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How to Start Reading The Sandman Comics and Graphic Novels [Guide]

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Created by a young Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg, The Sandman is one of the most revered comics of all time. It’s a series that’s very near and dear to many readers’ hearts due to its creativity, flesh out characters, and the risks it took. Critics loved it too, with it winning dozens of awards

So, what’s this horror/fantasy series about? While it follows Morpheus, his family of omnipotent beings known as The Endless, and the people he encounters, it’s also about much more. Gaiman and his collaborators used the series to explore stories as a concept. That central theme is examined through the prism of mythology, folklore, history, and classic literature to create a kaleidoscope of tales, looking at concept from a variety of angles.

It was also a comic ahead of its time when published between 1989 and 1996. The Sandman has a level of maturity that wasn’t seen in mainstream comics during this period. It touched on heavy themes, included gay and non-binary characters, and did it without sensationalism. While comics today have caught up, it took many decades to do so.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve wanted to read The Sandman for some time or just discovered it via the Netflix series. This handy guide will help you start reading this classic series. Not only will it point you to the perfect starting point, but also explains the various different editions, the sequels and spin-offs, and heaps more.

Table of contents

The Sandman #1 cover by Dave McKean.
The Sandman #1 cover by Dave McKean.

Where to start reading The Sandman

It might seem like an obvious answer, but The Sandman #1 is the best place to start reading.

It’s not advised to read the prequel The Sandman: Overture first. This is because it’s written with the assumption that you’ve read the original series. So while it’s set before The Sandman #1, it’s not a great place to start.

Sandman is definitely a series that reads best when read in its original order. Readers see events build upon each other by starting at issue #1. Sometimes this is done in obvious ways, while other times it takes time to see the payoff. You also get the full context of the characters, some of which you think will appear in a single story only to return in surprising ways.

The Sandman is available in a variety of formats, which are explained further down in this guide.

How to read all of The Sandman comic

So what’s the best way to read all of The Sandman? Beyond tracking down the original issues, which will cost you a pretty penny on eBay, the classic series has been published in heaps of different formats. Read on to find out all about them.

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes - 30th Anniversary Edition cover by Dave McKean.
The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes – 30th Anniversary Edition cover by Dave McKean.

Trade Paperback Collections

The most popular of all the collected formats are the trade paperbacks. These collect the complete run of The Sandman into ten volumes, grouping stories together for easy reading.

The volumes are as follows:

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.
Collects: The Sandman #1-8

The Sandman Volume 2: The Doll’s House
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli and Steve Parkhouse.
Collects: The Sandman #9-16

The Sandman Volume 3: Dream Country
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran and Malcolm Jones III.
Collects: The Sandman #17-20

The Sandman Volume 4: Season of Mists
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, and P. Craig Russell.
Collects: The Sandman #21-28

The Sandman Volume 5: A Game of You
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch and Dick Giordano.
Collects: The Sandman #32-37

Note: Don’t worry too much about the contents of Volume 6 being out of order. These issues are self-contained tales, which don’t rely on the immediate continuity of the issues it skipped ahead on.

The Sandman Volume 6: Fables and Reflections
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Craig Russell, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, Kent Williams, Mark Buckingham, Vince Locke and Dick Giordano.
Collects: The Sandman #29-31, 38-40; The Sandman Special #1 and a story from Vertigo Preview #1

The Sandman Volume 7: Brief Lives
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Jill Thompson, Vince Locke, and Dick Giordano.
Collects: The Sandman #41-49

The Sandman Volume 8: Worlds’ End
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Michael Allred, Gary Amaro, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, Tony Harris, Steve Leialoha, Vince Locke, Shea Anton Pensa, Alec Stevens, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss, and Michael Zulli.
Collects: The Sandman #51-56

The Sandman Volume 9: The Kindly Ones
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, D’Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, Dean Ormston, and Kevin Nowlan.
Collects: The Sandman #57-69

The Sandman Volume 10: The Wake
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth, and Charles Vess.
Collects: The Sandman #70-75

Before moving onto the next format, it’s worth noting that the trade paperback collections have gone through multiple editions. While the comics content is the same – apart from some colour remastering – the packaging and publishing imprint has varied.

Trade paperbacks published before 1995 were published by DC Comics and include the comics content listed above. Printings after that were published by Vertigo Comics, DC’s mature readers imprint. The contents are the same, DC Comics just folded The Sandman into the Vertigo banner, where it would find its home for a long time.

