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on January 12, 2003
Neil Gaimen's "Sandman" series has long since transcended the comic book genre (it was the 1st monthly comic to win a literary award)and earned a cult following of loyal fans who find added enjoyment with repeated readings. "The Sandman Companion" caters to those fans.
*What it is - There are excellent summaries of each of the ten graphic novels, sidebars pointing out details not to miss, black and white sketches scattered throughout, commentary by the artists who drew the series, and in-depth interviews with Neil Gaimen on each book. Gaimen, in particular, is very insightful about the creative process, including the Alan Moore-like research he put into the backround of many of the stories. All of these were not only fascinating to read, but also gave added depth and perspective on future readings.
*What it is not - "The Sandman Companion" does not clear up backstory, fill in plot ambiguities, nor spell out what is only hinted or implied in the books. It stays fairly true to what you are given on the printed page, and from that standpoint, there is nothing "new" in this book - its all about what already IS. So if you are one who dislikes the amibiguities or open-endedness of some parts of the plot, you won't find much help in this book.
I'd recommend this for fans of the Sandman series who simply want a glimpse of what went on behind the creative process of one of the greatest comics in history.
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on September 20, 2002
When DC released the first issue of The Sandman, I picked it up because the concept seemed cool. I hadn't read any of Writer Neil Gaiman's previous work except Black Orchid, but I thought I'd give it a try. Little did I know that I was about to step into one of the most well-told stories I've ever read.
Sadly, Neil Gaiman concluded The Sandman after 75 issues. The good side of that is The Sandman is so superbly crafted that repeated readings yield new insights into the characters and their histories. I've read the series three times, so I figured The Sandman Companion would just reaffirm things I already knew.
Turns out I HAD caught a lot of the hidden subtexts, but a lot more had slipped right by me. I still haven't had my #1 Sandman question answered (What WAS the favor Morpheus wanted from Loki in exchange for his freedom in "A Season of Mists"...?), but I learned so much more that I didn't know that I feel like reading the series yet AGAIN! Hy Bender tackles the series by collection, giving a comprehensive overview of each arc, following that up with interviews with Neil Gaiman and the various other contributors. The book is packed with information, and is done in such a breezy style that I never wanted to put it down. Also, the hardcover is just beautifully designed. It's truly a great package, and I can't recommend it highly enough- Not just for Sandman fans, but for anyone who wants to get into the creative processes of a talented Author.
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on June 17, 2001
I recently read the entire Sandman series for the first time, as the books rather than the comics, and in order. And I liked it a lot. I thought Gaiman did a very good job of balancing stories with timeless appeal, that echoed familiar myths, fairy tales, and folk tales (even superhero comic books), with modern references to club Goths, pop stars, pop psych concerns, and so on. (Actually the pop-culture references seem a little too geared toward increasing sales among teenagers, but I was usually able to ignore them.)
Then right afterward I read _The Sandman Companion_. I thought it would reveal greater depth in the work. More explanations of the mythologies Gaiman drew from. More explanations of the symbolism he used. More explanations of plots that were not entirely clear. (Like, why was Rose given back her heart late in the series?) Even endings of stories that were not fully told. (What happened with Cluracan and his Nemesis?)
That's not what _The Sandman Companion_ is about. It's for fans. It's not for analytical readers. Much of it consists of dull summaries of plots that readers who have read Sandman are thoroughly familiar with. Most of the rest consists of trivial details like, which acquaintance of the author or an artist served as a visual model for which character in which comic. They do not support the depth and power of the Sandman story. Really they have nothing to do with it. Bender seems to be catering to fans so hungry for any further connection with the work and its author that they feel privileged to "overhear" his "intimate" interview. Which actually, seems to be merely very carefully calculated publicity.
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on May 3, 2000
I was hoping that the Sandman Companion wouldn't be too much of a repeat of the Sandman Annotations online, and, happily, it isn't at all. There's definitely enough new stuff to make it worth the cover price. Besides that, some things many fans are already familiar with from rumors and/or interviews are clarified here, like the origin of Death, and the connection between Delirium and Tori Amos.

