Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Not a Real Review: Sandman

This is not so much a review as a ramble about what might just be my new favorite book series.

I'm very new to graphic novels and comic books. I started reading the X-Men comics a few months ago, and while i have been enjoying them so far, they are strange to read. Comic books are not simply more grown-up versions of illustrated story books. They tell stories in a different way than i am used to.

Reading a comic book is a little like watching a TV show. The way that stories are structured, the way that longer arcs are serialized, and the way that exposition takes place are all strongly reminiscent of TV, but they are still written and not performed. Learning to read them is a little like learning to read a new language.

If comic books are TV shows, graphic novels are movies. The pacing is more deliberate, the suspense more sustained, the serialized arcs and exposition are longer and deeper. They're not inherently better or worse, just as movies are not inherently better or worse than TV shows. They're just different.

Those who are interested in graphic novels should start with Sandman, and they should read Mark Oshiro's reviews alongside of them. Mark is much more familiar with this genre than i am, and is also a much better reviewer. Reading his reviews has helped me to unpack what is happening in each issue of each volume of these novels.

Sandman is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. These stories are dark, and harsh, and gritty. And they are very, very real. To paraphrase what the Sandman himself says in the third volume, something need not have happened to be true. These stories are absolutely true, and that is the source of their horror. They expose some of the most unpleasant truths about human beings and examine some of our darkest realities.

But this is not shock for shock's sake. There is redemption and beauty to be found here as well. Just as in life, however, stories take longer to resolve. This isn't an after-school special where the happy lesson comes after half an hour. This is a serious film, where the ultimate resolution may not be found until several sequels later. There are moments of joy, moments of love and peace, moments of quiet. But they come at the price of suffering and horror. Consequences are rarely uplifting, but always credible.

These stories may not be everyone's cup of tea, but i can guarantee that they won't be easily forgotten. These are stories that sink down into your psyche and stay.

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