Since its release in 1989, The Sandman has been listed as one of the most challenged comic series by the American Library Association. Despite its critical acclaim and numerous awards, Neil Gaiman’s epic series, spanning 75 issues and inspiring a variety of spin-off series and collected editions, The Sandman still faces censorship — the most recent case was a rare higher education challenge at Crafton Hill College in California, where a 20-year-old student and her parents demanded that The Sandman and other graphic novels be “eradicated” from an English Literature course curriculum for their “pornographic” and inappropriate content.
In hopes of preventing any future bans of The Sandman, we’ve put together these resources for librarians and educators who may need to justify and defend the inclusion of the book in library and classroom collections.
Gaiman’s The Sandman has become a classic and essential multi-volume series to be included in any graphic novel collection. A journey that can stand proudly alongside some of the best modern fantasy and science fiction novels, the series is highly literate, with the incorporation of literary references and mythologies spanning the entire cannon of English Literature. DC Comics’ Vertigo, the publisher of the series, includes this synopsis regarding the series:
It’s a New York Times Bestseller and considered the most praised comic series in the history of the medium. Amongst its legions of fans are names like Stephen King, Norman Mailer, Tori Amos, and Claire Danes. But perhaps even more significantly, it introduced mega-author Neil Gaiman to the world…
The Sandman is the universally lauded masterwork following Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming — a vast hallucinatory landscape housing all the dreams of any and everyone who’s ever existed. Regardless of cultures or historical eras, all dreamers visit Morpheus’ realm — be they gods, demons, muses, mythical creatures, or simply humans who teach Morpheus some surprising lessons.
Upon his escape from an embarrassing captivity at the hands of a mere mortal, Morpheus finds himself at a crossroads, forced to deal with the enormous changes within both himself and his realm. His journey to find his place in a world that’s drastically changed takes him through mythical worlds to retrieve his old heirlooms, the back roads of America for a twisted reunion, and even Hell itself — to receive the dubious honor of picking the next Devil. But he’ll learn his greatest lessons at the hands of his own family, the Endless, who — like him — are walking embodiments of the most influential aspects of existence.
HarperCollins, the publisher of some of Neil Gaiman’s other works, also contributes the following:
Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman was launched in 1989. This extremely popular series was bound into ten collections. Following Dream of the Endless, also known as Morpheus, Onieros and many other names, we explore a magical world filled with stories both horrific and beautiful.
What do you need to know to enjoy the series? Only that there are seven brothers and sisters who have been since the beginning of time, the Endless. They are Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium who was once Delight, and Destruction who turned his back on his duties. Their names describe their function and the realms that they are in charge of. Several years ago, a coven of wizards attempted to end death by taking Death captive, but captured Dream instead. When he finally escapes he must face the changes that have gone on in his realm, and the changes in himself…
This description fails to describe the intricate twinings of story, the threads that run through each book as we revisit past characters, as past events blossom into new ones. It also does not give credit to the magnificent collection of artists that lent their talent, their own distinctive voices and styles, to Neil Gaiman’s words. The scope of this series is broad, touching on aspects of our own brief lives. To read this series is not to curl up with a simple comic book, but to take a journey beyond the shores of reality and into a world we may only visit when we close our eyes.
The Sandman is available in a variety of editions, including a 10-volume graphic novel format, an oversized 4-volume Absolute Edition, and a 2-volume omnibus edition. There are also a number of tie-in graphic novels featuring various characters from the series.
Reviews for Sandman
In 1988, Gaiman began writing the series that was to make him a star in the fields of comics and fantasy: The Sandman. This first lavish (and heavy) oversized hardcover of four planned volumes reprints the first 20 issues, which were previously collected in trade paperback (Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country). With artwork by cocreators Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, plus Colleen Doran, Charles Vess, and others, and improved coloring in the first 18 issues, this features the first appearances of Dream as he escapes after 70 years of captivity and moves to regain his power and dream kingdom. Also included is the World Fantasy Award-winning “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a tale of Shakespeare and the faery folk; the complete script and pencils form part of the 78-page appendix. Filled with wonder and strangeness, this dark fantasy for older teens and adults is one of the most celebrated comic series. Essential for every library, this “Absolute” edition is absolutely its best presentation yet. –Steve Raiteri (reviewing The Sandman Absolute Edition Vol. 1)
After several years away from comics, celebrated writer Gaiman (American Gods; Coraline) returns to the dark fantasy series that made him a sensation: the Eisner, Harvey, and World Fantasy Award-winning Sandman. This oversized volume features seven stories, one devoted to each member of the Endless, the ancient and powerful family to which the Sandman (a.k.a. Dream) belongs. All are masterfully illustrated, each by a different artist, covering a wide variety of styles, from the mainstream DC look of Glenn Fabry’s illustration in the chapter “Destruction” to the nightmarish collage of Barron Storey’s “15 Portraits of Despair.” Bill Sienkiewicz’s multistylistic mastery, from jagged black-and-white sketches to lushly colored realistic paintings, is perfectly matched to “Delirium.” Italian artist Milo Manara, famed for his erotic work, is also exactly right to draw one woman’s encounter in “Desire.” The story focusing on Dream himself, marvelously painted by Spanish artist Miguelanxo Prado, touches on — of all things — the backgrounds of two of DC’s most famous superheroes. Gaiman’s tales are deep, subtle, multilayered, and powerful, and this book is sure to delight his legions of fans. With nudity and sex, this is one for adult collections — for which it is absolutely essential. –Steve Raiteri (reviewing The Sandman: Endless Nights)
With “The Sandman Omnibus,” each book is shrewdly designed by Louis Prandi to look like an ancient mystic tome. It’s spellbinding to watch Mr. Gaiman — from first wobbly, coltlike steps to thoroughbred confidence — create one of fantasy literature’s deep mythologies. In these tales of Morpheus, the King of Dreams, and his siblings — Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction and Destiny — Mr. Gaiman forged a broad fan base that faithfully followed him to his novels, as Sandman won 19 Eisner and six Harvey industry awards, and the tale “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” snagged the World Fantasy Award for short fiction, a first for a comic-book story.
