Like most people at that age, by 15 or 16 I was in a rut. My parents had divorced several years earlier, leading to a series of personal difficulties, and I was, even at so young an age, becoming disillusioned with many of the institutions I had been taught to believe in as a child. My ideas of the world, of right and wrong, of acceptable and unacceptable, were developing more quickly than the place in which I lived would allow comfortably, so I began searching for more and better outlets in books and other media. I had always been an avid reader (something I can write no end of blog posts about), and I decided one day to try getting into comic books again, since I had loved them as a young child. I read all sorts of recommendations for comics dealing with more grown-up issues, and I decided to purchase the first volume of the Sandman, Preludes and Nocturnes. I have never looked back.
To clarify, what initially led me to the Sandman was a trait in reviewers that I now attempt to avoid—this idea that it, as a work, stood out from its peers, was more mature and literary, was a form of high art amid garbage. As a teenager, this intrigued me; as an adult who has dabbled in all manner of comics, such assertions annoy and offend me. But I must admit that the search for a mature comic dealing with deep themes was just what I was looking for at 15, so I dove right in. And as I read it, I had a realization about myself and those things I enjoyed.
You see, Gaiman quickly made it clear that this story was set in the DC Comics Universe. A dark corner of it, yes, but it was still there. This meant that Morpheus, Dream, the Sandman himself existed in the same setting as Batman, Superman, the Green Lantern Corps, and all sorts of other characters and institutions I already knew about and enjoyed. All of this was made clear in a simple meeting between Morpheus and the Martian Manhunter on the Justice League Watchtower satellite.
I am not ashamed to admit I got a little misty-eyed at this point, and I do even now as I recall it. What Neil Gaiman helped me realize was that what I knew, what I loved, what I enjoyed reading was already good enough. I was only now exploring a different facet of the same gemstone. He showed me that what I loved to read could be more than it sometimes was, and that any story could be what these raving reviewers were making the Sandman series out to be. What truly mattered was what you brought with you into the story, and what you were willing to find out. I do my best to keep that same open mind about everything I read, even now, almost 20 years later.
How many of you have had similar experiences with reading? What author opened doors for you like this? Are any of you also fans of the Sandman or Neil Gaiman? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!