Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed comic book ‘Sandman’ returns after 25 years

Story highlights

"Sandman: Overture" is author Neil Gaiman's first Sandman comic book story in 10 years

"The Sandman," first published in 1988, made Gaiman a big name in the world of comic books

Gaiman was finally able to have new comic ready for "Sandman's" 25th anniversary

CNN  — 

Why return to a favorite story 25 years after it began?

For author Neil Gaiman, the answer lies in one word: “joy.”

In speaking with CNN, Gaiman used the word more than once to describe his experience with “The Sandman,” the comic book series that started in 1988 and achieved widespread acclaim, originally ending in 1996. The story was a revolutionary reboot of a superhero character from the 1970s. Gaiman was given free rein at the time to make him completely different and ran with it.

Now, Gaiman is back with the new series “Sandman: Overture,” and the second issue is set for release on Wednesday.

Gaiman has since written many popular novels including “Stardust,” “Neverwhere,” “American Gods, “Coraline” and most recently, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” But for many fans, “Sandman” – an oftentimes surreal story about the realm of dreams, which originally ran 75 issues – remains his best known work. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a fan, and he’s producing a possible “Sandman” film.

“Overture” is Gaiman’s first new “Sandman” story in 10 years (2003 saw his last “Sandman” follow-up, the graphic novel “Sandman: Endless Nights”).

The “Sandman” series primarily follows the character Dream, who appears with various names and forms and has control over the dreams of everyone and everything.

CNN has an exclusive look at several pages of artwork from “Overture,” and Gaiman spoke to us about the return of some of his most popular characters, and why they’re back now.

(DC Comics is owned by CNN’s parent company, Time Warner.)

CNN: What made you resurrect “Sandman?”

Gaiman: It was a combination of things. The joy of stopping “Sandman” at the time was I didn’t tell all the “Sandman‘“stories I could ever tell. But I did finish the story I started in “‘Sandman” No. 1.

The joy was if I wanted to I could go back and do more. That was where (1999’s) “Sandman: Dream Hunters” came from. That was where (2003’s) “Sandman: Endless Nights” came from and now “Sandman: Overture.” It was the idea of going back and telling all these stories and all these things that I know and other people don’t know. So why don’t I tell them?

While that’s all true, the other thing that drove it was I originally wanted to tell this story back in 2008. It would have been “Sandman’s” 20th anniversary. For various reasons, DC (Comics) couldn’t make it happen. So when (DC Comics president) Diane Nelson came in, she asked is there anything you want to do? And I said I’d really love to do the story for “Sandman’s” 25th anniversary. It seems huge and a great thing to mark. And she said, ‘What a great idea!” And we set out to do it.

CNN: The art of “Sandman” has always been extraordinary and otherworldly. What did you have in mind for this one?

Gaiman: We had an extremely short list. We had J.H. Williams III, and we’re incredibly fortunate that he said yes. It’s probably the most beautiful art that I have ever seen in a periodical comic. Whenever he does a page, he takes a photo. I look at the detail and the design. What he’s doing is unbelievable. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a monthly comic.

The scene at the end of the first issue of “Sandman: Overture” where we see all the different Sandmans from across the universe, all the different versions of Morpheus meeting at once. That’s been in my head for 24 years.

CNN: And when can we expect more?

Gaiman: July will be issue 3 and then probably some more months then issue 4, issue 5 and issue 6. I’m already missing it. The magic of ‘Sandman’ is going back and finding the characters’ voices are still alive and still real.

CNN: What will the fans take away from “Overture?”

Gaiman: The lovely thing about this is I genuinely don’t know what the fans will respond to. There’s nothing you have to know to read the comic. There’s already things which I’ve written so far in “Sandman: Overture,” which when you go back and read the original comic, things will change.

CNN: What makes you decide to write a comic book as opposed to a novel, when you have these different kinds of storytelling available to you?

Gaiman: Mostly it’s “Do I want to see this drawn?” One of the most interesting things about “Sandman: Overture” is I really, really wanted to see the pictures.

The stuff in issue 3 is the nearest “Sandman” has ever come to a spaghetti Western. It’s not like anything I’ve ever done in any other way.

When I’m outlining a comic, I write down the numbers 1 to 24, and I jot down what’s happening on each page, because I have to think of things in terms of pages, and double page spreads. In a novel, if I want to move a scene, I just cut and paste. In a novel, it’s a completely different conversation.

CNN: Is there still more “Sandman” on the horizon?

Gaiman: Can I tell “Sandman” stories until I die? The characters are still in my head; they’re still there. But there’s so many more things I need to write before the long night comes, before I put the pen down for the last time. I really hope there’s more “Sandman” in there. It would be sad if there wasn’t. But there’s so much more left to write.

CNN: Are there more stories you’d like to revisit?

Gaiman: The next thing coming out is a little revisit of “Neverwhere,” which came out many years ago. It’s a “Neverwhere” short story called “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” coming as part of (the anthology) “Rogues” in September, edited by George R.R. Martin.

CNN: And is there a “Sandman” movie in the works, as well as a TV series of “American Gods?”

Gaiman: I think I’m allowed to tell you that Joseph Gordon-Levitt signed on as a producer for the “Sandman” film, and I had a fantastic day spent with Joe talking “Sandman,” and his knowledge and commitment to it impressed the hell out of me.

And “American Gods,” wait and see. People are being talked to, exciting things are going on.

CNN: What advice do you have for writers who have read your work and want to try their hand at it? What pitfalls should be avoided?

Gaiman: The biggest pitfall to avoid is not writing. Not writing is really, really easy to do, especially if you’re a young writer. The hope that elves will come in the night and finish it for you, is a very common one to have. That is my main recommendation. You have to write, and you have to finish what you write and beyond that, it’s all detail.