I'm going to be rereading Neil Gaiman's seminal fantasy series in the next few weeks and thought I'd post my thoughts on it. To start off with, I read The Sandman Companion, in which Gaiman and his co-creators discuss the series in some detail:
Back in the pre-Internet days, it wasn't uncommon to see 'companion' books to television series, movies, sometimes series of novels, taking up space in bookstores, providing episode guides or character biographies or A-Z guides. Since the advent of the Internet these books have been gradually disappearing. Why go and spend £7 on a book about, say, Lost when you can look up the same information online for free, and discuss it with other fans? To stay in the game companion books need to deliver far more original, exclusive information that cannot be found elsewhere, and The Sandman Companion is a splendid example of this.
The Sandman Companion consists of plot summaries of the ten graphic novel collections that make up The Sandman series, as you may expect. However, the meat of the book is an extraordinarily long interview between the author, Hy Bender, and Neil Gaiman. Divided between the ten collections and several shorter chapters on characters, the origins of the series and so on, this interview delves deep into each story, examining the motifs, themes and imagery that Gaiman wanted to explore, investigating what worked and what didn't. Gaiman goes into particular detail on the classic story A Midsummer Night's Dream, going through the issue line-by-line and panel-by-panel to show what he was try to accomplish with this one particular story. It's a fascinating read and an invaluable resource to have at your side when you next reread the series.
The book also features interviews with the artists that worked on the series (including several with iconic cover designer Dave McKean), as well as letterer Todd Klein and editor Karen Berger. Several other SF&F luminaries also chip in, such as Alan Moore, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Samual R. Delaney and others, all offering opinions on why the series works and what has made it such an enduring classic of modern speculative fiction.
The Sandman Companion (****), originally published in 2000, is an invaluable resource for fans of the series and features the most extensive look yet into the minds of one of our best modern SF&F authors. It is available from Titan Books in the UK and from Vertigo in the USA.
August 5th, 2008, 10:48 AM
Ah, Sandman. I got to read the first set of books on-line recently and back when it was winding down the series, I collected it. I missed the final set of issues, and so recently bought them as a collected graphic novel, but haven't read it yet. The artwork is terrific, the characters good, the storylines varied. It has Gaiman's off-the-wall humor and lots of cyberpunky Gothness, which it exploits to the fullest and occasionally makes fun of itself for using.
August 6th, 2008, 09:40 AM
The first collection, Preludes and Nocturnes:
If Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel of all time, then a serious case can be made for Neil Gaiman's The Sandman to be the greatest on-going comics series of all time. Running from 1988 to 1996, the series incorporated some 76 issues, collected as ten graphic novels (and more recently, four large-format prestige collections). Although an ongoing series, it was bound together by a long-running story arc that spanned its entire length, and told the story of Morpheus or Dream, one of the seven Endless who are manifestations of universal concepts (the others are Death, Delirium, Desire, Despair, Destiny and Destruction). Preludes and Nocturnes is the first part of the Sandman saga, collecting together the first eight issues of the series.
In 1916, an English sorcerer named Roderick Burgess attempts to capture and constrain Death, so that all humans will become immortal. The spell goes awry, and instead he captures Death's younger brother, Dream. Dream refuses to help Burgess with his quest for immortality and is left imprisoned in a magic circle in the cellar beneath Burgess' home. The absence of Dream is soon felt, as thousands of people across the world slip into a 'sleeping sickness' and cannot wake up. One of these people, a young woman named Unity Kincaid, is even raped and bears a child without ever waking up. Years and then decades pass. Roderick dies of old age and his son Alex takes over as Dream's captor. Finally, in September 1989, Alex accidentally breaks the circle (by driving his wheelchair over it) and Dream is freed. After visiting an original form of vengeance upon his captor, Dream sets about reclaiming the 'tools' of his profession and restoring his realm, the Dreaming, to its former glory.
Preludes and Nocturnes opens the Sandman saga in style, introducing the titular character (who is unusually front-and-centre for the duration of the story: many Sandman stories are notable for not featuring him prominently) and the world he lives in. Gaiman weaves an interesting story here. The Sandman's quest to find his pouch of sand, his gemstone and his helmet is a traditional mythic device, as is the descent into Hell to confront Lucifer to find one of the missing artefacts (this in turn sets up the very end of the series, with Lucifer's vow that, "One day I shall destroy him," setting up future events). At the same time there's a lot of other things going on. Established DC Comics villain Dr. Dee abusing the Sandman's powers to torment a diner full of innocent people is one of the more disturbing things you're going to see in a comic. The story ends with a triumphant Sandman driven strangely morose by his success, and unable to think of something else to do, he goes to feed the pigeons in Greenwich Village, where he meets with his sister Death, probably the most popular character in the series. The collection ends on an upbeat note, as the Sandman begins the task of restoring his realm and his life.
