The main influences of my high school years that have stuck are Anne Rice, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Tim Burton, and Neil Gaiman. I don’t know who I would be without those artists. They’ve directed me in places to go, how to dress, how to identify myself, and who my friends are.
The moment I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series I became obsessed. The artwork looked like something I wanted to be a part of, the culture I wanted to become. I wanted to look like Morpheus. Big crazy hair, a lot like Robert Smith’s. And then they introduced the rest of Morpheus’ siblings. Of course my favorite was Death, his sister, who looked like Siouxsie from the Banshees. Sandman was much more than gothic characters. The stories were complex and dark. Sometimes I was lost but I always felt the struggle was worth it. I read Sandman in high school and college. Gaiman transitioned from comics to novels. I’ve read every novel he has written and keep meaning to reread his Sandman series.
The Cartoon Art Museum is hosting a retrospective, Grains of Sand: 25 Years of the Sandman. With over seventy original artworks, it’s a dream come true. Featuring the writing of Neil Gaiman inside the artwork of Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Kelley Jones, Bryan Talbot, Colleen Doran, Jill Thompson, Gary Amaro, Marc Hempel, Michael Zulli, Charles Vess, Barron Storey, and Dave McKean. The exhibition included dozens and dozens of full pages filled with panels of artwork. Seeing them brings back so much nostalgia. Certain panels I actually loved so much that I had photocopied them and taped them to my wall or folders in college. And I can look at them now, over a decade later and see the absolute precision and beauty of the art. It’s not just about identifying with the gothic themes. It’s about the classic mythology that Gaiman seamlessly intertwined with history and contemporary life. It is also akin to getting behind the scenes in the artistic process. Some of the pages have layers of paper on them, some glued over edits, some have white out with captions rewritten. Others have directions of how the page should be inked in.
It is a wonderful exhibition that will appeal to more than just goth kids. With so many different artists featured, the visitor can see multiple artists’ interpretations of Gaiman’s characters. Grains of Sand is quite large but looks deceptively small as all the pieces fit within a single room and a half. However, one could spend hours in that small space because there is truly so much to see.
Grains of Sand: 25 Years of the Sandman is at The Cartoon Art Museum through March 16, 2014. Learn more.