Neil Gaiman writes, in his introduction to this book: "I was taken aside by a man who had read Sandman #1 just after it came out, asking how I dared put one of the Words That Must Not Be Written Down in my comic; I hated to tell him where that word had already been written down, and where I had found it." He leaves us with that, our fascination dilated, appetites whetted, attention held. Just what is he referring to? I've read this whole book, and I still don't know.
Much has been made of the mass of literary, historical, mythological, folkloric, and comic-nerd allusions encrusted into The Sandman like the oddments in McKean's covers. Karen Berger says there's a million things each issue that goes over her head. "Nobody was expected to get all the references", writes Gaiman. Nothing, then, could be more appropriate than an annotated Sandman. And the format-- full-size reproductions of each page, with giant margins for notes. This is a major step in comics history. Unfortunately, it's a botched job. This is one of most frustratingly failed attempts at prestige I've encountered in ages. I can't believe Gaiman would consent to its publication, let alone his name being all over it.
First of all, influences/inspirations are never discussed, and references/allusions are seldom glossed. Many specific tidbits about folktales and mythology which I've always wondered about, especially in regards to names, are not mentioned here. Another surprise for me was that many of the comic book references are barely dealt with, or dealt with not at all. In addition to that, there are some pop/lit/nerd references I happened to recognize myself which the annotator failed to catch, giving me that terrible and awkward feeling that I may have done a better job, having no background in this sort of thing. In short, this book is useless for the main thing it purports to be used for.
The occasional references that are addressed are pretty much only historical, and are presented in a very dry way (dates, ownership, etc). Some of the things which do get space are questionable. For instance, page 32 begins with a long paragraph detailing the early history of British tabloid The Daily Mail, because one of the panels shows a copy of that paper. There are notes telling you whenever an ad appeared after that page; each issues' solicitation ad copy is also given. Most of the notes are along these lines, or to mention in what future Sandman issue a character returns or a plotline is resolved. Most of the pages do not have notes at all.
As if all this were not enough, the notes are written as though the Sandman stories are 'real', from a perspective inside the fictional universe or whatever. I read: "Little is known about 'Roderick Burgess', the name adopted by Morris Burgess Brocklesby. He was born in..." this is the beginning of a long paragraph detailing Mr. Burgess' key dates and associations ("apparently", I thought, "a lot is known about him!"). I was floored to discover that Gaiman used an actual historical personage, but became confused when I read of Mr. Burgess' association with Aleister Crowley, a figure about whom I happen to know a thing or two. By the time I read the whole paragraph, I was skeptical enough to look online. We were right the first time: obviously, nobody named Roderick Burgess actually existed. He is a creation of Neil Gaiman's. But our annotator writes as though Burgess did in fact exist. This calls into question ALL of Klinger's notes: for instance, is "Jamaican bamboo", a remarkable flower that only blooms every 33 years (pg 21), real or fiction? Was the "sleepy sickness" a true historical phenomena or an invention of Gaiman's? I must use the internet to find these things out, so I am essentially annotating The Sandman myself. This book is worthless.
There is one thing that may make this book essential to Sandman nuts-- not merely the "fan" like myself, but the obsessive collector geek who feels that Sandman is the greatest work of art ever created by humankind. They will already be buying this book, but I'll mention the item anyway: Script excerpts. Klinger had access to all of the original Sandman scripts, and he has quoted from them extensively, especially when the art or final dialogue differs from them in some way. Even this was just not as interesting to read as I thought it would be.
I'll leave prospective buyers with a typical excerpt that illustrates some of my problems with this book:
"PANEL 5. The Magdalene Grimoire was probably named after Magdalene College, Cambridge, the library of which may have possessed this volume for a time before it was acquired by the British Museum. Books often acquire a descriptive name reflecting the custodian-- e.g., the Bodleian First Folio (to distinguish the volumes of other collections' First Folios of Shakespeare). A "grimoire" is a textbook of magic. Many famous grimoires were published, including [...] Curiously, the Magdalene Grimoire appears again in the mid-20th Century, in connection with the attempted resurrection of super-hero Green Arrow. Its last-known human owner was Stanley Dover; it is currently owned, according to the last report, by Thpot the Monster." (pg 22)
On display here is:
-explanation of the rather obvious (defining "grimoire")
-inclusion of irrelevant information (mention of Shakespeare folios; list of other grimoires)
-discussion of fictional things as though they are real ('Magdalene Grimoire'; the entirety of the last two sentences)
-lack of any kind of citation (even comic book titles/issue numbers)
It's a big long book, it wasn't very fun to read, and I can honestly say I didn't learn a ___ ____ thing.