Each Sandman collection is discussed, one at a time, with insightful essays by Hy Bender, and then the Neil Gaiman interviews. There really is a lot of new information. For every issue, almost, there's some neat fact you didn't know before, or a comment from Neil. (For example, it's no coincidence that "Three Septembers and a January" sounds like "Four Weddings and a Funeral", although the comic was released before the movie!) Even if I had known everything in this book already, Neil's interviews are always fun to read.

The book includes an excellent introduction and "Frequently Asked Questions", with questions such as "Why should I read a comic book?" The answer to this question is the perfect thing to show someone who turns their nose up at comics. Yes, comics can be worthy literature, and not only that, they have potential for artistic effects that can't be achieved through film or words alone.

The Sandman Companion is also well illustrated. With the text, there are black-and-white illustrations by Sandman artists, including panels from the comic, trading card art, and proposal sketches--early ideas for what Dream should look like. Then there's a great full-color section with more trading cards, and cool stuff like Sandman statues and posters (Now that I own picures of them, I don't feel so bad about not being able to get my hands on the actual items), foreign-language editions of the comic, and even some of Dave McKean's Vertigo Tarot (Mad Hettie as The High Priestess, Dream as The Hierophant, Delirium as Temperance, Destiny as The Wheel of Fortune, and Death as...well, Death).

This is a very well-done companion book to the Sandman series, readable and constantly interesting. I really recommend it. The hardcover price may be a bit much for the casual fan, but any serious Gaiman fanatic (like me!) should buy this as soon as possible. I'd suggest that after you've finished the Sandman series at least once, read the Companion as you re-read each volume. That's what I'm doing--it's like discovering the series all over again.
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on April 4, 2000
As a true and loyal fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic book series, the Companion was a must buy. The book is divided into three parts: 1) overview; 2) the Sandman Collections; and 3) back story. The format is a combination of researched facts and direct transcripts of Bender's interview of Neil Gaiman over a five day period. The overview discusses what the sries is about, the various collections, its origins, its influences and how it has influenced the Goth movement. It also provides some insight of who Gaiman is, his past writing experiences, his relationship with artist Dave McKean and how Gaiman was "discovered." Part Two provides a detailed summary of each collection followed by an in-depth interview of Gaiman regarding various aspects of the collection intersperesed with various pieces of information about the artists involved and their feelings on their collaboration. Part Three discusses the origins of the Endless, Sandman, the series most character, Death, and the menagerie of folks who populate the Dreaming and the series. It gives a rare glimpse at a comic scriptand how Gaiman presents his work to his editors and artists. The book includes three appendices 1) a list of every penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor involed in every issue of Sandman; 2) other Sandman related works; and 3) a list of references the book utilized and other works by Gaiman. It should be noted there is a fair amount of artwork in the book including 16 pages of color photos. True fans of the series will not be too surprised by the information and will woder wy Bender didn't ask certain questions as only crazed fanatics would. At times, Bender's lack of knowledge can be glaring, however, the book remains a must for every fan of the series. After reading it, I was ready to pull out each pristine copy I own and read them again!
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on January 22, 2000
When Neil Gaiman set down his pen and brought the saga of the Sandman to an end several years ago, it left a huge void in the comics market. Since the 80s, the trend in comics has been to diminish the role of the writer and bring the artist to the fore (check out Todd McFarlane's track record if you don't believe this to be the case.) Thus most of the comics on the rack will have gorgeous artwork and incoherent plots, a la The X-Men.
Neil Gaiman fought this inexorable tide almost single-handedly throughout his run on the Sandman with thought-provoking, intricately layered tales which simply could not be confined by genre or medium.
The Sandman Companion gives even casual readers a sense of how deep and how complex Gaiman's stories were and provides a fascinating window on the comic business and the creative process to boot.
Author Hy Bender opens with background on how Gaiman got his start and how the Sandman came about, none of which will be very new to those fans who've followed Gaiman's interviews in fanzines.
