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Checking out The Annotated Sandman, volume 1

Yes, I can’t do something simply when I can make it complicated!

So last night, FotB Dan Felty asked:

Is it possible for you to post a page out of the Sandman collection? I’m curious how it’s formatted. How do the annotations affect the reading experience? Whether it’s endnotes, margin notes, facing pages, etc. can really influence how much I take to notes, and I’d like to make sure this edition works as a good reading copy since I don’t already own the comic. Thanks!

I told him I would insert it into the post, but then I thought, “Why do that when I can complicate matters by doing an entire post about The Annotated Sandman and what it looks like?” It’s because I love you guys, dear readers, that I do this. Well, that and if I were sitting around this morning my wife might put me to work. NO ONE WANTS THAT!!!!!

So here’s some comparisons as well as what the annotated version looks like. I currently own Sandman in three different versions, sort of: I own almost every single issue, the first trade of “The Doll’s House” (before DC started standardizing the trade dress; and how weird is it to consider that DC put out “The Doll’s House” first because they weren’t sure they would put the whole series out in trade? man, comics have changed), the first two Absolute Editions, and now the first volume of The Annotated Sandman. Eventually I’m going to get the rest of the Absolute Editions and all of these annotated versions, and maybe someday I’ll track down the single issues of #8-16. So I decided to look at pages from the single issues, from the Absolute Editions, and from The Annotated Sandman, just to see the differences. You’ll have to forgive me for the annotated pages – the book does not fit on my scanned, so I took pictures of the relevant pages. But then I scanned the annotations so you can get a better idea of what’s what.

Here’s Page Three of Sandman #4, “A Hope in Hell,” in the original:

Here’s the same page in The Absolute Sandman, volume 1:

Here’s the annotated page:

The biggest difference is, of course, the coloring. Robbie Busch colored the first 18 issues of the ongoing, and Daniel Vozzo re-colored the pages for The Absolute Sandman. You’ll notice that Busch’s coloring is much more lurid than Vozzo’s, and the gates of Hell are nauseating in the original version while in Vozzo’s version, they’re simply bizarre. Vozzo changes the purple at the edge of Morpheus’s cape to flame, which is apparently the way Gaiman wanted it. It doesn’t look quite as spooky, though. I can see why Vozzo recolored the page – I imagine Gaiman wanted it done this way, and it does look more professional – but Busch’s coloring really makes Hell look more polluted and ugly and queasy. Note also that Kieth’s art looks less cartoony as the coloring changes. Busch’s colors make it look the tiniest bit goofy, while the black and white in the annotated version is stark and horrifying. Kieth’s art in Sandman was a weird mixture of these two extremes, and it’s interesting to see how the color or lack of it brings out one aspect or the other.

Here’s the annotations for this page, up close:

This is pretty standard, although we don’t get photographs very often in the book.

Moving on, here’s Page Seven of Sandman #17, “Calliope,” in the original:

Vozzo softens it up for The Absolute Sandman (sorry that the edge is a bit blurred!):

Here’s the annotated page:

Once again, the biggest difference is that Vozzo’s coloring is slightly less garish. This is due mainly to the advances in coloring over the years, although some people will say this isn’t a good thing. Calliope’s hair is not as bright, Erasmus Fry and Richard Madoc wear gray jackets instead of green and blue, respectively, and everyone’s skin is a bit more washed out. Vozzo does make the figures in the last panel more distinctive, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. Jones’s art in the black and white looks nice because of the heavy use of blacks.

Story continues below

Here’s the annotations from this page:

Leslie Klinger, the annotator, doesn’t mention the excellent use of this nursery rhyme in Ellen Raskin’s The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues, which is a brilliant novel (for both kids and adults). Oh well – he can’t cover everything!

