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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1159

Written in an epistolary form, this short story begins as a letter from Nathanael to Lothar. Nathanael is in a state of upset because a peddler has come to visit him. He explains that in order for his distress to make sense, he must tell Lothar the story of his life.

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Nathanael explains that, as a child, he and his siblings rarely saw their father, except in the evenings, when he would give them picture books. At nine or so, his mother would send the children to bed, saying that "the Sandman" had come—and indeed they would hear a heavy tread on the stairs which they assumed to be the Sandman. Frightened, Nathanael asked his mother about the Sandman, but she assured him he was not real—she just meant it was time for sleep. His nurse, however, told a different story. She said that when children wouldn't sleep, the Sandman would come and throw sand in their eyes and then take them home for his children to eat.

At this point, of course, the "incubus" of the Sandman came to terrify Nathanael at night, although he knew it couldn't really all be true. He drew an association between the Sandman and his father's room, the door of which could be heard opening at night. Then, when he was ten, his mother moved him from the nursery into a room near his father's.

Desperate to see the Sandman, Nathanael concealed himself one night in his father's room and waited for the footsteps. Peering out, he saw that the Sandman was not an ogre at all, but an old lawyer friend of the family, Coppelius. Nathanael explained, however, that the children and their mother alike all hated Coppelius, who was ugly and spiteful; however, their father seemed to idolize him. Seeing his father sitting with Coppelius, Nathanael noticed his father start to become ugly by association.

Coppelius caught Nathanael in his hiding place, and then (the narrative suggests this is really happening) threw him on the fire and took out some fiery grains, intending to throw them in the boy's eyes. The boy's father intervened, but Coppelius still began to twist the boy's limbs.

At this point, blackness overtook Nathanael; he awoke in his own room. Nathanael explains to Lothar that probably what happened was that Coppelius found him, "roughly handled" him, and subsequently fell ill; the details were in his imagination. Still, he was terrified. Coppelius then left town.

A year later, Coppelius returned. Nathanael's father promised this would be his last visit; but then the servant maid found Nathanael's father dead, his features burned. Coppelius then disappeared, fleeing the authorities.

Nathanael now reveals that the peddler who has appeared is Coppelius—and he, Nathanael, is resolved to avenge his father's death.

The next letter is from Clara, Lothar's brother, to Nathanael. She tells him that he inadvertently addressed his last letter to her, and she has read it. She tries to assure Nathanael that he is wrong—the peddler is Gieseppe Coppola, not Coppelius, and the horrors Nathanael relates were only in his child's mind. She tells him it is probable that his father's death was caused by misfortune and begs him not to let himself be consumed by the idea that there is some dark power in the universe.

Nathanael writes back to Lothar to tell him what Clara has said, but he stresses that the peddler is not Coppola. He also tells the story of a beautiful young woman, Olimpia, he has seen, who is kept imprisoned by her father, Spalanzani. He hopes to return to Lothar and Clara soon.

At this point, the narrative changes. A third person introduces himself as a "friend" of Lothar's and says he has been given these letters as a basis from which to tell the story of what really happened to Nathanael. He explains that Clara and Lothar were adopted by Nathanael's mother but that Clara was the object of Nathanael's affections, being very beautiful.

Nathanael, after writing his letters, does return home, but he is in a very strange and gloomy mood. He tries to argue that Coppelius is the "Evil Principle" and will ruin the couple's happiness. Clara tries to convince Nathanael to banish him from his mind, but Nathanael instead begins to compose a poem about it, as he falls deeper into depression, and resists Clara's urgings to give it up. Finally, he pushes Clara away from him and speaks sharply to her. She tells her brother, and the two duel.

Clara objects to this, asking how she is supposed to live if her brother has slain her husband or her husband her brother. The pair drop their weapons and weep, and the three embrace each other in forgiveness.

After a time, Nathanael goes back to where he had been staying, and the peddler, Coppola, appears, announcing that he has "fine eyes," meaning spectacles, for sale. These words trigger a memory of Coppelius, and Nathanael roughly sends the peddler away, but not before taking one of his glasses.