The next big change in the trade paperback collections are found in editions published in 2010 onwards. These include the same comics content as prior editions but with remastered colours, which were originally done for the Absolute edition (more on those later).

(While recolouring classic material can sometimes be a mix-bag, you don’t need to worry about it with The Sandman. It’s mostly faithful to the original, with a few improvements that are not distracting.)

Finally, there are the 30th Anniversary Editions. Again, the same content as previous editions but with new cover-dressing. (The previous cover-dressing had a lot of design choices that were very much of their time.) Early printings were published by Vertigo Comics, but later ones are under DC Black Label after Vertigo was sunsetted.

It’s also worth noting that Sandman: Endless Nights (a 1999 follow-up graphic novel) was added as Volume 11 as part of the 30th Anniversary Editions. Additionally, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters and The Sandman: Overture (as Volume ∞) were reprinted to match the trade-dress.

All 12 volumes can also be found as a boxset.

As to which trade paperback edition you should read, it doesn’t really matter. Get whichever is easiest to get your hands on as essentially the comics content is the same, with only difference being the colouring and trade-dress.

Buy The Sandman trade paperbacks on:

The Sandman Absolute Edition Volume 3. Art by Dave McKean. Photo by mycomicshop.com.
The Sandman Absolute Edition Volume 3. Art by Dave McKean. Photo by mycomicshop.com.

Absolute Editions

Another edition that’s available are the Absolute Editions. These are massive hardcover collections that collect a large chunk of comics material, at much larger dimensions (8×12 inches), with better paper, a slipcase, and often contain supplemental material not seen anywhere else.

They look really nice on the bookshelf, but also come at a $99.99 price-point.

The Absolute Sandman Volume 1
Collects: The Sandman #1-20 and supplemental material

The Absolute Sandman Volume 2
Collects: The Sandman #21-39, The Flowers of Romance” from Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #1, and supplemental material

The Absolute Sandman Volume 3
Collects: The Sandman #40-56, “Fear of Falling” from Vertigo Preview #1, Sandman Special #1, “How They Met Themselves” from Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3, and supplemental material

The Absolute Sandman Volume 4
Collects: The Sandman #57-75 (with pages that were originally “lost”), “The Castle” from Vertigo Jam #1, and supplemental material

The Absolute Sandman Volume 5
Collects: “The Last Sandman Story” from Dust Covers: The Collected Sandman Covers, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters (prose and comics version), The Sandman: Endless Nights, and Sandman Midnight Theatre #1, and supplemental material

The Absolute Sandman: Overture
Collects: The Sandman: Overture #1-6, and supplemental material

DC/Vertigo have also published an Absolute Edition dedicated to the fan-favourite character Death. 

The Absolute Death
Collects: The Sandman #8 and #20, Death: The High Cost of Living #1-3, Death: The Time of Your Life #1-3, “A Winter’s Tale” from Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #2, “The Wheel” from 9-11: The World’s Finest Comic Book Writers & Artists Tell Stories to Remember, “Death and Venice” from The Sandman: Endless Nights, and supplemental material

The Sandman Omnibus Volume 1.
The Sandman Omnibus Volume 1.

Omnibus Editions

The omnibus gives the most bang for your buck out of all the available options. They collect over 1000 pages of material in an oversized hardcover, which looks great on the shelf. However, due to their size and weight, they’re not great to read in bed.

The Sandman Omnibus Volume 1
Collects: The Sandman #1-37

The Sandman Omnibus Volume 2
Collects: The Sandman #38-75 and stories from Vertigo Jam #1 and Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #3

The Sandman Omnibus Volume 3
Collects: The Sandman: Overture #1-6, The Sandman: Dream Hunters #1-4, Death: The High Cost of Living #1-3 and Death: The Time of Your Life #1-3

Page from The Annotated Sandman Volume 1. Art originally from The Sandman #8 by Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.
Page from The Annotated Sandman Volume 1. Art originally from The Sandman #8 by Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.

The Annotated Sandman

These editions go deep into the series through page-by-page, panel-by-panel commentary by Leslie S. Klinger. Klinger, responsible for The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and New Annotated Dracula, goes deep into the comics and comments on the hidden meanings, references, and creative decisions.

These editions are probably best suited for die-hard Gaiman/Sandman fans or those looking to get the most out of a reread.

It’s also worth noting that the art is black and white, which might appeal to some readers and deter others.