Finally, here’s Page Five of Sandman #19, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in the original:

This is from The Absolute Sandman:

Here’s the page in The Annotated Sandman:

This issue was not recolored for The Absolute Sandman, and you can tell: the only real difference is the glossy paper, which makes it a bit brighter in the Absolute version. The annotated version suffers a bit because Vess’s art is really beautiful when colored and it does lose a bit when uncolored. Here’s the annotations for this page:

This is a case of the annotations continuing from the previous page, which doesn’t happen that often. As the previous few pages have a lot of stuff about the Shakespearean stage, the annotations ran long. We do get a nice picture of the Long Man of Wilmington, though.

For the most part, I enjoyed the annotations (yes, I’ve already read the entire book, which is easy to do when you don’t actually read the issues; I’ve read the first 20 issues of Sandman so often I know them pretty well). The annotated version is reprinted from the Absolute Edition, so any changes made there are reflected here (there’s an example of some panels being flipped and a few script changes and even script mistakes – Jed says “spooky birds” instead of “skooky birds” in the Absolute version) and noted. There’s a lot about the DC history Gaiman includes, which is nice. I certainly don’t mind that Gaiman slowly (but never completely) divorced the series from the DCU, but seeing how he works stuff in is very keen. Much like Klinger’s annotations of the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, I liked what was there and was a tiny bit disappointed that there wasn’t more. I don’t even know if there could be more, but I WANTED IT!!!!! And, of course, some pages have no annotations, because they don’t need them.

So that’s a peek at The Annotated Sandman, which is 50 dollars for 20 issues of uncolored comics you’ve probably already read (unless you’re Dan Felty, of course). I certainly loved it, but I’m not sure if it’s the best place to start reading the series. I hope this helps Mr. Felty and anyone else who was curious, though. We’re all about customer service here at the blog!


Thank you very much for posting this–I was torn about whether to order this book. I really appreciate the insight about its contents.

SWEET! I only have the first Absolute edition of Sandman so far, but I’m thinking this is well worth it more than the Absolutes.

Thanks for the look Greg!
I like the setup of the annotations-they don’t seem to be distracting to the eye & don’t break up the flow or double page spreads a la Mantooth. The lists of allusions and script excerpts are nice (have they ever released a book of Sandman scripts aside from the one in the trade for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?), but a few choices seem poor-there’s no explanation of what the Long Man of Wilmington is, and out of the voluminous work on Shakespeare he cites Shakespeare in Love(?!). Still, the book looks pretty neat. Since the book is so wide, I assume that the story content is standard comic size with the notes accounting for the width, right?
P.S.-You’re killing my street cred! I don’t own these, but I’ve read them.

Rich: No problem!

stealthwise: That’s a tough choice, because the Absolute editions are so big and have a lot of extra stuff as well.

Dan: Klinger does write a bit about the Long Man, just not on this page. When Morpheus and Shakespeare first come upon the mound, the annotations go into the significance of “Wendel’s Mound” and the Long Man and what he could mean. Sorry to mislead you! The Shakespeare in Love reference seems odd, but it is for a very specific point – Klinger gives us plenty of high-brow AND pop-art references! And yes, the comic part is the size of a standard comic – not quite as gigantic as the Absolute Editions – with the annotations accounting for the book’s width.

Glad I could help!

Cool. I may go for this. Does this have the same number of issues as the Absolute editions (therefore the Annotated will also be 4 volumes, with a 5th for supplemental comics)?

And Vess! How did I forget him in my comment on WIB? D’oh! I take a bit exception with your notion that Vess’s art loses anything when colored. The work’s lovely either way!

Dan, I think the script in Dream Country is for Calliope, not Midsummer. I think. Maybe not. But I’m not sure if there were others published.

Another neat bit about Midsummer is that apparently the original version was essentially just an adaptation of the play, but Karen Berger told Neil that she didn’t know all that Shakespeare stuff, and wanted him to put in something that would connect emotionally. So he dropped a few play bits and added the bit of Hamnet talking about his father. The interview I read this in was asking about editorial issues with Sandman, and Neil said that it may have been an editorial issue, but it’s probably what won the issue the World Fantasy Award.