He then attends a concert at which Olimpia is playing. Looking at her through the glass, she suddenly becomes the most beautiful thing in the world to him, and he approaches her. Spalanzani tells him that he may come and go as he pleases if he enjoys talking to his daughter, at which Nathanael is delighted.

A friend, Siegmund, asks why Nathanael is so interested in Olimpia, as everyone else perceives her to be rather robotic and soulless. Nathanael says this is because her "loving glances" were directed only at him.

Nathanael becomes obsessed with Olimpia, putting aside Clara and Lothar and determining to propose marriage to Olimpia. However, when he arrives to do so, he hears Spalanzani and Coppelius arguing. When he goes into the room, he sees the peddler, Coppola, wrestling the figure of Olimpia away from Spalanzani. Eventually he throws her over his shoulder and leaves.

At this point, Nathanael realizes that Olimpia is actually a puppet, which Spalanzani confirms, calling her his best work and saying that Coppola has stolen her. Coppola has also pulled out the doll's eyes and left them behind.

At this revelation, Nathanael goes completely mad and attempts to attack Spalanzani, being restrained only by Siegmund's efforts.

Eventually Nathanael recovers and goes home to Clara and Lothar, where he feels much improved. However, Nathanael still has Coppola's glass. One day when walking, he turns the glass upon Clara and goes once more mad, calling her "wooden doll" and seizing her roughly. The two are hanging over a railing; Lothar saves his sister, but Nathanael continues to run madly.

A crowd gathers, in the midst of which is Coppelius. Coppelius says Nathanael will soon come down of his own accord. Indeed, when Nathanael spots Coppelius, he screams out "Fine eyes!" and falls to his death.

Coppelius disappears again, as swiftly as he had returned. Clara eventually remarries and has children.


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4333

AUTHOR: Gaiman, Neil

ARTIST: Marc Hempel (illustrator); Shawn McManus (illustrator); Jon J. Muth (illustrator); P. Craig Russell (illustrator); Charles Vess (illustrator); Michael Zulli (illustrator); Sam Kieth (penciller); Kelley Jones (penciller); Bryan Talbot (penciller); Jill Thompson (penciller); Mike Dringenberg (penciller and inker); Mark Buckingham (inker); D’Israeli (inker); Dick Giordano (inker); Malcolm Jones III (inker); Vince Locke (inker); Robbie Busch (colorist); Steve Oliff (colorist); Daniel Vozzo (colorist); John Costanza (letterer); Todd Klein (letterer); Dave McKean (cover artist)




Publication History

Following the success of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, DC Comics helped usher in the Modern Age of comics by hiring several young British writers in the late 1980’s, most notably Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman. Gaiman wrote an acclaimed miniseries, Black Orchid (1988-1989), which included many of the same elements as Swamp Thing, before launching The Sandman. DC had published several other characters under the name “Sandman,” most notably a Golden Age crime fighter and a short-lived mystical superhero created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby during the 1970’s, but Gaiman’s Sandman bore little relation to these characters. Instead, the series embraced the field of modern British horror, though it was still clearly a part of the DC Universe.

The series gained greater attention when its second story arc, The Doll’s House, was reprinted as a trade paperback in 1990. Collected editions of comic books were still relatively uncommon, and they were mostly saved for special miniseries rather than story arcs from ongoing series. The Sandman received even further attention when issue 19 (collected in Dream Country), which incorporated the origin of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1600), won the World Fantasy Award for best short story. Soon, the first story arc, Preludes and Nocturnes, was collected, followed by the remaining eight volumes. All of the trade paperbacks featured introductions by well-known writers, including Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel R. Delany.

Beginning with issue 47 (collected in Brief Lives), the series was published under DC’s Vertigo label. While Gaiman wrote every issue, the art teams changed with each story arc. In 1991, DC published a special that told the story of Dream’s son, Orpheus, (collected in Fables and Reflections). The series ended after seventy-five issues, but Gaiman wrote two spin-off miniseries featuring the character Death. He also wrote a prose novella illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano called The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (1999) and a graphic novel with multiple artists called The Sandman: Endless Nights (2003). The original ten volumes have been reprinted numerous times, including hardback editions beginning in 1995 and a special four-volume deluxe collection of the entire series called Absolute Sandman beginning in 2006.