As of writing this, these editions have gone out of print. However, it appears that DC Black Label is reprinting them starting in 2022.

The Annotated Sandman Volume 1
Collects: The Sandman #1-20

The Annotated Sandman Volume 2
Collects: The Sandman #21-39

The Annotated Sandman Volume 3
Collects: The Sandman #40-56

The Annotated Sandman Volume 4
Collects: The Sandman #57-75

Buy The Annotated Sandman on:

The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One cover.
The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book One cover.

Deluxe Editions

These are the newest editions of The Sandman, which collect approx two-three volumes of the trade paperbacks into one hardcover at a slightly larger than normal trim size.

The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book 1
Collects: The Sandman #1-16 and Sandman Mystery Theatre #1

The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book 2
Collects:
The Sandman #17-31, The Sandman Special #1, and material from Vertigo: Winter’s Edge #1-3

The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book 3
Collects:
The Sandman #31-50

The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book 4
Collects:
The Sandman #51-69 and material from Vertigo Jam #1

The Sandman: The Deluxe Edition Book 5
Collects:
The Sandman #70-75, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters #1-4, Sandman: Endless Nights (comic and prose version), and Dust Covers: The Collected Sandman Covers.

In the lead-up to the Netflix series, DC will also release softcover versions of the Deluxe editions. The contents are the same, but are displayed in the same dimensions as the trade paperback collections. These will be referred to as The Sandman: Book [Number of Volume].

Buy Deluxe Editions on:

Digital

The Sandman is also available digitally, if you prefer to go down that route, and can be found on Kindle.

The collected editions are available along side the individual issues. This includes the trade paperbacks (30th Anniversary Editions) and Deluxe Editions.

You can also binge-read The Sandman on the DC Universe Infinite service.

Which edition should you read?

It depends on your budget and how invested you’re in the series.

If you’re unsure if you’ll like it, reading it digitally might be a cheap way to see if The Sandman is for you. Otherwise, the trade paperback collections are the most affordable per unit.

The Absolute Editions are fantastic showcases of comics and art if you’re willing to pay more.

The Sandman: Overture cover by J.H Williams III.
The Sandman: Overture cover by J.H Williams III.

Neil Gaiman’s follow-ups to The Sandman

After the conclusion of the original series, Neil Gaiman returned to The Sandman a handful of times. Here are three notable projects:

The Sandman: Endless Nights
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Dave McKean, P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Barron Storey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Glenn Fabry, and Frank Quitely.

Endless Nights is a graphic novel anthology that focuses on each member of The Endless.

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Yoshitaka Amano (prose version) and Craig P. Russell (comics version)

The Dream Hunters was previously released as a novella, with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano. It was adapted into a comic book with art by P. Craig Russell for the 20th anniversary of the franchise.

The Sandman Overture
Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by J.H Williams III.

This six-part miniseries is a surreal prequel to the original series from 2013-2015. It details what Morpheus was doing just before the events of The Sandman #1.

Where can you buy The Sandman comics?

The Sandman can be found at all good comic book stores, online stores, Amazon/Kindle, and eBay.

Also, if your local library has a graphic novel section, there’s a good chance that The Sandman is part of their collection.

Find out more about where you can find and buy comics and graphic novels in this extensive guide.

Death: The Hight Cost of Living #1 cover by Dave McKean.
Death: The Hight Cost of Living #1 cover by Dave McKean.

What about the spin-offs?

Due to The Sandman’s popularity and overall longevity, dozens of spin-off comics and graphic novels have been produced over the years. There’s a lot of material to digest and it can be confusing at first glance as to how it all fits into the bigger picture.

The majority of The Sandman spin-off comics were published after the original series in 1996 and are made to be additive. They explore characters and concepts introduced in the comic with new stories and are not essential to understanding the main series. If anything, it’s the other way around. You’ll get a whole lot more out of spin-offs if you’ve read The Sandman first.

My recommendation: Read the original series first. Then, read any of the spin-offs that appeal to you if you’re still hungry for more Sandman stories. This could be the comics made in the late 90s or the Sandman Universe group of titles that Vertigo/DC Black Label has published in recent years.

Check out this list to find out which Sandman spin-offs are worth your time.

How does the Netflix series differ from the comic?

The Netflix series is very true to the comic.

This is not a surprise, as Gaiman is heavily involved in its development and is an executive producer on the show. It also helps that fellow producers David Goyer and Allan Heinberg are on board with adapting the comic as closely as possible. Gaiman told Yahoo News in 2020, “It feels so amazingly Sandman… You won’t believe how Sandman it is.” 