Preludes and Nocturnes is a great story. It's clearly early days for Gaiman and the story creaks a bit in places. It's also rather more obvious than the later, more subtle collections, and the desire for a somewhat plot-driven narrative to hook in the readers means that a lot of the more reflective moments from the later collections are missing. At the same time, revisiting the collection reveals a host of details that crop up again later on, such as an early glimpse of Merv driving a bus (he doesn't reappear until The Kindly Ones, the penultimate collection) and the introduction of Nada, Dream's former lover whom he condemned to Hell for reasons that will later be revealed. The book also wears its influences a bit more obviously than later stories: The Devil Rides Out and the works of Alastair Crowley inform the Burgess sequences, whilst the gates of the Dreaming (the Gates of Horn and Ivory) are straight out of Homer and Virgil. Gaiman's use of established DC characters such as John Constantine and Dr. Dee was also an obvious strategy to attract other DC readers, but for those unfamiliar with the DC Universe, their appearance and the assumption of familiarity is a bit jarring.
Preludes and Nocturnes (***½) is an intruging opening to the series, ranging from mythology to the occult to superheroes (and villains) and back again, taking in multiple times, worlds and characters. It is a powerful work of the imagination, but in places feels constrained by being part of the DC Universe and has a few rough edges, the result of a writer near the start of his career but already showing great promise. The collection is available from Titan in the UK and from Vertigo in the USA. The collection also forms part of The Absolute Sandman, Volume I, which is a handsome leather-bound edition of the first 20 issues of the comics series and comes complete with extra material. This edition is available from Vertigo in the UK and USA.
August 6th, 2008, 07:20 PM
The last collection I read was A Game of You, but I recently picked up the next one and haven't had a chance to read it yet. I did pick up Endless Nights once upon a time, and it's one of my favourite things to go back to. I've probably read some of the stories in there at least 6 times.
August 6th, 2008, 10:58 PM
If you like Sandman, you'll probably also like the Lucifer spin off series. I actually liked it a little better than Sandman. Best (cheap) way to collect/read these is to buy the entire series at once on ebay.
August 15th, 2008, 09:49 AM
Onto the second collection, The Doll's House.
The second Sandman collection picks up from the last one, with the Sandman continuing the process of restoring the Dreaming to its proper state, and also introduces a whole slew of new characters and storylines that will continue to resonate within the series until its very end.
Rose Walker and her mother travel from the USA to the UK to mee an unknown benefactor who has paid for their trip. The benefactor turns out to be Unity Kincaid, a victim of the sleeping sickness that swept across the world between 1916 and 1989, whilst Morpheus was imprisoned by Burgess. Whilst she was sleeping, Unity was raped by an unknown assailant, and had a baby, who turns out to be Rose's mother. Rose and her mother are stunned by this revelation, but Rose also takes advantage of the financial largesse of her very wealthy grandmother to undertake a search for her brother Jed, who disappeared several years ago.
At the same time, Morpheus has detected the forming of a 'vortex', a dangerous focii of dream-energy that could disrupt the dreams of the entire human race and kill them. Before he can shut down the vortex, which takes the form of a person, he decides to use it as bait to lure out several inhabitants of the Dreaming who fled to the waking world during his imprisonment, such as the thoroughly amoral Brute and Glob, the personified dream-place Fiddler's Green and the Corinthian, created by Morpheus to be the 'ultimate nightmare'. This results in Rose and her family being placed in extreme jeopardy.