From the beginning, Gaiman develops a rich mythology for The Sandman, based on a combination of DC’s other comics, classical mythology, folklore, and his own invention. Central to his concept is a family of immortals called The Endless who rule over different states of existence; these include Destruction, Destiny, Delirium, Despair, Desire, Death, and, most significantly, Dream. The story begins in 1916 when a magician, Roderick Burgess, attempts to capture Death. His summoning spell mistakenly conjures Death’s brother, Dream, instead. Burgess steals three of Dream’s tools—a helm, a ruby amulet, and a pouch of sand—and he keeps Dream prisoner for more than seventy years.

During this time, numerous people are diagnosed with encephalitis or other sleeping disorders, among them a young girl named Unity Kinkaid. Finally, Dream escapes and sets out to restore his power, while many of the victims of his imprisonment, including Unity Kinkaid, awaken. Weakened from the ordeal, Dream sets out to regain his three missing tools, a quest that involves teaming up with John Constantine, descending into Hell and fighting a verbal duel with a demon, and ultimately defeating a former Justice League villain named Doctor Destiny. However, Dream sulks afterward, feeling directionless until his sister, Death, lectures him about his responsibilities and takes him along as she does her work.

In The Doll’s House, Unity Kinkaid summons her granddaughter, Rose Walker, to England, and then sends her on a mission to find Jed, Rose’s missing brother, who has been co-opted by two of Dream’s former servants. Dream is also looking for them, and when he discovers them hiding in Jed’s dreams, he also finds Hector and Lyta Hall, both of whom have been living in the dream for two years. Hector, a version of the Sandman hero from the 1970’s, should have already been dead, and his wife, Lyta, is pregnant and has been carrying the baby in the dream for two years. Dream informs her that the child belongs to him. Then Dream confronts Rose, who poses a serious threat to the “Dreaming “ because she is a “dream vortex.” Apparently, vortices appear from time to time and have the power to destroy the Dreaming. In order to protect his realm, Dream is supposed to kill her, but Unity appears and offers herself instead, arguing that she was supposed to be the vortex before Dream was captured. Dream kills Unity and then confronts his sibling, Desire, whom he discovers impregnated Unity during her coma in order to trick Dream into killing a blood relative, which is forbidden.

Following four independent short stories, Season of Mists finally introduces all of the Endless at once. Destiny calls a family conclave, so the siblings arrive in formal attire. An argument breaks out between Desire and Dream about Nada, Dream’s former lover who eventually spurned him and was sentenced to Hell by Dream ten thousand years earlier. After Death takes Desire’s side, Dream realizes he has treated Nada badly, so he decides to return to Hell to free her. Expecting a fight with Lucifer, Dream is surprised to find that Lucifer is quitting. He asks Dream to cut off his wings, and he leaves the highly valuable key to Hell with Dream. Once the news travels through the magical realms, a number of petitioners, including figures from Norse and Egyptian mythology, the land of Faerie, and angels from the Silver City, all arrive at the Dreaming. However, the angels receive a message from the Creator, stating that Hell must remain under their control. Dream turns the key over to them and informs the others, allowing Loki to go free and Nuala of Faerie to stay in the Dreaming. He also arranges for Nada’s spirit to be reborn in an infant.

The next story arc, A Game of You, focuses on Barbie, one of the characters Rose Walker met when she was looking for her brother in The Doll’s House. Barbie’s dream world of fairy-tale animals is dying, and some of the fantastical creatures are merging with the real world. Barbie is drawn into the dream fantasy while her friends attempt to rescue her. Finally, Dream appears and brings an end to the dream.

