When Neil Gaiman announced that he would be once again returning to his much beloved comic book series The Sandman with a six-issue prequel series titled The Sandman: Overture, fans rejoiced. There really isn’t anything quite like The Sandman, a 75-issue story about stories written by Gaiman and illustrated by a long list of some of the best artists in comics. Illustrated by J.H. Williams III, one of the most jaw-droppingly gifted artists working in comics today, Overture was to tell the story that immediately preceded the first issue of Sandman, which saw the Master of Dreams laid low—something had weakened him, leaving him vulnerable to human occultists that imprisoned him for 70 years.
However, Overture hasn’t had the smoothest release schedule. Initially planned as a bi-monthly series, the book has slipped to an irregular schedule—issue three was released in July. While the long waits can be frustrating, when an issue does come out, it’s absolutely worth it. Williams’ art is lush, inventive, and ludicrously pretty, while Gaiman’s writing feels like he never quit telling Sandman stories.
With Overture’s fourth issue, available tomorrow, we’re approaching the confrontation between Dream himself and the mysterious force that lies at this story’s end. There’s a city of anthropomorphic stars, an asylum where one insane star resides, and the father of Dream and the Endless makes his first appearance. As things start to build toward Overture‘s conclusion, EW reached out to Gaiman and Williams to talk a little bit more about what readers can expect—and to share a few stunning preview pages.
EW: J.H., It’d be remiss of me to not mention how wonderful your art is in these pages, and in Overture as a whole—the places we’re going only seem to be getting better, too. What are you most excited for people to see?
J.H. WILLIAMS III: Thank you, you’re much too kind. I’m really into what we’re doing, inspired from Neil’s fantastic story. But I also feel like I haven’t broken it yet. Sometimes I feel I’m on the cusp of breaking through to something that goes beyond my current limits. That is what I’m feeling right now. I feel like I have to push beyond what I’ve already done. Neil’s story really is pushing things in all the best ways, he is just so damn good! And it easily helps me get into the proper headspace for expansion. This newest chapter I hope defies what readers might expect, much in the same way each chapter has done so far. I think that is what I want people to get from the experience of reading Overture—as each installment slowly burns into their minds—that they come away from it feeling a different visual movement from the previous chapter, and so on. But yet remains clearly part of the greater narrative unflinchingly. So far it’s all working in that way, or so I hope. All of these interacting visual ideas create a different emotional vibe, each of them having their own strange frequencies, but working in tandem to feed the larger picture.
Also, on Twitter you often mention what you’re listening to while you work. What makes for good Sandman music? If this issue had a theme song, what would it be?
I think for me the best music isn’t necessarily thematic to what it is I’m drawing. Overture is requiring such an eclectic mix of visuals and themes of context. And so the eclectic playlist that I’ve been running oddly works for my moods while creating it all. You’d think that drawing a psychedelic scene would be best done while listening to psychedelic music. And on most occasions that is probably correct– but I have found throwing on something aggressive while drawing a psychedelic moment, like maybe Judas Priest or The Russian Circles can produce a different kind of energy in the room that ever so slightly worms its way into the power of the images. The experience of doing that, of mashing things like that, is a good thing for the end result I think. Now a particular theme song that sits well for this new chapter would have to be You’re Lost Little Girl as rendered by Siouxsie and the Banshees from the album Through the Looking Glass.
Neil, issue #4 marks the first time we’ve seen the father of the Endless—and heard of a mother mentioned. What can you tell us about them?
NEIL GAIMAN: There are family resemblances, as in all families. If he was bald, and in a monk’s hood, he’d look more like Destiny. But, yes, the black-haired ones take after their mother. Destiny and Destruction (and Delirium, perhaps) take after their father…
Well, as much as anthropomorphic personifications of abstract ideas, drawn in a way that is only actually true for the people reading the comic, can take after anyone.
There is a strangeness to sitting on a story, or details of a story, for well over 20 years. I knew who the parents of the Endless were back then, but it was something the seemed to belong to another story. Of course, now I’m telling that other story, and I hope it has been worth the wait.
Each issue so far has been distinct in feel, while very clearly being part of one story. What are you and J.H. going for this time? What did you want to see him do most in this issue?
GAIMAN: This is a strange one. In the script I talked to him a lot about Escher and Steranko, about pop art, about ways of treating the comic as a physical object and about making something more beautiful than anything we had done before.
And then he took all that and went off and did something completely new, completely original, and utterly striking.
Working with JH is like having a game of table tennis, where I knock a ball across the table to him, and he sends me back a faberge jewelled egg, so I send him back a faberge jewelled hand grenade and he sends me back a glittering ball of anti-matter… one-upping each other as a glorious game of art.
You’ve also talked a bit about how your stories have a tendency to grow in the telling. Might that happen again with Overture? Has the story changed much since you began?
GAIMAN: The battle in writing the last two issues has been to stop them becoming the last four issues, or the last ten, or even the last 70.
I don’t think the story, in terms of the simple mechanincs of what happens, has changed that much, although there have been huge “aha!” moments in the writing. But what I wasn’t expecting were the insights into why Dream was the way he was. I knew that his time imprisoned in Sandman 1 had changed him from the person he was when we met him in years before that. I didn’t know how much he had already been changed by what happened to him and what he was forced to do in the story before that.
And I learned things about the Endless, writing this.