Several other stories are also wrapped around this one: we learn why the Sandman's former lover, Nada, was glimpsed in Hell in the opening volume. We learn that his younger brother/sister Desire is plotting something behind his back. We also meet arguably the Sandman's only true human friend, Hob Gadling, from whom the touch of Death was lifted in 1389, making him immortal. Once a century Hob and Dream meet at the same pub and compare notes on how their lives have unfolded over the past century. This story, Men of Good Fortune, is a stunning piece of work and one of the seminal chapters of The Sandman (alongside the likes of The Sound of Her Wings from the first collection and the forthcoming Midsummer Night's Dream, Three Septembers and a January, The Dream of a Thousand Cats and Ramadan). It also introduces Will Shakespeare, whose amazing writing skills are revealed to be the result of a pact made with Dream, in return for which Shakespeare agrees to pen two special plays for Dream. But more on them when they appear.
The Doll's House represents a quantum leap forward in Neil Gaiman's writing and storytelling abilities. So many storylines revisited in future stories are set up it's pretty breathtaking, from linking this version of the Sandman to the previous DC one (an ineffective, slightly bumbling human crime-fighter called Hector Hall) to the establishing of numerous characters we will meet again later (such as Lyta Hall) and the establishing of several new regular characters, such as Matthew, Death's new raven, and Fiddler's Green. It also features one of Gaiman's most effective moments of horror, with a convention for serial killers (inspired by the World Fantasy Conventions of the mid-1980s) giving rise to moments of both disgust and jet-black humour (panels on deconstructing the stereotypes of female serial killers or how to make money from your hobby). There's also some nice tributes to other comics: as well as the 1970s version of The Sandman we also get a pastiche of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strips. As well as the obvious nod to Shakespeare we also get to meet Christopher Marlowe (who is dismissive of Shakespeare's first play, Henry VI, whilst his own masterwork Faustus is getting vast amounts of acclaim).
We also get some more clues as to what The Sandman is about. The legend of Nada shows that the Sandman has made some mistakes in his past and he needs to correct them, whilst Men of Good Fortune shows that the post-imprisonment Sandman is a slightly warmer person than before. A century spent alone has given him the chance to reflect on things and it's interesting seeing his cold, heartless side giving way more easily than before. The story ends with Dream confronting Desire and the immediate crisis solved...but Lyta Hall is living in mortal fear of what Dream told her (read and find out), which sets up events much later in the series.
The Sandman: The Doll's House (****½) is a radical improvement on the first Sandman collection, Preludes and Nocturnes, and gives the series a sense of purpose and direction. With the story Men of Good Fortune Gaiman's writing reaches a strong new level of maturity and intelligence, whilst Collectors may be among the most disturbing comics ever created.
The story is available from Titan in the UK and from Vertigo in the USA. It is also packaged with the first and third collections in The Absolute Sandman Volume I, available from Vertigo in the UK and USA.
August 22nd, 2008, 12:23 PM
Onto the third collection, Dream Country:
The third Sandman collection represents a change of pace from the first two. Whilst the first two were unified by a central story arc that ran through each one, Dream Country is essentially a short story collection, featuring four tales that although self-contained, do illuminate parts of the backstory and the ongoing overall storylines of the entire series.
The first story is Calliope. A young writer, Richard Madoc, has a bad case of writer's block following the success of his first novel. In desperation he turns to the occult to find a way out of his problem and enlists the help of Erasmus Fry, an elderly author and successful playwright. It turns out that Fry owes his success to his imprisonment of Calliope, one of the nine muses of antiquity (and the former muse of Homer), and he passes control of Calliope over to Madoc. By holding her hostage and abusing her, Madoc gains the inspiration he needs and becomes a bestselling writer, churning out novels, a poetry collection, screenplays and even becoming a gifted director. Unfortunately for Madoc, he is unaware that Calliope is also the former lover of one of the Endless...
This is an interesting story. The notion of 'the muse' is explored here, although the literal personification of Calliope can be substituted for whatever a writer uses for inspiration. The abuse and over-use of the muse resulting in a horrendous case of writer's block, perhaps permanantly, is an interesting idea to use for a story, but it works well. We also get some intriguing backstory for The Sandman overall, including the tantalising revelation that somewhere out there Morpheus has a son (although those who know their Greek mythology will be way ahead of the game here). For those interested in writing graphic novels and comics, the complete script for Calliope is included in the book as well.
The second story is much more straightforward and fun. The Dream of a Thousand Cats sees a cat travelling the world, preaching a message to all the other cats, and we see the impact of that message on a young kitten. This story has been called 'cute' but it really isn't. The dream the cat is trying to bring into reality really isn't very nice (especially for humans) and the final line and image are brilliantly contrasted with what is going on in the cat's mind. This is as self-contained as Sandman stories come, and shows Gaiman's wit and imagination in full flower.