The next collection, Fables and Reflections, contains a variety of individual short stories, many set in the past, including stories about Caesar Augustus, Marco Polo, and Robespierre. One of the most important stories, “The Song of Orpheus,” explores the history of Dream and his son, Orpheus. Shortly before Orpheus and Eurydice are to marry, she is killed. Orpheus descends to the underworld and is leading her out when he breaks one of the rules of Hades by turning back. Eurydice is taken away from him again. Later, he is beheaded by the Bachae, but his head continues to live. Dream arranges for him to stay under the care of priests on an island, but as Orpheus begs his father to kill him, Dream walks away. Unlike his son, Dream does not turn back.

In Brief Lives, Delirium decides to seek out her brother, Destruction, who ran away three hundred years earlier. She tries to solicit help from Despair and Desire, but neither will help. Finally, she asks Dream, who, depressed over a breakup with a girlfriend, agrees to help. He has little interest in finding Destruction, but he thinks the search will take his mind off his unhappiness and perhaps afford him the opportunity to meet his former girlfriend again. Dream and Delirium travel through the waking world until Dream reluctantly agrees to seek the advice of Orpheus, who is also an oracle. Orpheus tells him how to find Destruction, but Dream now owes Orpheus a boon, and Dream knows what it will be. Dream and Delirium find Destruction and talk at length, but he refuses to go back with them, having chosen to leave humanity to its own devices. He then departs again, and Dream must return to Orpheus and grant his wish by killing him. The following volume, World’s End, focuses on a handful of people telling stories while trapped at an inn. One of the last stories includes an ominous vision of a funeral for someone who is mourned by Death and many characters from the Dreaming.

The Kindly Ones picks up with this same ominous tone, as the Furies talk about starting the end of things. Lyta Hall returns with her young son, Daniel, but he is kidnapped by Loki and Puck. Several of the characters whom Dream has crossed since his escape collaborate, and, ultimately, as the Furies seek him out for killing his son, Dream realizes he is doomed to die. He has violated one of the primary rules for his kind—shedding the blood of a relative. Accepting the need to do his duty and face his responsibilities, Dream sits with Death until his end finally comes. In The Wake, Dream’s essence is transplanted into Daniel while the other characters are seen mourning or coming to grips with Dream’s death.


The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (1991). Collects issues 1-8. Features Dream’s capture, escape, and attempt to regain his tools.

The Sandman: The Doll’s House (1990). Collects issues 8-16. Features Dream’s efforts to eliminate the dream vortex. Issue 8, repeated in Volume 1, is omitted from later editions of this collection.

The Sandman: Dream Country (1991). Collects issues 17-20. Features short stories, including the award-winning “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The Sandman: Season of Mists (1992). Collects issues 21-28. Features Lucifer’s abdication of Hell.

The Sandman: A Game of You (1993). Collects issues 32-37. Features the end of Barbie’s fantasy dream world.

The Sandman: Fables and Reflections (1993). Collects issues 29-31, 38-40, 50, and Special 1. Features a variety of individual stories, including “The Song of Orpheus,” the story of Dream’s son.

The Sandman: Brief Lives (1994). Collects issues 41-49. Features Dream and Delirium on a search for their missing brother, Destruction.

The Sandman: Worlds’ End (1994). Collects issues 51-56. Features characters telling several individual stories.

The Sandman: The Kindly Ones (1996). Collects issues 57-69. Features the death of Dream.

The Sandman: The Wake (1997). Collects issues 70-75. Features the impact of Dream’s death on other characters, including Shakespeare.


Dream, a.k.a. Lord Morpheus, is the protagonist for the series. He is thin with white skin and medium-length, uncombed black hair. He is the legendary “Sandman,” the Lord of Dreams, and he rules over the realm of the Dreaming. He is relatively stoic and can be selfish, though he grows increasingly thoughtful over the course of the series.

Cain and Abel are the sons of Adam and Eve and are part of the “first story,” as they put it. Both are short with oddly pointed hair. Cain wears small, John Lennon-style glasses and sports a goatee. Abel is heavier and has a beard and a mustache. Both were hosts of their own DC horror series during the 1970’s, House of Mystery and House of Secrets, and those two “houses” are now part of the Dreaming. Cain murders Abel every day, but Abel always recovers to die another day.

