Glenn Hauman: Like “Sandman” Through An Hourglass
George Harrison once said to Eric Idle, “If we’d known we were going to be the Beatles, we’d have tried harder.”
That’s the phrase that comes to mind when I look back on that fall day when the pages first came into the darkroom at DC Comics. I’d been working there no more than a month or two.
Back in the day, pages of art that had bleeds were drawn on 12×18″ boards, which were too big to photocopy. To make copies for the colorist, every page had to be shot on a stat camera. Hundreds of pages a week. With photochemicals. It was a mind-numbing job, and I know one person who simply left one day for lunch and never came back.
And so one day, this book came in to be shot. Great, an oversized book, and it looked double-sized– 40 pages. There goes my break. I started to shoot the book.
Ooh, Sam Kieth art. I knew his pencilled stuff from an APA in the early 80’s, but I mainly knew him as the inker for Mage and later, penciller on Manhunter. Mike Dringenberg I knew from Adolescent Radioactive Black-Belt Hamsters (Don’t ask. Please.) And the writer– Neil Gaiman? That new guy, the one who wrote Black Orchid? Hmm…
And so I started to read the book. Nothing really familiar here. The book was called Sandman, but it didn’t have anything to do with the old Justice Society character, although he did show up about 10-20 pages in. This– this was different. Weird. A lot like the other books Karen Berger was doing, more indy than most of the stuff DC was doing. This looked like it could be fun.
Shortly after I sent the book back out, some of the pages showed up back in the inbox. The weird spooky Todd Klein lettering? I had to make photo reverses of all of those balloons, so instead of black lettering on white, it would be white lettering on black.
This was more complicated that you think, and the contact printer we were using didn’t quite work– no one realized at that point that the bulbs had started to go out, so the negatives would be a bit uneven. In some ways, it made the lettering even spookier, in others, it just made the letters muddy. (Yes, I’m the reason the world needed [[[Absolute Sandman]]], so they could go back and fix all the lettering. Getting Danny Vozzo to recolor everything was just a happy coincidence.)
Yes, it sounds horribly cliched, but even in black and white, even in early stage of the book, it didn’t take long to tell that Sandman was going to be special. It became a bit of a favorite of mine– I had taken a copy of the word balloon from issue #2, “What could possibly go wrong?” and blown it up to poster size and pasted it inside the revolving darkroom door. (If you’ve never seen one, think of it as a life size version of Mego’s Star Trek Transporter.)
I even got a chance to tell Neil himself that very year, when I met him at San Diego 20, and I got to sit and interview him for a radio show for a quiet hour in the Omni, and he told me how he was taking notes at this convention for writing a serial killer’s convention for upcoming issues, and he mentioned this little novel he was working on called “The Adventures of William The Antichrist” which would later turn into Good Omens, and you could talk to Neil for an hour without interruption because he hadn’t turned into [[[NEIL GAIMAN]]] yet. (Incidentally, he’s still Neil Gaiman, it’s just that everybody treats him like [[[NEIL GAIMAN]]], and he only becomes NEIL when he needs to be NEIL for some reason, like Billy Batson becoming Captain Marvel, and I’m beginning to sound like one of Neil’s blog posts.)
Anyway, Sandman. Yes, it’s gone on to become one of the great series of comics, a critical and financial success beyond measure, and responsible for bringing more women in comics– and hence, more dates for comics fanboys– than anything before.
But I didn’t realize how big it was until I was on a convention panel a few years back and I mentioned my job of reversing Morpheus’s balloons like I did above, and ending it with the equivalent of, “Ooooo… big whoop.” And Phil Kahn, creator of the Guilded Age webcomic, turned to me and said, verbatim: “Dude, shut up. You worked on Sandman.”
And I did. And I’m incredibly lucky that I got to hold all that original art in my hands, that I got to work on it, that I got to read it before you did. But I do feel a bit guilty: if I’d know it was going to be SANDMAN, I’d have tried harder.
And I’m going to let you in on my dirty little secret: I still haven’t read issue #75. I own it, of course. But I haven’t read it. And the reason is pretty simple: Eighteen years after the final issue was printed, I still don’t want the dream to end.
(Originally published in the San Diego Comic-Con 2013 Souvenir Book.)
- SDCC’13: The Sandman 25th Anniversary Panel (comicsbeat.com)
- Neil Gaiman And J.H. Williams III Talk Sandman: Overture At San Diego Comic Con [VIDEO] (bleedingcool.com)