The third story is the legendary A Midsummer Night's Dream. Back in Men of Good Fortune (included in The Doll's House), Dream and William Shakespeare made a deal whereby Dream would give Shakespeare access to a font of imagination in return for Shakespeare writing two plays for him. A Midsummer Night's Dream is the first, written for Dream to show as a piece of entertainment to the real faerie king and queen, Auberon and Titania, who return to the mortal plane with their retainers for the occasion.
This is a splendid, clever story which rightfully won the World Fantasy Award in 1991. As the play unfolds events offstage are illuminated by it: Titania's enchantment of Shakespeare's son (who died several years later), Robin Goodfellow (Puck)'s irritation at being portrayed by a mortal and the running commentary provided by several of the faerie court viewing the play, with some disagreement about whether they should congratulate the mortals for their art or eat them. There's also some more scene-setting for later stories (an invitation is extended to Dream who hasn't followed up on it by four centuries later). The highlight of the collection, this is an amusing story, although probably of most interest to established Shakespeare fans.
The final story is Facade, about an extremely obscure DC hero who finds herself lost and lonely, living in her apartment with a weekly conversation with the guy who signs her pension cheques as the highlight of her week. This is a somewhat bleak story about a hero with the power to save the world but who loses herself in the process, but it is given an uplifting ending by the arrival of Death, who is fleshed out a lot more here than in her previous brief appearances.
Dream Country (****) is an excellent addition to The Sandman mythos, although it can be criticised for being on the short side (collecting only four issues, compared to the previous two collections' eight apiece) and only padded out to a reasonable length by the Calliope script. But the quality of the actual stories more than makes up for it. The collection is available from Titan in the UK and Vertigo in the USA, and rounds off The Absolute Sandman, Volume I, available from Vertigo in the UK and USA.
August 27th, 2008, 09:33 AM
Season of Mists
The fourth Sandman collection finally follows up on the promise that Lucifer made to destroy Morpheus back in the opening collection. Destiny summons the Endless to a meeting, where we meet Delirium (who used to be Delight) for the first time and get some more information about the missing brother of the Endless. During the meeting Desire baits Dream about the treatment of his lover Nada, whom he banished to Hell for spurning him. Dream realises he/she is right, and resolves to travel to Hell and rescue his former lover, despite Lucifer's vow.
Season of Mists takes Dream on a journey into Hell and a confrontation with the Morningstar...but not the type of confrontation he was expecting. Dream ends up, slightly bemused, as the keeper of the key to Hell, and is soon being petitioned by gods and representatives from many pantheons (including the gods of Chaos and Order, and deities from the Egyptian, Norse and Japanese pantheons) anxious to get their hands on the finest plot of real estate in the multiverse, at the same time as he is also trying to find his missing love, and Death is attempting to repair the damage caused by countless legions of the dead suddenly being released back into the mortal world.
After the short story interlude of Dream Country, it's good to be back to a solid, long story arc. Although it's a reasonably long tale it's not the most dynamic story in the Sandman canon, and unusually most of it takes place in the Dreaming with only a few scenes set in the real world, and a longer chunk set in Hell. This allows us to see a bit more of the Dreaming and its inhabitants, but the meat of the story is seeing how the different pantheons interact together and who actually has the best claim on Hell.
As usual, Gaiman fills the story with neat little details and touches. The notion of there being a library in the Dreaming where all the books writers dreamed of writing but never got round to it is a fascinating one, and it's amusing to see books there such as Tolkien's The Lost Road (which was supposed to be a big story about his island kingdom of Numenor, but he abandoned it after a few pages). Elsewhere there are nods back to earlier stories: when Dream fears he may be destroyed in Hell, he decides to make time for a brief drink with his friend Hob Gadling, although they are not due to meet for another ninety-nine years. He also looks in on the newly-born son of Hector and Lyta Hall and gives him a name, Daniel, to Lyta's rage and horror. Elsewhere there's nice touches about the various gods, such as Chaos being personified as a young girl and Order as a carboard box, and Thor trying to impress some of the female deities present with his hammer, which gets bigger if you rub it (which is mythologically accurate)! Finally, we get a glimpse into the Sandman's collection of artefacts he has accumulated over the years, and see the skull of the Corinthian, a city trapped in a bottle and an old pocket watch, all of which are explored in future stories, in some cases years down the line.