What’s great is now we have a third version of these comics. So cool.

More geekery about issue 16 — they were so enthused about Sandman, they prepared the trade of A Doll’s House at the same time that the original issues were coming out, so the original version of issue 16 didn’t get inked as well as it could have (fast pace of production). When the Essential Vertigo version came out around ’97-’98, DC had Malcolm Jones III re-ink the issue (from photostats, I think) shortly before he unfortunately passed away. So there are maybe 4 versions of that issue floating around (compare your original trade to the Absolute and Annotated if you’re interested).

Thanks for posting this! I’m more of a fan of the original coloring work. Something about it just perfectly sets the mood.

After reading these and a couple of other preview pages of the annotations, I wish DC would simply publish all the Sandman scripts in a collection or two.

“advances in coloring” Really? The original, as always, looks soooo much better. Gradients are the worst thing that ever happened to comics.

What’s interesting about the coloring is that there was one of those columns that DC had back in the day with behind the scenes stuff and so forth, and iirc, Vozzo was one of the first at DC to use computer coloring. (And I’m also thinking that the story involved when Dave McKean visited the DC offices, saw Vozzo’s computer, and needed to get one himself, which is certainly an important moment in his art.)

So by the time of the Absolute versions, he’d have been using computers for years.

I’m wondering how much input Gaiman or the artists had in the new coloring, or if it was more okaying it after it was done. To me it’s mixed results — not necessarily definitely better or worse, but certainly different.

Anyone know if the new versions of the TPs are using the new coloring? I assume so, but I certainly could be wrong.

The recoloring of that Midsummer page is dreadful.

Travis: Yes, it has the same number of issues as the Absolute Editions. I assume the publishing plan is the same.

Sure, Vess’s line work is beautiful in the black and white. I still think his art works better when it’s colored, though.

I also forgot to address your questions about annotations about the editorial process. There’s a lot in the annotations about Gaiman telling his artists certain things about the scripts and the mood he was going for, but not too much to do with DC editorial. One I recall is how he had to tiptoe around the big drawing of the dead pre-operative transsexual – he wanted to be more graphic but knew DC wouldn’t let him, so he had to be more subtle. This was, in fact, the first time I noticed the penis, and only because Gaiman told the artist where to put it.

Oliver Townshend

January 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Looks great – so much better than the Absolutes which are so big I can barely read them, and the black and white looks great.

Huh. Ya know, I know exactly what page you mean (as it’s one that I was talking about yesterday), but I wouldn’t have realized to look for a penis.

Since it IS a DC pub, and most of the DC editorial people that were on Sandman are, I believe, still there, they certainly aren’t going to say too much adverse about what editorial wouldn’t let NEIL GAIMAN do. (Although the “DC characters don’t masturbate” was apparently from Jenette Kahn, who isn’t there anymore.)

I’m curious now about what OTHER comics could be annotated in a similar manner to this. spiegelman’s new MetaMaus book/DVD thing (which has been in the works so long, it began as a CDROM thing…) is a similar project, I suppose. There’s plenty of stuff that could be annotated with Cerebus. Maybe some Eisner GNs? (I suppose the From Hell scriptbook from way back was similar.) A lot of the “great works” of comics just probably don’t lend themselves to this sort of thing, I suppose.

I’m still hoping DC publishes the SWAMP THING Titan black & whites …

[…] Checking out The Annotated Sandman, volume 1Comic Book Resourcesby Greg Burgas Is it possible for you to post a page out of the Sandman collection? I'm curious how it's formatted. How do the annotations affect the reading experience? Whether it's endnotes, margin notes, facing pages, etc. can really influence how … […]

For twenty years, I’ve thought that somewhere in the DC universe, there were things called “skooky birds’. That it’s a typo makes sense.

@buttler – the Midsummer page hasn’t been recoloured – those are Oliff’s original colours, they just ‘pop’ more with modern paper and printing. And I think that’s exactly how all the chapters should have been done. I’m not a fan of the contemporary recolouring.

