics in Germany has so far been rather restrained. That could change at least a little towards the end of this week: an adaptation of the series will start on Netflix on August 5th.
Also serving as executive producer was Neil Gaiman, who says he has spent the past 30 years trying to prevent bad adaptations of his epic. With this adaptation, however, he seems to be very happy. A few days ago he wrote on Twitter: “I’ve never been so excited for people to see something I’ve made.”