As with previous collections, Gaiman interrupts the linear narrative of the story to give us a self-contained story in the middle of the collection which nevertheless comments on the action around it. A young boy left alone at boarding school for the holidays (after his father is among the hostages taken by Saddam Hussein in the build-up to the Gulf War) is suddenly joined by all those who died in the school over the previous century or so. It's a rather grim story, but ends on an interesting, optimistic note.
Season of Mists (****) isn't quite up there with the best of the Sandman collections. It is a tad overlong given its relative lack of actual incident, but for expanding our knowledge and understanding about Hell and the Dreaming, for introducing important new characters (particularly Daniel, Cluracan and Nuala) and for resolving the Nada storyline, it does a great job. The graphic novel is available from Titan in the UK and Vertigo in the USA, and forms the opening part of The Absolute Sandman, Volume II, available from Vertigo in the UK and USA.
September 7th, 2008, 11:28 AM
A Game of You:
The fifth Sandman collection sees Gaiman tackle the traditional fantasy/fairy tale 'quest' story. This is an interesting tale, one of the most traditionally-structured in the series, and once again makes use of the history already established in the series whilst setting up elements for use in future stories.
Barbie, the young woman who was one of Rose Walker's housemates in The Doll's House, has relocated to New York City and now lives in an apartment block. Other residents of the block include a transsexual named Wanda, a lesbian couple named Hazel and Foxglove, a bookish young woman named Thessaly and a surly man named George. Since the events of The Doll's House Barbie has been unable to dream and in her absence the dream-kingdom she used to inhabit, the Land, has been overrun by an evil force known as 'the Cuckoo'. Only a few of Barbie's imaginary friends have survived, and using powerful magic one of these, a giant dog named Martin Tenbones, crosses over into the real world to enlist her aid in saving them.
A Game of You is, by some reports, the least popular of the Sandman tales. I'm not sure why that is the case, although Dream spending much more time off-page than normal (only really active at the beginning and end) may have something to do with it. The mix of high fantasy with harsh reality may have something more to do with it, and the somewhat bemused-rather-than-scared-into-catatonia reactions of the other residents of the apartment block to one of their number cutting off someone's face and pinning it to the wall strains credulity somewhat. But Gaiman again gives us an interesting, intricately-crafted story featuring some very well-realised characters and some fascinating fantasy concepts. A lengthy essay by Samual R. Delaney opens this collection in which he discusses some of the ideas and themes presented, and is an interesting read. A Game of You is, at its heart, a story about identity, about what people want to be versus the sometimes harsh reality of who they actually are, and about the role that fantasy plays in people's lives.
A Game of You (****) is another solid addition to the Sandman mythos, with a strong storyline and some interesting thematic elements making up for a slightly unsatisfying ending and a distinct lack of appearances by the Sandman. It is available from Titan in the UK and Vertigo in the USA, and is part of The Absolute Sandman, Volume II, available from Vertigo in the UK and USA.
September 24th, 2008, 06:59 PM
Fables and Reflections:
The sixth Sandman collection turns to the ideas of taletelling, leadership and responsibility. Fables and Reflections is obstinately a random grouping of single-issue stories and short narrative arcs that didn't really fit in with the larger, more epic stories that make up the bulk of the series, but the collection is cohesive in theme and consistent in quality. For my money, it may be the best of the Sandman collections; certainly some of the stories in here qualify as among the very best things Neil Gaiman has ever written.
The collection opens with a very short (10 page) story called Fear of Falling. It's a very simple tale, possibly the simplest thing Gaiman has ever written. A New York playwright is terrified that his new play is rubbish, and plans to call it off and dump it. In a dream he finds himself ascending a rock pinnacle, atop which the Sandman is waiting. The dreamer finds himself revitalised and presses ahead with the play. Very simple, yet surprisingly effective.