Thanks Greg! I’m pretty well sold on the annotated version now. We’ll see how I feel Wednesday. I’m slowly picking up the originals, but I do own all the trades in the new uniform dress. I know it’s heresy, but I kind of like the new gradient coloring on your first two samples, but I can see the appeal of the original coloring too.

The major appeal of the annotated version is gaining insight for the specific motivation for the creators takes on Shakespeare, the Twain and the Emperor and other characters Morpheus inspires. I may even be in the market for the Absolute editions if DC follows through on annotating the rest of the series. Can’t get enough Sandman.

The first two pages look far better uncoloured so that’s pretty much an argument in favour of buying it for me.

I am also surprised that there actually are no “skooky birds”. Actually I think I like the typo more.

But yeah, that Kieth page looks wonderful in B&W. Kelley Jones’ page I think I prefer coloured, his use of black is already so strong that a bit of softening provided by colours works well, and yeah, Vess needs that colour. There are some other artists in the series though whose work I’d be interested in seeing in B&W (Colleen Doran for one).

Sorry for the confusion, everyone – the “spooky” is actually the typo. The Absolute Edition is SUPPOSED to say “skooky” birds, and it does in the first instance, but the second, it’s mistakenly labeled as “spooky birds.” Re-reading what I wrote, I see it wasn’t very clear. My bad!

Great run down of all three major versions (original, absolute and now the annotated version) of a landmark series.

I’d like to see a hybrid Absolute/Annotated version where we get colour pages, annotation as well as the FULL script to each issue.

I read an interview where Leslie Klinger mentions that Gaiman might turn in a 60 page script for a 22 page issue. Imagine all the nuggets and insights in a full script….

Shawn: As nice as that would be, I shudder to think how expensive it would be!

Thanks so much! Like some of the others I was really torn between which version to buy, this was a great way to see what the differences are.

The “Oranges and Lemons” rhyme is significant to Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four as well.

Michael McCarthy

May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm

It should also be noted that there are a handfull of really annoying printing errors in the Annotated Sandman (incorrect page numbers in citations, the same annotation used for two entries, metc.). Not ma deal breaker, though.

Michael McCarthy

May 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm

That should read “etc.” & “a” – stupid fat fingers!

Thanks so much for this! I went in to a bookstore today and saw the annotated versions for $50-$60 and I got really excited! Then I asked if I could take the plastic packaging off to look inside and they wouldn’t let me!!

Are the pages glossy? I really don’t like glossy pages.. especially in comics and graphic novels.. in anything really i guess.
Looks pretty good, I like that there’s the black and white version. Is there an annotation for each page? So you can read the whole book on the right hand side and have the commentary on the left? (or vice versa)

Kelda: No problem. I also don’t like it when I can’t look inside a book!

The pages are not glossy at all – they’re fairly thick card stock. The pages up there are pretty much what you get – the art and story are reprinted, and the annotations are on the margin, so the comic and the annotations are on every page. I think that’s what you’re asking – whether the annotations face the page. They don’t – they’re placed next to the comic page on the same physical piece of paper.

The only real problem I have with the annotations is that Klinger focuses almost exclusively on the story. There’s plenty of room to discuss some of the artistic techniques, but he doesn’t. Other than that, it’s a pretty nice package. I hope this helps!

Dorothy Spinner

July 18, 2013 at 6:56 am

I really wish the discussion of “Here Comes a Candle” contained at least a brief mention of the Candlemaker, who featured so prominently in the end of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run. The words of “Oranges and Lemons” feature prominently in a few issues.

Multiple colorings are often heart-breaking because on every page there are things I like better in one and other things I like better in the other. I love Vozzo’s additional attention to detail but the gradients look very dated. As for color choices, I’m not sure either — some elements I like the old one better, others the new one.

Maybe it’s just me. I have the same reactions to the two cuts of Donnie Darko, where the director’s cut fixes some mistakes and adds new ones.

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