Then we hit the meat of the book. Bender takes us through every Sandman story, providing a detailed synopsis of the plot, then deconstructing the story with the aid of insightful interviews with Gaiman and others. Even those of us familiar with The Annotated Sandman on the Web will find this fascinating.
The collection wraps up with 3 interviews/essays and a detailed list of credits for the original Sandman comics.
Some have criticized DC for trading on the Sandman allure to make a buck. (Given the puerile garbage they put out for comics today, who could blame them?) The Sandman Companion is no marketing ploy, however. It is a solid addition to the Gaiman canon and will be a welcome gift for fans of the author or his immortal creation.
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on December 13, 1999
Dreams. They are the driving forces behind each and everyone of us, for dreams are the precursors of life. They start out as an idea, or a notion or a sound and quickly evolve into an image and a story. Soon after we find ourselves in the waking world with an urge we can not fight, a silent yearning for something bigger and better which we know is out there waiting for us.
But what our own dreams may be dreaming is a mystery to us. It's like falling down an endless void; the uncertainty of whether or not you'll hit bottom is what makes you feel alive, if only because there is a good chance you're life could end right then. Not all dreams are good though. At times you find yourself dreaming of what could be or, more accurately, of what you wish it could be. These timeless quiet moments in which our soul is exalted by such untold dreams remains but a faint memory in the light of our restless wake. Be that as it may, they still provide a burning desire.
Neil Gaiman's creation 'The Sandman' is a prolific and captivating world. It goes beyond the binding title of 'comic strip' and stands as one of the most intricate and magical worlds ever created. You will meet gods and monsters, endless beings who are older that time itself. You will fall in love and hope that death comes knocking on your door on a brisky Sunday morning to have a cup of tea. In short, Neil Gaiman's world of 'The Sandman' is magic.
And what is magic but a natural result of the dreams we have, such is our nature. Gods and myths, legends and heroes, they all start out as dreams, we know that much. We create them and breathe life unto them when quietly we let them step into the soft places of the world. Quoting Frazer from his masterful work 'The Golden Bough': "the fatal flaw of these dreams lies not in its general assumption of a sequence of events determined by law, but rather in its total misconception of the nature of the particular laws which govern that sequence." And thus it is that with time all gods and dreams and monsters turn green and tired, they cease to exist in our waking world and are only remembered in old dreams, thus completing the cycle.
THE SANDMAN COMPANION will be your guide through the world of Neil Giaman, well presented, with interviews and details of what went on behind the stage. If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman's work you wont want to miss this one, trust me.
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on December 22, 1999
Okay, The people at DC Comics are sqeezing the Gaiman/Sandman phenomenon to the last drop. Toys, posters, spin offs - and now an Official Companion? ARGH! Well, actually its a very interesting and readable book. It works both as a sort of Neil Gaiman biography/interview and as an definitive overview of one of the most important graphic novel series of the 90'ies. Most people will need this guide if they want to fully appreciate all the weird details and in-jokes in the series. Oh, and the HUGE Gaiman interview could also work as a sort of introduction to some important story telling techniques of the comic book medium.
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on June 13, 2003
A good "companion" book to Sandman would tell you about Neil Gaiman's thousands of sources for his stories. Who is Lyta Hall in the DC universe? Who is Element Girl? How about literary and historical sources? Where does the phrase "omnia mutantur, nihil interit" come from, who used it, and what did it mean then? Who was Aleister Crowley? Instead, most of this book is a recap of the story -- Cliff's Notes for a comic -- with a few visits from Neil talking about the inspiration for this or that! Very disappointing. Not worth the money.
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on January 23, 2000
This book is incredible, absolutely a necessity for ALL fans of Sandman. It's a storehouse of the coolest facts-- revealing all the deeper layers of the stories you may have missed. I was shocked to find that one of my favorite Sandman stories, "Cluracan's Tale", is one of the stories Neil is most disappointed with! Go figure! The 16-page color section is pretty cool too, and the book makes great "pick up and go" reading. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all Sandman fans--it's the next best thing to a new issue!
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