Lucien is a thin man with hair that stands straight up. He wears glasses and often dresses formally. He is Dream’s librarian, the keeper of stories, among them many unpublished books written by famous writers in their dreams.

Lucifer Morningstar appears in white clothes with black wings. He has wavy blond hair and an unblemished face. He is the ruler of Hell who abdicates and becomes a jazz pianist in a nightclub.

Death is Dream’s sister. She has white skin and black hair, similar to Dream’s. Her appearance changes depending on the situation, but she often wears black pants, a black tank top, and an ankh. She is the character closest to Dream, and she frequently offers him advice. Because of the closeness of their relationship, she is often hardest on Dream.

Desire is another of Dream’s siblings. Like the rest of the Endless, Desire has white skin and black hair. The character is androgynous, sometimes appearing more male, sometimes more female, depending on the situation.

Despair is another of Dream’s siblings. She has white skin, is heavy, and usually appears naked.

Matthew. a.k.a. Matthew Cable, is a raven, who has been transformed from a person to a dream. In life, he was Matthew Cable, a character featured in Swamp Thing. As a raven, he performs errands and other duties for Dream.

Rose Walker is a teenage girl with multicolored hair. She is the granddaughter of Desire and Unity Kinkaid, who passed on her power as a dream vortex.

Lyta Hall is a relatively young woman with long, light-colored hair. She is the wife of Hector Hall, the costumed Sandman from the 1970’s, and she is also the mother of Daniel, the child who replaces Dream. She blames Dream for the death of her husband and the loss of her son.

Destiny is another of the Endless. His face appears white, but his features and body are always disguised by a brown hooded cloak. He carries with him a book and sees all aspects of time at once.

Delirium is the youngest of the Endless. She changes her hair throughout. Sometimes it appears shaven, sometimes it is long, sometimes it is orange, and sometimes it is the colors of a rainbow. She speaks in long, tangled sentences that often lose their coherence, but she is persistent.

Daniel is the new manifestation of Dream. After Dream’s death he matures to young adulthood. Unlike the other Endless, he appears as a ghostly figure, in all-white save for his black eyes. He is the son of Lyta Hall.

Artistic Style

Perhaps the best word to describe the artwork in this series is “eclectic.” Unlike most acclaimed series, The Sandman features a wide variety of artists, many with different styles. The nature of the series, focusing on dreams, lends itself to this multiplicity of approaches. The first artist, Sam Kieth, sets the initial tone with a cartoonish style. He exaggerates facial features and uses lots of shadows, both as shading and for background. In fact, many of his backgrounds are completely black. His version of Dream also appears less human than some of the later incarnations. The shadowed backgrounds, cartoonish characters, and monstrous Dream all serve to emphasize the horror of the series. However, Kieth famously quit the series after five issues, suggesting that he was not a good fit.

Mike Dringenberg took over the penciling duties beginning with issue 6, and he created the most identifiable look and feel for the series. While he still provides a good number of shadows to suggest night, he uses much brighter backgrounds with realistic details. For example, in his first issue, set in a diner, he draws much cleaner lines and adds realistic background details including coffee pots, benches, and potted plants. He also emphasizes contemporary clothing details such as labels and buttons. Moreover, in an almost direct contrast to Kieth’s black backgrounds, in issue 8, when Dream and Death discuss the former’s feelings of emptiness while sitting on a park bench, Dringenberg uses completely white backgrounds, emptying the scene of everything besides the two characters and their conversation. The result dovetails with Gaiman’s approach to the story, which places fantasy creatures in a realistic, mundane world. Dringenberg’s brighter, more realistic art further emphasizes that instead of horror, this series will focus more on urban fantasy.

Kelley Jones, who draws much of Season of Mists, merges bits of both Kieth’s and Dringenberg’s styles, using lots of bright backgrounds but heavily shadowed characters. Where Kieth uses solid blacks for backgrounds, Jones uses the same heavy blocks of shading for figures and facial features, while using Dringenberg’s tendency for clear, bright backgrounds. However, the series eventually leaves any sense of a consistent artistic vision behind in favor of matching unique artists to individual stories and story arcs.

