-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
Today is the release of the deluxe edition of the collected volume of the Sandman: Overture. The Sandman comics were an influential and formative part of creating the duo of -J. and Steph, so it was only fitting that they discuss the final Sandman story, which is also the first.
words by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart, published by Vertigo
Synopsis: it’s the story of what happened just before the sweeping saga that is the Sandman, where we discover why Dream was galaxies away and dressed for battle.
Steph: I have said this many times, I am a Marvel girl. I read X-Men comics when I was in middle school, and all I knew of comics were superheroes. I stopped reading comics in high school, and it was only a few years later after I met my then-boyfriend, now husband, now writing partner, that I began to read comics again. You introduced me to the Sandman, and I am so, so grateful.
-J.: I had only just read the series, and having someone experience the Sandman while it was still new to me was exciting
Steph: The Sandman opened my eyes to all that comics and storytelling could be. It didn’t have to just be super-powered people in skintight clothing telling the same stories over and over. Comics could be grand fantasy epics where characters learn and grow. Where they visit strange and lovely places, where they are strange and lovely places. Where, here and there, additional tiny stories are tucked into the panels.
-J.: It was also a series about storytelling. This meta- aspect to the original series carries into the Sandman: Overture. Dream is occasionally mocked or chastised for the little stories he tucks into the grand adventure.
Steph: For those who may not know, the Sandman is a 75-issue comic book series (or 10-volume graphic novel series) written by Neil Gaiman from 1989-1996. It tells the story of Dream, his six siblings, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium, and all the people they affect. They are known as the Endless, and are all exactly what they sound like.
-J.: The original series begins in media res, as we see the titular character returning from some prior journey. All we know is that he is is utterly spent, having only enough energy to barely cross the cosmos and collapse in his realm. Instead, he is accidentally caught up in the spell of some humans delving into the things man was not meant to know.
Steph: Overture is the story of why Dream was so exhausted to the point that a few humans performing a rudimentary spell were able to ensnare him.
-J.: For years, Gaiman had said that yes — he knew where Dream was returning from, and why it left so powerful an Endless susceptible to so minor a sorcerer. Finally, we have that story. And it is epic. It is an epic. It is all the definitions of that word.
-J.: In his forward, Gaiman mentions places in the chronology of this book for those who are reading a Sandman story for the first time: it comes after all 75 issues of the original series, and after a number of other short stories, and yet, it also comes before the first issue of the original series. He speaks true, but I would also caution against reading Overture as your first Sandman story.
Steph: Agreed. Knowing the whole story of Dream, his growth as a character, and the world he comes from makes this book more rich and enjoyable. It’s also a bit too big to start with. It is a massive tale that wasn’t necessarily a difficult read, but it was not easy.
-J.: It’s exhausting. By the end of Overture, Dream is so weak as to barely be coherent. By then, I felt spent, as well. Not because it’s a struggle to get through, but because it deals in pictures and concepts that span the universe. In the original series, the reader slowly gets to know the vastness of the Endless and their histories. The scope grows as we read; individual stories are occasionally expanded to display a grandiosity that strides across galaxies. Overture is all grandiosity, punctuated with individual moments and stories.
Steph: The original 75 issues are not small by comparison, but they build up to their greatness. Stories that gain steam as they go, so much so that you feel like you’re on this ride inexorably headed to its beautiful and heartbreaking end. Overture is an amazing piece to land on.
-J.: It’s also a very beautiful piece to land on. Gaiman essentially credits J.H. Williams III with illustrating the impossible, and it is true in more ways than one. The breadth of styles that Williams employs is, well, breath-taking.
Steph: Agreed. Obviously and whole heartedly. I can see why each issue took so long to be released, and commend them for taking their time to allow the art and story to be created to the best of their abilities. It was worth it.
-J.: I also enjoyed the fact that the deluxe edition includes appendices that pull back the curtain on how Overture was made. One of my favorite features in the original trades was the inclusion of Gaiman’s script for “Calliope,” and getting to see the process for Overture was a nice coda to the volume.
To Sum It All Up…
If you’ve read the entire Sandman narrative up to this point, you absolutely need to read Overture. If you have not started, then we recommend you start with the original Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes. In either case, we envy the epic journey you’re about to read.