Let's start this off proper by saying I am nothing short of a Gaiman fanboy; I've read his work, I follow his tweets and I rejoice each time a property I love is adapted to any new medium. I am a person who loves giving books and more than anything, loves handing someone a copy of one of Neil Gaiman's tomes. Brothers, co-workers...occasional strangers at a bookstore....all have heard my praise of his work and some (including the stranger at the bookstore in the Denver airport) got a book forced upon them by me.
That being said, nothing Gaiman has done so far to date (debatably) comes close to his comic book epic The Sandman. Some would argue for American Gods as a greater work, but while that book holds it's own level of greatness, Sandman is on another level. It is a literary masterpiece, a story for the ages. Every year around this time when fall has fully set in and it's dark earlier and earlier, the urge to re-read this amazing story creeps into my mind.
The Sandman was originally published by DC Comics and at issue #47, was moved to the Vertigo imprint. It's original 75 issues ran from 1989 to 1996 with Gaiman's contract stipulating that once he left, that was it. He went in with a story to tell and he told it and then it was done. In an industry based around the ability to continue using characters essentially forever, this was an oddity. Sandman centers around Dream of the Endless, his family and his life serving as the Lord of Dreams.
The book was Vertigo's flagship title. It has landed on "Best Of" lists for years and with nearly 20 years since the final issue was released, it is considered by many as a classic. The story is as complete as a story can possibly be - 75 issues with so many things that at the time feel random, like side stories to fill time, all of which are wrapped up before the end. The books made Death cool as shit and changed the way comic book covers are drawn. Artist Dave McKean drew EVERY SINGLE COVER and convinced DC editors that the title character did not have to appear on every single one.
Gaiman played chess with genres, mixing in classic mythology from various cultures, gothic themes and archetypes along with bits of horror and noir. The story weaves in and out, taking you on a journey through time and realms. As you near the end, you begin to see where the story is taking you. You get excited for the end while dreading that there is no more after 75. It is, in essence, a perfectly crafted story that leaves you satisfied while wanting more. This is why I revisit it every year. To have that feeling once again.
Over the years, Gaiman has dipped back into the world of Morpheus and his siblings, The Endless. But nothing comes close to the first 75 issues. Nothing is so complete. In an industry that thrives on the ability to have a series or character run as long as possible to make more money, Neil Gaiman just wanted to tell a story. He wanted to tell a story about Dream, Death and life. Neil Gaiman wanted to tell us all the best story he possibly could.
And he did.