For A Game of You, with the frequent visits to Barbie’s fairy-tale dream world, Shawn McManus uses a style reminiscent of children’s book illustration. With McManus’s cartoonish style, the animals look more like toys come to life than realistic versions of wildlife. Perhaps the most striking variation of style appears in The Kindly Ones. Marc Hempel, who illustrates the majority of the story, uses a spare cartoonish style. His figures all feature thick black outlines with almost no facial detail. His backgrounds are likewise almost devoid of detail. Whether light or dark, the focus stays on the primitively drawn figures in the foreground. Also, unlike Kieth and Dringenberg, Hempel rarely changes the traditional panel breakdowns. This stripped-down style would seem to offer little, yet in many ways the focus on the primitively, even crudely, drawn figures actually amplifies the drama of the story. As the story nears its inevitably tragic ending, the blocky and simplistic renderings heighten the ancient story traditions Gaiman invokes, tapping into the tradition of Greek tragedy and ritual. Throughout the series, artists attempt to suit the picture to the narrative, providing an always changing visual world for the always changing world of dreams.


One of the primary themes in the series involves the importance of responsibility and the need for selflessness. Throughout the series, Dream is driven by duty, but as the series progresses, his approach to those responsibilities begins to mature. Dream’s entire identity is blended with his performance of his duty. When Dream is first captured, Gaiman focuses on the impact his absence has on a collection of humans. When he cannot perform his function, people suffer, and Dream’s kingdom falls into disrepair. The story clearly emphasizes the importance of doing one’s duty. On the contrary, when Lucifer first tells Dream that he is quitting, Dream can only register shock. It is one of the few moments in the entire series when Dream literally seems incapable of processing new information. It takes multiple panels for Dream to come to grips with the notion of someone completely dropping his duty. In the same way, he struggles to comprehend the logic of his brother Destruction, who has left his realm in order to live a quiet life with a dog. Moreover, in the flashback story of Orpheus, Dream’s only real advice to his son after the death of Eurydice is to live. Living is Orpheus’s duty, in a sense, and Dream always filters everything through this notion of duty and responsibility.

Dream’s dedication to duty has also coincided with his selfishness. After he escapes from his initial imprisonment, Dream exacts revenge on the son of his captor and then launches his quest to regain his tools. However, after succeeding, he tells Death that something still seems wrong. Gaining revenge and restoring his tools was part of his duty, but it feels empty. When Death allows him to follow her as she makes her rounds, collecting the newly dead, Dream is struck by the impact her work has on people. Even though they do not wish to die, Death helps them pass from one realm to the next. Dream begins to see humanity as more than mere objects or dolls for the Endless. Instead, he sees the profound impact that he and his siblings can have when they perform their roles well. This revelation marks the beginning of Dream’s new direction. While he can still appear cold and insensitive, such as in his dealings with Lyta Hall, he begins to grow a conscience and starts to redefine his duties based on their impact on other people.

When Desire and Death both criticize his treatment of Nada, Dream accepts the responsibility for her mistreatment and commits himself to freeing her as a necessary duty, regardless of the repercussions. Likewise, when he agrees to accompany Delirium on her search for Destruction, he does so initially for largely selfish reasons. However, when he tries to quit, Delirium is devastated and closes off her realm. Dream reluctantly realizes that his obligations go far beyond presiding over the Dreaming. Part of his responsibility is serving others. Thus, when Destiny tells him that they will need an oracle to find their brother and hints that there is one oracle with the power to do it, nothing else must be said. Dream knows he must approach his son, knows his son will ask for death in response, and knows he will be obligated to kill him.

As Dream collapses to his knees, the emotional power of the scene comes from the realization that Dream’s new path, a path of service rather than indulgence, will force him to do things for others while sacrificing his own wants and desires. Thus, when the Furies come to punish him for killing Orpheus, he ultimately accepts his fate. The Dream who sits with Death, awaiting the final moments, has grown considerably from the empty, depressed narcissist in the beginning of the series. He still defines everything by a sense of duty and responsibility, but he has gradually changed the ways in which those responsibilities are defined.