The strong writing of Mr. Gaiman, recently appointed an arts professor by Bard College, is complemented by Dave McKean’s chilling and elegant covers and by a range of fine artists, including P. Craig Russell, Jon J. Muth and Charles Vess — though the series sometimes succumbed to DC’s ordinary house style of the 1990s, an unsettling counterpoint to Mr. Gaiman’s extraordinary prose.
And for those who aren’t sated by the more than 2,000 pages about Mr. Gaiman’s hero with the moon-pale skin, there’s good news. On Oct. 30, Vertigo released the first issue of The Sandman: Overture, a bimonthly mini-series that features Mr. Gaiman’s first Sandman story in 10 years (with art by J. H. Williams) and will serve as a prequel to the Morpheus saga.
Toward the end of Mr. Gaiman’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an unlikely collaboration with Shakespeare that appears in the first volume of the “Omnibus,” Morpheus says, “Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” That’s surely true, as these two volumes prove over and over. Sweet dreams, dear reader.
Gaiman’s novella The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, previously illustrated by acclaimed Japanese artist Yoshitako Amano, has been reimagined by award-winning artist [P. Craig] Russell. This new release celebrates the 20th anniversary of Gaiman’s Sandman and turns the original prose from 1999 into a graphic novel. The original blended Gaiman’s mythology of the Dreaming with traditional Japanese myths and legends to tell the tale of a fox who makes a wager to dislodge a young monk from his home, losing her heart in the end and causing the intervention of the King of All Night’s Dreaming. The pairing of Gaiman and Russell–previous collaborations between the two have won four Eisner Awards — is as strong as ever; together they develop the tale further, visually expanding upon Amano’s original designs. The hardcover–sure to please the legions of Gaiman and Sandman admirers-also includes commentary and a cover gallery including variant covers by Russell, Yuko Shimizu, Mike Mignola, Paul Pope, and Joe Kubert. (Reviewing Sandman: The Dream Hunters)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up — There is no question that the books in Gaiman’s “Sandman” series (Vertigo) are some of the best and most groundbreaking graphic novels ever written. The artwork shows unique characters whose images change from story to story as each artist reinterprets them. Dream and his Endless siblings — Death, Destiny, Desire, Delirium, Destruction, and Despair-weave in and out of these books, interacting with one another and with mortals at different points in history. The Doll’s House tells the story of a young woman named Rose Walker who does not know that she is a dream vortex, and who has to overcome many obstacles to rescue her little brother from captivity. Dream Country contains four stories, including the World Fantasy Award-winning “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which Shakespeare premieres his new play before a group of faeries. Over the years, the books in this series have been released multiple times, first in paperback and later in hardcover. The question remains whether or not these recolored editions are worth purchasing. The short answer is no–not if you already have the series and the books are in good condition. But if you need to replace your weathered copies, or if you are just learning about the Sandman based on the fame of Gaiman’s more recent books, then these books are definitely worth purchasing. –Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library (reviewing The Sandman Vols. 2 and 3)
Gr 9 Up–A fox and a badger wager to see who can drive a monk from his temple. After they both try and fail, the badger departs in disgrace and the fox falls in love with the monk. When she learns that his life is in danger, she calls upon the King of All Night’s Dreaming to help her save his life. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because this book retells Gaiman’s 1999 award-winning novella as a graphic novel [illustrated by P. Craig Russell]. While the original story was illustrated with breathtaking watercolors by Yoshitaka Amano, this new adaptation looks more like the rest of the original “Sandman” series. It is divided into panels, characters speak in word balloons, and the artwork (especially that of the fox) is more cartoonlike. There are several advantages to this new approach — readers can see the characters and the action in better detail, the graphic-novel format may attract reluctant readers, and readers get to see Dream speak in his white-on-black word balloons again. But the disadvantage of this version is that its presence eclipses the awe-inspiring beauty of Amano’s work. The Dream Hunters is equally powerful as straight text or broken up into panels, but hopefully readers will be inspired by this book to seek out the earlier version (which thankfully is still in print) and enjoy another interpretation of the artwork for this story. –Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library (reviewing The Sandman: The Dream Hunters)
THE SANDMAN, written by New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman, was the most acclaimed comic book title of the 1990s. A rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are seamlessly interwoven, THE SANDMAN is also widely considered one of the most original and artistically ambitious series of the modern age. By the time it concluded in 1996, it had made significant contributions to the artistic maturity of comic books and become a pop culture phenomenon in its own right.