Three Septembers and a January (Gaiman stole the title from a certain movie script his friend Richard Curtis was working on at the time) kicks the collection off in style. Joshua Norton, a failed San Francisco entrepreneur, is preparing to commit suicide in 1859 after his latest business collapses. Despair of the Endless summons her brother Dream and challenges him to a wager that he cannot give Norton back his sense of purpose. Dream does so, amplifying Norton's tightly-held belief that the USA's lack of moral purpose is a result of it not having a king. As a result Joshua Norton proclaims himself Emperor of the United States of America. Astonishingly, he seems to gain some success. The writer Sam Clemens (aka 'Mark Twain') comes to him for advice, his own stamped banknotes become legal tender in some parts of the city and he earns the respect of several feuding Chinatown gangs. Several attempts to have him sectioned come to nothing, as the city's judiciary points out that unlike some emperors Norton has started no wars and killed no-one. When he dies of natural causes in 1880, over ten thousand people turn out to line the streets of San Francisco and a total eclipse of the Sun takes place. And, brilliantly, it is a true story (well, not the Dream and Despair bit, obviously, but the rest of it is). This is Gaiman at his funniest, most heart-warming and cleverest. The writer disliked it for years as he was suspicious of sentiment, but it has aged very well.
Thermidor, on the other hand, sees Gaiman's dark side kicking in. In 1794 Ms. Johanna Constantine is dispatched by Dream on a dangerous mission into Revolutionary Paris at the very height of the Reign of Terror, during which she runs afoul of both Louis-Antoine St. Just and Robespierre himself. This is a taut, dark and intense story which mixes together Greek legend and French history to great effect. Then we have The Hunt, the typical story of the hero setting out to rescue the princess. Except he's a murderous werewolf. And the story is being told by a New York Jewish immigrant to his granddaughter, who at one point decries it for being too post-modern. It's a nice little story with a cameo appearance by Baba Yaga, but I'm not entirely sure what Gaiman was trying to achieve with it.
August, on the other hand, is terrific. The Roman Emperor Augustus (Octavian) sees two visions of the future of Rome: one where it splutters for a few centuries and dies, but in the doing so sets humanity free, and another where it lasts for ten thousand years and takes the human race to the stars. As he struggles to decide which path to set in motion, he goes out amongst the people to ponder what the Empire is and what it has become. Soft Places sees several travellers lost in space and time meet to share a campfire, including the young Marco Polo and Fiddler's Green, a denizen of the Dreaming. The Parliament of Rooks sees young Daniel Hall, son of Lyta and the baby Dream has taken a special interest in, venture into the Dreaming where he is treated to some stories by Cain, Abel, Eve and Matthew. This is a dark but funny story, and the revelation of how many wives Adam actually had may be illuminating to those who think they know their Bible myths inside and out.
The longest story in the collection is Orpheus, but it's also probably the least satisfying as it is merely a straightforward retelling of the Orpheus story. Anyone who's read their Ovid or even a sketchy account of the Greek myths should be familiar with the basics. Here it is recontextualised as being part of the Sandman universe, but not much more beyond that is achieved. Still, it's fun to finally meet Destruction, based on British actor Brian Blessed.
The collection is concluded with the stellar Ramadan. Caliph Haroun al Raschid is the ruler of Baghdad circa 810 AD, when it is the greatest place on Earth with travellers and traders from every corner of the globe coming to visit the great city. Realising that the city can only decline from this point on, al Raschid summons the Sandman to make a bargain to ensure the city will live on, forever...
Fables and Reflections (*****) is a superb collection of stories and musings about stories. For those wondering why Neil Gaiman is acclaimed as one of the greatest and most imaginative writers of his generation, look no further than this collection and its insightful introduction, provided by Gene Wolfe. It is available from Titan in the UK and Vertigo in the USA. The stories in this collection are also scattered between The Absolute Sandman, Volume II (UK, USA) and Volume III (UK, USA).
That's the last one for a while, mainly because I don't own the others and won't be able to afford them for some time to come.
Things that emerged whilst re-reading the series:
Gaiman's imagination is in full stream with these stories. With the Endless and the mystical backwaters of the DC universe, he really had an enormous canvas on which to create stories, characters and ideas. For this reason, I've always felt his novels to be somewhat lacking in ambition. American Gods and Anansi Boys are fine novels by any standards, but compared to the colorful, dark, brooding Sandman universe they feel almost predictable (especially as American Gods feels like a retelling of the Sandman story on a much smaller scale).
The other thing that become quite notable whilst rereading the series was how far ahead Gaiman was planning things: Merv appearing driving the bus right at the start of the first arc when he didn't actually get a name or speak until near the end, or Dream's ill-advised romance with another character taking place off-stage but us hearing about it through second-hand whispers from other members of the Dreaming. Very nicely done by Gaiman.