Thursday, 23 June 2011

Comic Review - Sandman: A Game of You

There are rare moments where everything comes together, like the smooth flowing and detailing of textures as you surface from dreams, and suddenly I know how I stand in relation to Gaiman's much vaunted Sandman series. The first volume never convinced me, but The Doll's House proceeded to make me excited about the series. Dream Country was cool, but felt a bit fruitless and then the much hyped Season of Mists was good, yet rather too much like set-up. My feelings going into the fifth volume of Sandman were mixed.

A Game of You follows around New Yorker Barbie (Barbara) and her neighbours, catapulting them all into a strange world of dream and magic when creatures from Barbie's dreams come looking for her in real life. Throughout these characters runs the theme of identity: Barbie paints her face in an elaborate fashion each morning; Wanda, her best friend, was born called Alvin; a lesbian couple lives upstairs. There's also a weird perverse man called George, and a disquietingly normal girl. Then there are the four creatures from Barbie's dreams and the antagonist - the fact that Gaiman imbues all these characters with a distinct personality and sends many of them on an emotional journey is astounding.

One of the real strengths of the story is it's pace. Gaiman crams a lot in to six issues, but he also takes his time and finds a strong storytelling rhythm. Characters and plot points are introduces in a strong and clear way, and everything is given the development it deserves. This, in turn, lends weight to the drama: much of what happens here could have felt forced, but instead it is genuinely affecting. Atmosphere, too, benefits from the pace. The macabre evokations would not be so pervasive if they were in a story with a faster and more upbeat pace, but the structure has already created a sense that allows these aspects to really shine.

There is always something very much feminine about the way Gaiman writes. He possess an introspection of conflict - the battlefields are not phyical ones but emotional ones, and the focus of the stories is always on what is happening inside his characters. This works well with the darkly mystical stories, conveying a sense that this mysticism and spirituality is actually a facet of the emotional world rather than the physical one. This approach, too, marks it out as original in a medium that is very much male dominated. (Yes, I get the irony of saying this when all of the creators of Sandman are male)

I'm really not qualified to talk about art, beyond whether or not I liked it. It suited the story, but on the whole I wasn't too big a fan. The art in Sandman has always put me off it a little. A little bit too messy and unclear, a bit crude. Partially this is on purpose, I imagine, and partially suffering from datedness as it may have looked better when taken in context of when it was drawn. To me, now, not my cup o' tea.

Really, A Game of You is the volume that makes me a believer. No more sitting on the fence: I'm willing to declare that I think Sandman is awesome.

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