There are many followers of Neil Gaiman who feel that his Sandman graphic novel collection is his most perfect work. Undoubtedly the most well known of his creations, the Sandman chronicles the life of Dream and his immortal family the Endless. Any of the eleven novels can be read alone or in order as all the stories stand apart. Volume five features the story of Barbie. As a little girl Barbie used to imagine herself a princess with animal subjects in a magical land but as an adult she never dreams. Soon, her imaginary world begins to encroach on the real world. This is a strange tale of reality versus fiction, gender and identity, and the roles we play as children and adults.
Praise for The Sandman
“The greatest epic in the history of comic books” —The Los Angeles Times Magazine
“One of the few comics that segued from the comics crowd, entering the intellectual and art worlds, winning over a large non-comics-reading audience…” —The Hollywood Reporter
“The landmark comic-book series that actually made Death seem . . . cool.” —Entertainment Weekly
Awards and Recognition
- World Fantasy Award, 1991: Best Short Fiction for “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream” in Sandman #19
- Bram Stoker Award, 2003: Best Illustrated Narrative for Sandman: Endless Nights
- Eisner Awards: The Sandman Series
- 1991-1994: Best Writer, Neil Gaiman
- 1991-1993: Best Continuing Series
- 1991: Best Graphic Album (Reprint), Sandman: The Doll’s House
- 1992: Best Single Issue/Single Story, Sandman #22-28
- 1992, 1994, 1995: Best Editor, Karen Berger
- 1993-1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004: Best Letterer/Lettering, Todd Klein
- 1994: Best Artist/Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team, P. Craig Russell for Sandman #50
- 1997: Best Artist/Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team, Charles Vess for Sandman #75
- 2000: Best Comics-Related Book, Sandman: The Dream Hunters (prose)
- 2004: Best Short Story, “Death” by P.Craig Russell and Neil Gaiman in Sandman: Endless Nights
- 2004: Best Anthology, Sandman: Endless Nights
- 2007: Best Archival Collection/Project, Absolute Sandman, Vol. 01
- Harvey Awards: The Sandman Series
- 1991-1992: Best Writer, Neil Gaiman
- 1992,1993, 1995: Best Letterer, Todd Klein
- 1993: Best Continuing or Limited Series
- Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize, 2004: Best Scenario for Sandman: Seasons of Mist (prose)
Given their visual nature, comics are easy targets for would-be censors. CBLDF Discussion Guides are tools that can be used to lead conversations about challenged graphic novels and to help allay misconceptions about comics. CBLDF Discussion Guides can be used by librarians, educators, retailers, or anyone who wants to lead a conversation about a graphic novel.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Preludes and Nocturnes here.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for The Doll’s House here.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Dream Country here.
Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Season of Mists here.
The comic series and graphic novel have been challenged and banned in libraries since its publication. Gaiman’s graphic novel has been challenged and removed from some libraries because of “anti-family themes,” “offensive language,” and for being “unsuited for age group.” More…
What should I do if The Sandman is challenged?
Most challenges to comics in libraries come from well-meaning individuals, frequently parents, who find something they believe is objectionable in their local public or school library. These challenges are often difficult and stressful for the library staff who must manage them, but there are resources to help them in the process. Below we’ve identified a number of tips and links to assist libraries to increase the likelihood of keeping challenged comics on the shelves.
1. Make Strong Policies.
Strong selection and challenge review policies are key for protecting access to library materials, including comics. The American Library Association has developed a number of excellent tools to assist school and public libraries in the essential preparation to perform before books are challenged here.
2. Face the Challenge.
What do you do when a comic is challenged? Much of the material in this post can be used to help defend The Sandman against a challenge. The American Library Association has developed these helpful tools to cope with challenges:
- Conducting a Challenge Hearing
- Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges
- Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources
CBLDF can also help by providing assistance with locating review resources, writing letters of support, and facilitating access to experts and resources. Call 800-99-CBLDF or email firstname.lastname@example.org at the first sign of a First Amendment emergency!
3. Report the Challenge.
Another essential step in protecting access to comics is to report challenges when they occur. By reporting challenges, you help the free expression community gather necessary information about what materials are at risk so better tools can be created to assist. To report a challenge to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, call us at 800-99-CBLDF or email email@example.com. You can also report the challenge to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a CBLDF-sponsored program from the National Coalition Against Censorship and one of our frequent partners in the fight against censorship. Finally, you can report the challenge to ALA here.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!