It’s been 30 years since Neil Gaiman first launched The Sandman for DC Comics. The comic — which followed Dream, the well-named personification of dreams, as he tangled with gods, monsters, and humans while exploring the nature of stories and his own self — ran for eight years, and became one of the defining books of the era. Just a few years after Watchmen, alongside other mature-readers comics that would eventually become DC’s Vertigo imprint, The Sandman proved that comic books could be taken seriously as literature (one issue, which retold A Midsummer Night’s Dream, became the first comic to win the World Fantasy Award). Gaiman has returned intermittently to the world of The Sandman over the years (including for the 2003 graphic novel The Sandman: Endless Nights and the 2013 miniseries The Sandman: Overture), and the character of Dream has popped up in other DC comics here and there. But in honor of the series’ 30th anniversary this year, Gaiman is coming back to the Dreaming in a big way. EW can exclusively announce that DC Comics is launching a Sandman Universe line of four new comic series. The books will be overseen by Gaiman but written and drawn by brand new creative teams. They will pick up story threads and themes from The Sandman while also adding new characters and concepts.
The project kicks off this August with The Sandman Universe one-shot special, which will catch readers up on what’s been happening in Dream’s realm. The most salient fact is that Dream has now gone missing, leaving chaos in his wake. Other important developments include the opening of a rift between worlds, revealing a space beyond the Dreaming. Dream’s official librarian Lucien is still in charge of all the books that were dreamed and never written, but now, one of those books has wound up in the waking world, to be discovered by a group of children. The Dreaming also has an important new resident, now that a House of Whispers has appeared alongside Cain’s House of Mystery and Abel’s House of Secrets. Meanwhile, Lucifer (the David Bowie-esque devil who originated in the pages of The Sandman before ending up on his own Fox show) has fallen once more, though now he might be in a Hell of his own design. And down in London, a young boy named Timothy Hunter alternates between dreams of becoming the world’s greatest magician and nightmares of becoming its worst villain.
The Sandman Universe #1 will be plotted by Gaiman but written by Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, Si Spurrier, and Dan Watters, with art by Bilquis Evely and a cover by Jae Lee. Each of those four writers will then go on to explore the special’s various threads in four new series. Hopkinson will write House of Whispers and explore how the voodoo deity Erzulie ended up in the Dreaming with her titular house. It might have something to do with a comatose woman named Latoya, whose girlfriend and sisters used the Book of Whispers to try and heal her. Now out of her coma, Latoya is suffering from the Cotard’s Delusion belief that she’s already dead, and is transmitting her belief to others, catalyzing them to become guardians of the gap that has opened in the Dreaming. Howard will write Books of Magic, which will follow up on Gaiman’s 1990 miniseries of the same name and explore Timothy Hunter’s magical education as he’s torn between two powerful destinies. Spurrier will write The Dreaming, which will follow Sandman supporting characters like Lucien the librarian and Matthew the raven as they navigate a Dreaming without Dream. Watters will write Lucifer, which finds the titular devil blind and destitute, trapped living in a small boarding house in a quiet town where no one can ever leave. Artists for the books have not been announced yet.
To make sense of this sensational news, EW caught up with Gaiman to ask a few questions about The Sandman Universe.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve done Sandman prequels before, like Overture. What inspired you to finally do some sequel stories?
NEIL GAIMAN: Well, Overture is a Sandman prequel and a Sandman sequel. It’s kind of all over the place. And there is sequel stuff in Sandman: Endless Nights. The story carries on. But it’s a huge sandbox with so many wonderful toys that nobody’s getting to play with right now. I started feeling guilty. I liked the idea of getting the toys played with again, reminding people how much fun this is, and also getting the opportunity to work with some fantastic writers. Down the line, there will be fantastic artists as well.
Sandman has always been a personal project for you, so how did you decide to assemble a Sandman Universe with other writers expanding your ideas?
It’s always been personal, and there are still areas of it that have velvet ropes set up and “do not disturb” signs hanging on the door. People will ask, “Can we do this?” and I’ll be like, “No.” Some of that is because one day I will want to go there and tell those stories, even if it’s not for another 5 or 10 years. For this stuff, it’s really the joy of looking back at the history of Vertigo. There’s always stuff I created in the Vertigo world, that spun off and went out into the world and did really well. But the natural life cycle of these things is it came, it went away. Let’s bring it all back, let’s have fun with it. So for me, the joy is just sitting with smart writers who love the material and saying, “Let’s go play.”
How did you assemble these writers? What are you hoping they will each bring to the Sandman universe?
I got to assemble them working with the Vertigo editorial team. They suggested some people, I suggested some people, I got to read some samples, and people went, “Yeah, I think this is going to work.” But in each case, it was trying to fit somebody to the character and the book. An example would be Nalo, who writes science-fiction and fantasy and historical stuff and books that blend all of those things, and they’re always informed by Caribbean roots and African roots. And going, “Okay, if we’re gonna do House of Whispers, if we’re going to do Erzulie and have all this voodoo lore stuff, then I want Nalo to do it because there isn’t anybody better.” The joy of this is being able to go out and find the best person. I’ve worked with Kat Howard now for seven or eight years on different projects, and I’ve been really impressed. Her novels are getting more attention, and she’s one of those people who’s really good at handling magic. She can write convincing magic with a deftness and skill that makes you go, “Okay, this is that thing.” We were looking at rebooting Books of Magic, so let’s go talk to Kat. She has the touch, she understands the magic. These are people who are really good and smart, and, more to the point, they understand the area that we have cordoned off. It’s actually exactly like casting; you’re trying to cast the writer. With Lucifer, Mike Carey and Holly Black left huge shoes to fill. But Dan is smart and deep, and he gets it. He’s up to the challenge of “Okay, can you recreate this thing?”
Sandman is the big name here, but this imprint will also involve Books of Magic. What are you looking forward to about revisiting Timothy Hunter and his universe?
Mostly what I’m looking forward to is going to that idea and starting it again in 2018. Books of Magic was an idea I came up with and did 30 years ago and loved and had an enormous amount of fun with. It was pre-Harry Potter, and the idea of a bespectacled, tousled 12-year-old boy with an owl learning magic was this sort of weird new thing we were trying to figure out as it went along. I love the idea of starting that again now, because now you’re in a universe in which everybody and their brother knows how that kind of story ought to go. Now we’re going to go back and look at ways it can go, both lighter and darker (he said, picking his words with care), than the original. With that one, we’re taking this comic book approach that reminds me a little bit of what DC did when they came up with the concept of Earth One. They took the Flash, and you created the Barry Allen Flash and let the Jay Garrick Flash be the Flash of Earth Two. It’s a new Tim Hunter for a new time, and the old Tim Hunter may well have existed, and that may actually have ramifications for us a little bit down the line.