Disclaimer here: I love comic books. I got my first one at age 4 --- Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, published back then by Dell --- and I still have it. Along with maybe 40,000 more. I have X-Men and Batman and Preacher, oh my! And thousands of other titles, some of which disappeared after a couple of issues, and others that have been published for longer than I have been alive.
If there were a major fire in the house, I would get the wife, the kids, the dog and maybe both cats, and then I would go for the comics. Among those that I would be absolutely sure to save would be issues 1-75 of a disturbing little book named THE SANDMAN. It doesn't make any difference that these have been very nicely reprinted, consecutively, in ten bound volumes. Mine are original first printings, and they go where I go --- because THE SANDMAN is special. The Sandman, of course, is the Master of Dreams. For 75 glorious issues and several story arcs, a gentleman by the name of Neil Gaiman turned out some unforgettable stories that would have been successful in any medium.
Gaiman let us know fairly early on that it was going to be 75 and out for his creation, but that he would still be around. He has been. He has written a couple of excellent, excellent novels, titled NEVERWHERE and STARDUST; and MR. PUNCH, a disturbingly wonderful (or maybe wonderfully disturbing) graphic novel. A collection of his short stories has been published under the title SMOKE AND MIRRORS: SHORT STORIES AND ILLUSIONS. But no mo' Sandman. Until now.
THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a text and illustration collaboration between Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano. This is neither a comic book nor graphic novel; it is a novel with many wonderful illustrations. I know next to nothing about Mr. Amano, which is to my discredit, for he does with the brush what Mr. Gaiman does with the keyboard: paints disturbing, disquieting images that linger in the mind, imprinted in vision long after the eyes are shut and the lights are out. How Messrs. Gaiman and Amano came to find each other is an interesting tale, told as an afterword to the novel, so I will not reveal it here; but I will note that it is as interesting in some ways as the fictional tale they tell.
The creative genesis of THE DREAM HUNTERS occurred as the result of Gaiman encountering a Japanese folk tale entitled "The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming," in which he noted disquieting similarities to his SANDMAN tales. Those familiar with the tale, and THE SANDMAN, will be thrilled with Gaiman's adaptation. In THE DREAM HUNTERS, a fox and badger each attempt to trick a young monk out of his simple, humble temple in order to usurp it for themselves. They are unsuccessful in their respective efforts; however, the fox finds that she has fallen in love with the monk and continues to observe him from a distance. It is while doing so that she learns of a plot to kill the monk by a diviner, or onmyoji, who has discovered that by the next moon, either he or the monk will be dead. The method by which the monk will be murdered is through his dreams. The method by which the fox thwarts the murder of this humble and gentle man will bring tears to your eyes --- as will the actions of the monk when he learns of the fox's sacrifice, for it is not only the fox who has fallen in love. As for the diviner --- well, there is a lesson here, and the diviner has a fitting teacher.
Gaiman's adaptation of this beautiful and timeless tale is painted with his trademark prose, which is by turns haunting, horrifying and heartbreaking, often within the turn of a single page. And Amano's illustrations are worth lingering over, whether within the context of the novel or on their own. This is a book that will be treasured by collectors, who will hail it as a classic, and by lovers of good literature of any genre. It is a story, and a gift, for all seasons. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011