Sigh. Y'all weren't taking up enough of my reading & listening time with Wolfe? Needed to snatch some more?
I kid, I kid. I saw this forthcoming on your patreon feed (while not being a sufficiently munificent donor to get the early access to it) and am delighted to get to hear it. It's a lot of fun! I love Gaiman, although I don't think he is quite in a class with Wolfe — certainly not in the infinite depth of his stories. But I do love this series & am delighted to read along.
Brent mentions briefly that this was a horror comic, and you both mention that this is a horror story, but I think you undersold the degree to which this was promoted as a horror comic. (One of the earliest posters for it had as its tagline a bit from T. S. Eliot, "I will show you fear in a handful of dust", with (IMS) a picture of Dream holding sand on it.) One of the meta-stories of Sandman is how it began as a horror comic and then morphed; you can't quite capture that, and how startling it was (thus magnifying the effect it had on comics more broadly) without pointing out that beginning.
Incidentally, in his afterwards to Prelude and Nocturnes, Gaiman talks about the first issues as a deliberate tour of the horror story:
There was a definite effort on my part, in the stories in this volume, to explore the genres available: "The Sleep of the Just" was intended to be a classical English horror story; "Imperfect Hosts" plays with some of the conventions of the old DC and E.C. horror comics (and the hosts thereof); "Dream a Little Dream of Me" is a slightly more contemporary British horror story; "A Hope in Hell" harks back to the kind of dark fantasy found in Unknown in the 1940s; "Passengers" was my (perhaps misguided) attempt to try to mix superheroes into the SANDMAN world; "24 Hours" is an essay on stories and authors, and also one of the very few genuinely horrific tales I've written; "Sound and Fury" wrapped up the storyline, and "The Sound of Her Wings" was the epilogue and the first story in the sequence I felt was truly mine, and in which I knew I was beginning to find my own voice.
So Gaiman was clearly quite self-conscious about its being a horror comic — with issue 8 being, in many ways, the first serious step away from that.
Overall, I liked the episode a lot, but I thought it seemed unevenly paced — extra slow at the beginning and then rushing past cool details at the end. Here are some neat things you left out that I thought I'd just touch on:
• The bottom of page 24, where Alex just reads one page — that with the picture of Dream — over and over;
• the art on that same page in the middle panel of the third tier, where we see Alex only as a silhouette, and from the interior POV of the slashed painting;
• The top tier of p. 25, where we see, in the art, the visibly aging Alex, with the visibly aging henchmen behind him, including one ending up in a wheelchair, and the implication of the continuing monologue (great dialogue there), with him getting angrier & more threatening as he gets older;
• The hilarious silly henchmen reading the paper, talking about page 3, dreaming of a vacation;
• Dream's hand reaching into the frame from the bottom of the page on p. 27;
• More comedy: the dialogue in the dream that Dream raids for food, "that's the first time a naked man ever turned up to raid the buffet";
• The art on p. 33, with three zooms, one away from Ellie, the other two both in.
• The amazing dream sequence on the bottom of page 34, where Gaiman really caputres the feel of dreams, and you see Alex as he follows the cat through a weird, dream-logic version of his mansion, de-aging in reverse of the aging (from p. 25, above, and from the story in general), until he is the boy we first met;
• "Cat got your tongue?"
• The stars in the hole in the wall (on p. 37), mirroring Dream's eyes, particularly as described several times in the issue;
• The extraordinary familiarity and horror of the nightmare on pp. 38-39, and the way that each page reproduces for the reader the experience of Alex: you think that each page is the "real world", only to find it isn't.
Great stuff in this issue. And this is before it really gets good!
A few miscellaneous thoughts:
• I hope you'll talk, at some point, about the switches in artists: which begin as unintentional swapping around (Sam Keith felt like "Jimi Hendrix in the Beatles" and left after issue 3), but then eventually starts to match the artist to the story & storyline in really interesting ways, making conscious use of the changes in story styles.
• You didn't say which edition you are using, but while listening I opened up both my old paperback of Preludes and Noctures and my copy of The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1, and boy is the latter different. It's recolored (I don't know that this is true in the other Absolutes, but it was a selling point for volume 1), and you can really, really tell. For the most part, I think it looks a lot better. (Compare, for instance, p. 19 — very different.) If you haven't seen it, and get a chance, check it out.
• You may be technically right that the title of the series is The Sandman — it's on at least some of the covers — but boy it sounds weird. Most people seem to refer to it as just "Sandman". [/Jack Black in High Fidelity impression]
• Given your other podcast, you can't skip Gene Wolfe's introduction to the trade volume Fables and Reflections; it's great.
• Brent Helt needs to be added to your 'about' page! The masses demand a bio!!