The series also explores a number of other themes, including the complexities of familial relationships, the role of the artist in modern society, the fluid nature of gender, the importance of accepting those who are different, the influence of the past on the present, and, most notably, the importance of storytelling. In the first story arc, Cain and Abel describe themselves as players in the first story, and they label Dream the “Prince of Stories.” Indeed, the series presents almost every possible approach to narrative. Gaiman produces the epic and the compressed, the fantastic and the banal. He retells old myths and legends, highlighting lesser-known stories such as the myth of Lilith and the historical “Emperor” of the United States, but he also explores the contemporary settings of urban fantasy, blending realistic characters and settings with elements of the supernatural.

Gaiman also toys throughout with metanarrative elements. Dream’s initial park bench conversation with Death finds the series in a similar place as its protagonist. In the first arc, Gaiman and his fellow creators have done what is expected with a contemporary comic book series, but as Dream describes the emptiness of having exacted his revenge and completed his initial quest, he might as easily speak for the creators who have met the expectations of a traditional, contemporary comic book series while still feeling unfulfilled. From that park bench conversation through the meditation on Shakespeare’s The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623) in the final issue, the series frequently underscores that it is a story about storytellers telling stories.


The Sandman is easily one of the most influential comic book series ever published. Coming on the heels of such groundbreaking works as Maus (1986), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), and Watchmen (1986-1987), The Sandman played a crucial role in the growing acceptance of comic books by adult readers, bookstores, libraries, mass media, and educators.

Within the DC Universe, the rich mythology of the series inspired a variety of spin-offs, including two Death miniseries and several ongoing series, including Sandman Mystery Theatre (1993-1999), Lucifer (2000-2006), and The Dreaming (1996-2001).

Gaiman’s use of mature subject matter, obscure literary and historical allusions, subtle and complex characterizations and plots, adult language, graphic violence, and frank sexual content all paved the way for the introduction of DC’s highly successful Vertigo imprint, which has popularized the notion of mainstream comic books for adults. Launched midway through The Sandman’s run, the Vertigo imprint has supported an entire line of adult comics primarily outside the DC Universe, including many of the most acclaimed mainstream series ever published, such as Preacher (1995-2000), Transmetropolitan (1997-2002), Hellblazer (1988- ), The Invisibles (1994-2000), Fables (2002- ), 100 Bullets (1999-2009), and Y: The Last Man (2002-2008).

In many ways, The Sandman also established the template for the modern comic book series. Many of Gaiman’s concepts from this series, such as crafting easily collectible six-to-nine-issue story arcs, as well as his decision to give the series a clear end, both groundbreaking decisions at the time, have become the established norm for many mainstream comics. The result was a single, long-form work with a relatively unified vision from the same writer—essentially a ten-volume epic novel.

The series was also influential in Western culture. The physical appearance of the Endless, with pale complexions, black hair and nails, and symbolic jewelry, heavily influenced the Goth movement during the 1990’s. Likewise, Gaiman’s friendship with musician Tori Amos helped promote her music and expand her audience.

Further Reading

  • Gaiman, Neil, Chris Bachalo, and Mark Buckingham. Death: The High Cost of Living (1993).
  • Gaiman, Neil, et al. The Sandman: Endless Nights (2003).
  • Moore, Alan, et al. Swamp Thing (1984-1987).
  • Vaughan, Brian K., et al. Y: The Last Man (2002-2008).
  • Willingham, Bill, et al. Fables (2002- ).


  • Bender, Hy. The Sandman Companion. New York: Vertigo Books, 1999.
  • Sanders, Joe, ed. The Sandman Papers: An Exploration of the Sandman Mythology. Seattle, Wash.: Fantagraphics Books, 2006.
  • Wagner, Hank, Christopher Golden, and Stephen R. Bissette. Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008.
  • Sandman, TheCritical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes & Superheroes, First Edition Bart H. Beaty Stephen Weiner 2012 Salem Press

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