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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 205: Sandman #12

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Sandman #12, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1990. This scan is from Sandman: The Doll’s House trade paperback, which was released in 1990. Enjoy!

Who knew she could be so ruthless?

Chris Bachalo’s first published work (according to Our Dread Lord and Master, and why would he lie?) begins with this page, in which we’re introduced to Lyta Hall, who will play a HUGE role later on in the series. Long-time DC readers already knew Lyta because she had been in Infinity, Inc., but Gaiman appropriated her to use in his epic (and I had no idea who Lyta was when I first read this, but I guess her role later in this series makes sense, all things considered). Gaiman does a nice job here, because someone like me would have no idea that he’s actually building on a story from Infinity, Inc., while readers who did remember that would appreciate the fact that this takes place “in continuity.” Gaiman writes in the third person, but he gets nicely inside Lyta’s mind, as she worries about Hector, who’s working so hard, frets about the fact that Hector doesn’t seem sexually interested in her anymore, justifies it with thoughts about her pregnancy, and leaves us with a question that leads us onto the next page. Gaiman’s prose isn’t revolutionary, but the rather bleak phrasing and dull recitation allows the reader to figure out that Lyta is desperately unhappy, extremely lonely, and possibly mentally unhinged. We learn, of course, that all these things are true, but Gaiman does a good job laying the foundation on this page.

Bachalo, of course, hadn’t developed into the stylist he is today, which many readers probably appreciate. He gives us a simple 2 x 3 grid, which helps with the way Gaiman wants the page to read – there’s nothing stylish at all about Lyta’s situation, so Bachalo’s page layout is as bland as can be. That doesn’t make it a poorly-drawn page, of course, but it does help link the art to Lyta’s state of mind, which includes a good deal of ennui. Her facial expression, you’ll notice, never changes, as we can tell even in the long shots. More than most static comic art (and, of course, comic art is always static), she never seems to move – the way Bachalo draws her, he could easily be using the same drawing superimposed on different panels. She brushes her hair vacantly, lays her hand on the handrail as she moves down the stairs, and folds her arms over her unborn child (linking it to the “question” she needs to ask Hector), but otherwise, Bachalo does a marvelous job showing her moving through the “dream dome” as if she were a ghost, which is kind of the point. He gives us a lot of visual information in Panels 3, 4, and 6, with the various television screens showing all sorts of celebrities and DC characters, implying that Hector is monitoring the world from the dome. Notice, too, how Bachalo slowly makes Lyta smaller throughout the page, diminishing her importance. In Panel 1, she’s the only thing we see, and while her face is vacant, she’s still important. As she moves through the dream dome, she is slowly dwarfed by her surroundings, so that in Panel 6 we can’t even see her face. It’s a clever device, and it doesn’t feel overt by Bachalo – design-wise, the diminishing of Lyta makes sense, but it’s nice that it both fulfills the dictates of the page layout and one of the themes of Gaiman’s story.

Of course, we have to consider the coloring, as well, because this page has been recolored in the Absolute Sandman, as we see below. I’m going to assume that Robbie Busch’s coloring in the first trade is reprinted exactly as it was in single issue form, so if anyone can say differently, I’d appreciate it. Busch colored the book far more luridly than Daniel Vozzo does in the new version, and that shows on this page. First, Busch used purple a lot more in the original, and his background on this page helps make the page a bit gloomier. Perhaps Vozzo thought Busch’s colors were too on the nose – the purple background and Lyta’s blue nightgown has been changed to a dull beige and a green nightgown. Vozzo’s colors make the television screens fade into the background more, and it’s even difficult to see the stairs down which Lyta is walking. It’s in the final two panels that Vozzo’s recoloring is most evident. In (the original) Panel 5, Lyta walks through a bizarre purple-and-blue based hallway, and Vozzo changes that to warm earth tones. He does change Busch’s yellow light in Panel 6 to a more purplish tone, but by shadowing Lyta and changing the color of her nightgown, in my mind he ruins the effect that Bachalo was going for, because Lyta doesn’t look diminished in Panel 6 but ethereal, as if she had already faded away. While Bachalo wants to minimize Lyta’s presence, to me it feels like Vozzo goes too far – Lyta does, after all, end this issue defiant, and Bachalo and Busch don’t show her fading as much as Vozzo does. Personally, my biggest objection to Vozzo’s recoloring is that Busch’s original colors made the book a lot weirder, as befits a comic taking place in another reality, and Vozzo’s work makes the book look too grounded, I guess. But it’s still very keen to check out the differences!

Hey, that looks different

So that’s Sandman #12. I know no one has ever read this comic book because it was so minor and unpopular, but maybe this will convince you to check it out!

Next: I swear this is not a comic about an ill-fated X-event in the mid-1990s starring a time-traveling Sentinel masquerading as a man! You might not believe me, but it’s true! If you’re jonesing for bad X-comics, though, you can find some in the archives!

10 Comments

The Doll’s House was my favorite story arc in Sandman. I never would have guessed that was Bachalo. I like his current style despite all its flaws. Here it seems like he’s aping Bissette. The more I think about it, it was similar to a Swamp Thing style blend of real world and supernatural horror.

I was way off.

Yeah, I had absolutely no idea that this was Bachalo. (For the record, I think Bachalo’s art is inconsistent, but when he really gets things right he’s one of my favorite artists.)

I prefer the original coloring, but that might just be cause I’m used to it from having read this book about a dozen times. That murky, weird style is just more Sandman-ish to me.

I too have to go with original coloring, on the first four panels it’s a matter of taste which way to go but in the last two panels with bigger differences I think Vozzo goes for wrong mood.

The second panel looks very Bachalo to me. This is a lot closer to the style he had near the start of Shade The Changing Man. I don’t think much of that series is readily available these days, and if it is, it’s kind of semi-forgotten among the 90s Vertigo titles, especially for those who didn’t read it at the time, or started reading comics later. So maybe a lot of people are more familiar with his work from Generation X onward, his more exaggerated work?

Also, I agree about the original coloring. Much prefer it to the recoloring I’ve seen for the Absolute volumes.

I was rereading early Sandman recently and this was the first issue where I thought that the artwork finally equalled the storytelling (even though the early storytelling was a bit uneven). Pretty impressive that this is Bachalo’s first work. Sam Keith’s layouts were interesting but his art was really disappointing and unimpressive especially considering the wildly imaginative and fun artwork he would later produce. They should hire him to redraw those first issues and then destroy the originals. And then whoever took over for Keith tried to ape Keith’s uninspired style for a while before moving on to an uninspired style of his own.

SF: The randomness of this column means we’ll be seeing some Shade in a few days! DC started reprinting it in trades, but I don’t think they ever finished. Too bad.

sgt pepper. I wholly agree. Unlike this sample of Bachalo, you can pretty clearly see the direction Keith would eventually go from his Sandman work. I would have to reread those early books (always good to have an excuse to do so) to see all the problems I had with it, but my big one is the “real world” panels were too cartoony.

The early stuff was better than a lot of what you can pull off the shelf any given Wednesday, but I agree it took a little while to find it’s flow. I think it was pretty solid by the time this issue came out.

Bachalo is art god and I love these early pieces. Like JRJR, though, they were best at the midpoibt between their most realistic and their most idiosynchratic.

The new Sandman coloring was a step in the wrong direction across the board. I never want to dis an artist but what Vozzo did with these are just very far from my taste.

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