By Geoff Boucher
Updated July 17, 2013 at 04:36 AM EDT
Credit: DC Entertainment

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman gets an intense spotlight this week at Comic-Con International with a silver anniversary celebration and new details about Sandman: Overture No. 1, the October release that marks Gaiman’s first Morpheus story since 1996.

We’ve got two First Look images from that first issue below — the Dave McKean cover and the page one interior art by J.H. Williams III — but first a bit of background.

A whisper can be louder than a shout in the right setting at that was the case back in 1988 when Sandman No. 1 hit shelves and spinner racks with a Dave McKean cover that showed mixed-media ambitions, cryptic images, and a muted approach to color and text — all very strange in an era when the average DC Comics cover was about as subtle as an air-raid siren.

The story inside was worthy of the special treatment. In it writer Neil Gaiman introduced a pale, otherworldly figure: Morpheus, an imprisoned dream lord who yearns to break free and return to his kingdom.

Escape he did and that issue began the landmark 75-issue run that left fans dizzy with it’s breadth and imagination. Now Gaiman is the one returning to his kingdom of imagination and McKean has another compelling cover to herald it. (Mouse over the image to get a magnified look.)

Gaiman was preparing for his San Diego trip on Tuesday when he heard that EW would be premiering the McKean cover above, one of the two versions that will be on sale in October. (The art for other cover, by Williams, was previously released but you can see it below as well.)

“There is something special about Dave McKean that makes it feel real,” Gaiman said of the unique style of the artist. “I get the same thrill I got 25 years ago seeing his covers…”

McKean also conjured up a new vision of Sandman for the cover of the official Comic-Con souvenir booklet and official T-shirts, a nod to the stature of the character in comic book circles.

Gaiman, McKean and former Sandman artist Sam Keith will be part of Saturday’s 25th anniversary panel (at 3:15 p.m. in Room 6DE) and they’ll be joined by the newest arrival in The Dreaming, the talented Williams (Batwoman) who does all the interior art on the upcoming bimonthly limited series. Here’s the first of those pages and, again, use your mouse to get a magnified view.

The first page doesn’t give away too much but there are some images in its mix that will instantly tantalize readers who know the original series well. Those readers were cheering like mad last year at Comic-Con when Gaiman surprised them and announced the new series. The ovation was welcome that day but echoed in a different way when he was working alone weeks later.

“The biggest surprise was the nervousness of knowing people are watching,” Gaiman said Tuesday as he prepared for the San Diego trip. “When I wrote [the original story about] Sandman nobody was watching.”

Gaiman earned his shot at the Sandman series with the Black Orchid mini-series but was still an unknown factor when the first issue arrived. That changed as the seasons passed and the misted epic pulled readers in.

After the 75-issue run came to a close in 1996 he would go on to great success with traditional prose novels: Feature films were adapted from Stardust (1999) and Coraline (2002); with 2008’s The Graveyard Book he became the first author to win the Carnegie and the Newbery medals with the same work; and his just a few weeks ago his newest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, claimed the No 1 spot on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

With the din from the crowds of characters in his imagination, was it hard to hear the whisper of Morpheus? Not at all, he said with some relief. “The second biggest surprise was discovering that all the voices were still there in my head.”