I remember enough to say for sure I was looking through the shelves at Forbidden Planet on the corner of 13th and Broadway (it’s moved since) when I first flipped through the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Preludes and Nocturnes. I was attracted to Dave McKean’s cover art and a review I read just a few days earlier. It praised Preludes and Nocturnes is the first book in The Sandman series so I wanted to see for myself.
It was 1995 (though a few months ago I would have swore to you that it was 1992 or ‘93). I thought it was earlier because I remember it being early on, when I first returned to New York City after a failed attempt at adulthood. I realized I was wrong a few months ago when I saw the copyright on the edition I own. It says Karen Berger’s introduction to the collection was copyrighted in ‘95 and I am certain my search for The Sandman was partially piqued by a review of the collection that I had just read back then.
I was on one of my usual walks clearing my head when I wandered into Forbidden Planet. I don’t remember when walking meant more than just getting to places and I don’t remember when I started doing it. It may have been in high school when I would walk home instead of taking the bus because it meant I wouldn’t have to be home as long. There was nothing wrong at home. I just didn’t want to be there in my little microcosm with nothing to do. Bookstores and groceries are my favorite stops on these “head” walks. I’ve never asked myself why. It’s part of the “freedom” of these walks to not rationalize the enjoyment I get from wandering book aisles and grocery aisles alike.
I remember being immediately engrossed in the story of the Sandman, Morpheus – Accidentally kidnapped on his way home by an ambitious occultist, kept in captivity for decades even though he was never the target, and the people suffer in his absence. Children fall go to bed and become comatose and vice versa. Some people go insane from the inability to sleep. Some people become superheroes in the real world to cope. Some don’t. I remember feeling enthralled by the subtle connection between stories and characters that initially received a passing mention but later on would become integral. This is why I prefer the collected trade paperbacks over the individual issues. The subtleties are easier for me to see and the connections easier to make.
It has been almost 20 years since I thought about The Sandman, though Neil Gaiman is still among the first names I mention when asked to name my favorite writers. It was a social media campaign promoting the free download of the Sandman Audible drama that brought these books back to mind. Listening to it reminded me of how much of the stories that meant so much to me back then had been forgotten.
In a New York Comic Con interview between Kevin Smith and the creators of the Sandman Audible drama, Smith reveals that the “Sound of Her Wings,” one of the stories in Preludes and Nocturnes, “came to him on his deathbed. He summarizes a scene in the story where an old man realizes it is his time to die and protests, “What did I get?” Death responds, “You got what everyone gets. You got a life.” He says Death’s response gave him comfort at a moment in his own life when he wondered about his mortality after a major heart attack.
I don’t have a moment like that (at least not one that I remember) though the stories just resonated with me back then. They were something to sink into and lose myself in like putting on a pair of headphones and falling asleep to an album you’re really into.
I still have the books I bought 20 years ago. After each chapter of the Audible adaption I would read the corresponding chapters from my ”Sandman” library and realize the same state of satisfaction I remember from that time ago. Audible’s adaption of Gaiman’s Sandman is an “audio play,” complete with a cast and sound effects. It now defines who I hear in my head when I read the book’s dialogue and gives the stories an intensity that a printed page cannot.