The first season covers the first 18 issues of the series very faithfully. It captures much of the visual elements and it’s cast really well. Any updates are very minor and are mostly around making sure the material that might not have aged well has been updated for 2022.

The other difference is in the casting. For instance, Lucifer, who’s played by Gwendolyn Christie in the show. Speaking to Collider, this is what Neil Gaiman had to say:

“…it’s very liberating actually, having one that is the pure control that means that we know where the doors are open for Netflix and where we can go, “Okay, well, this character is male in the original, is there any particular reason why this character has to be male? Oh, there was no point at which this character desperately needs to use their penis to stir tea or something. Let’s change that and see.””

Gaiman has also discussed Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s casting as Death. In an issue of Total Film he had this to say about the backlash from some ignorant people.

“The thing that got me grumpiest was when people on Twitter would go, ‘This is not the gamine-esque, white, goth-y Death that I’ve had in my head for all these years, why are you betraying us?” But watch 1,000 Death auditions. Hundreds of the actors we saw were gamine-esque, some white-skinned. It’s the Endless – we did color-blind casting, because why wouldn’t you? The comics establish that the characters look like whatever we want them to look like. Anyway, Kirby’s amazing. And I think that people who have been grumbling that she doesn’t look like Death are going to not be grumbling [any more] once they see her be Death.

The changes in casting ae superficial and everyone involved does an excellent job at capturing the essence of the character.

Which material does the Audible adaptation cover?

Starting in 2020, Audible has done two seasons adapting the classic comic as an audioplay with an all-star cast.

The first season covers Preludes & Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country, aka The Sandman #1-20.

Act II covers Season of Mists, A Game of You, and Fables & Reflections, aka The Sandman #21-40.

Act III covers Brief Lives, The World’s End, and more.

Is The Sandman in the DC Universe?

Originally, The Sandman was part of the DC Universe, albeit in its own little corner, with characters like John Constantine, Mister Miracle and others making appearances. However, overtime, the series distanced itself from the DC Universe to tell stories that were not bound by the superhero world the company had created.

Sandman Mystery Theatre #1 cover by Gavin Wilson.
Sandman Mystery Theatre #1 cover by Gavin Wilson.

Differences between the other DC Sandman characters

Another thing worth addressing is that this is not the only character called Sandman in DC’s vast catalogue of characters. In the Golden Age of comics, Wesley Dodds was a gas-mask wearing hero with a gun that shot sleeping gas (with it, he would solve crimes and put criminals to sleep) known as Sandman.

The original version of Sandman fell into obscurity when superheroes fell out of popularity in the 1940s. He would appear sporadically in the occasional cameo as part of the Justice Society of America over preceding decades. 

You don’t need to know anything about this superhero version to understand Neil Gaiman et al’s version. They’re different and unrelated (apart from the name) concepts. However, Wesley Dodds makes two tiny cameos in the original series, with Gaiman using them to address the shared name, and a crossover one-shot called Sandman Midnight Theatre, where the two versions briefly meet.

So why did DC/Vertigo reuse the name? With an influx of creators from the UK in the late 80s, DC allowed them to reimagine obscure and unused properties. Grant Morrison reinvented Animal Man and Doom Patrol, Peter Milligan brought Shade, The Changing Man back, and Neil Gaiman reimagined The Sandman.

Curious about Wesley Dodds? Off the back of the popularity of Gaiman’s comic series, Vertigo started publishing Sandman Mystery Theatre. It’s a noir series set in the 1930s and ran for 71 issues between 1993 and 1999 starring the character.

What should you read after The Sandman?

Looking for a new comic to read after binge-reading The Sandman? How To Love Comics has you covered with some reading recommendations. The list is a good mix of Sandman spin-offs, other Neil Gaiman work, comic adaptions of his prose, and a few graphic novels that the author loves.

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Comments (3)

  • Thankyou!!!!

    now i know a nother comic series that is on the to buy list, although, sorry for my 1000´s question, but, arent there 11 paperback vol.?

    its just that i cheked on amazon and it said vol. 11

    • Hey David, great to hear that you found the guide helpful and it has you excited to read Sandman. It’s mentioned a little further down the page that Volume 11 is a recent addition where DC Black Label combined the previously separate Sandman: Endless Nights and Sandman: The Dream Hunters together. Happy reading!

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