While last month’s The Sandman Universe one-shot from DC Comics/Vertigo Comics reintroduced the menagerie of characters from writer Neil Gaiman’s beloved and acclaimed run on his comic Sandman, this week sees the debut of the first series to spin out of that revival with The Dreaming #1, written by Si Spurrier and drawn by Bilquis Evely. Focusing on the eponymous realm of the Sandman, sometimes known as Dream, the introductory issue sees the Dream King’s domain in disarray, following his abandonment of the Dreaming. This leaves its residents scrambling to maintain order—or, in some cases, take advantage of the chaos left in Dream’s disappearance. To make matters even more precarious, a hole has ripped in the sky of the Dreaming, which could prove arduous for both that realm and the world of the waking.
I spoke with Mr. Spurrier and Ms. Evely recently about their involvement in the Sandman Universe in general and The Dreaming in particular, where we find the residents of the Dreaming as the series opens, the presence of the new character Dora in that world, and how the Dreaming is akin to a wild west town.
FreakSugar: You both have styles that fit with the Sandman world perfectly. How did you become involved with The Dreaming?
Si Spurrier: It’s a rather long process. So, some years back, the opportunity arose to pitch a mooted project. And at the time all I knew about it was that there was a central title that was nebulously to do with the Sandman and a series of satellite titles which revolve around it. I was asked if I wanted to pitch a story. I was and maybe still am horribly arrogant and decided rather pitch for one of the satellite titles, I would insist to actually do the whole damn event. [laughs] I think the response I got was something like, “Thanks for this; we really respond to your ambition. We’ll let you know.” [laughs]
And I heard nothing for quite some time and thought, “Well, I’ve blown that one.” But it turns out what was actually going on was that the gears were turning behind the scenes and the plans were taking form and eventually happened. This was way beyond my pay grade. [laughs] Neil had come up with this series of starting points, kind of narrative launch pads and the project crystallized. They would launch as the four titles and Neil began picking names to work on the books.
Somebody somewhere remembered that I had pitched this horribly ambitious plan and despite the fact that it was no longer horribly relevant, they came to me and asked if I would be interested in, this and I bit their arm off with enthusiasm. [laughs]
Bilquis Evely: I was talking with my editors about the possibilities of new projects after my run on Wonder Woman. We ended up discussing about genres and styles that I would love to work with. I said I’m absolutely in love with fantasy, so here we are.
FS: We see the Dreaming in precarious place in the first issue. Where do we find the Dreaming and characters at beginning of the series?
SS: The analogy I tend to fall upon when I was thinking of how to approach this series was that I started thinking about westerns. The Dreaming comic as it exists, the story, it doesn’t really feel like a western, which is good, but it can be seen in western terms that it is the story of frontier town full of disreputable and frequently problematic characters surrounded by the wild wilderness. There are exploitative and dangerous forces, all of whom want a piece of this town.
One day, everyone wakes up and the sheriff is gone. What do you do? The deputy has to stand up and says, “Holy shit, I have to be in charge and I don’t know what I’m doing!” And the drunkards realize that no one is going to throw them out of the saloon and the gold miners realize no one is going to stop them from stealing each other’s claims and the railroad tycoons realize no one if going to stop them from building a railroad right through the middle of town and so on and so forth. And that is not to say that there are gold miners and railroad tycoons in the Dreaming, but there are suitably strange equivalents and that’s the story.
BE: The series continues right after the Sandman Universe special, which gave us an introduction to what’s happening with the classic characters that live in the Dreaming – that, by the way, is in a state of total chaos after some incidents. Also we develop the stories of new characters, like the mysterious Dora.
FS: You see just how many moving parts Dream had going and, like you said, when you take the sheriff out of the equation, then everyone is scrambling.
SS: What’s really weird is the location, the world in which this story takes place in, is sort of synonymous with, co-terminus with, its ruler Dream. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the original Gaiman stories or not, but we know for a fact that when Dream absents himself from the Dreaming, things start to go wrong [as seen in the original Sandman series]. So there is a precedent.
And this time, things are even more complicated because not only has Dream gone missing, but it appears that he’s done it voluntarily. He seems to have quit. And there are all sorts of existential issues that are threatening the Dreaming that weren’t there last time he was gone. There’s a literal hole in the sky. There’s a strange new glittering puzzle box that may or may not be a message or may or may not be a cocoon or may not be anything that has suddenly appeared. There are completely blank figures appearing out of the crack that just seem to want to be, they don’t have any mind, they don’t have any desire, they just want to exist. What do you do with them?
At the same time, you have all these characters of old who we all love, none of whom are particularly functional when they all get together, all striking sparks off each other. So it’s a wonderful melting pot full of dysfunctional parts that’s going to have to try really hard to hold itself together. And P.S.: They have to try to find the bloody sheriff and find out why he’s gone and figure out how they bring him back.
FS: Bilquis, we see quite a few new characters appear in the inaugural issue. What was the collaboration process like with Si to create the look and feel of the Dreaming and its occupants for this series?
BE: Si and I had a great creative chemistry from the start. Most characters were created by Si giving me the visual suggestions in the scripts and myself adding my ideas as well.
FS: Neil Gaiman is the curator of the Sandman Universe comics. What have your discussions with Neil been as you have worked on this project?
SS: Neil as the writer figure who created the Sandman Universe was in charge of choosing the writers that would be the first piece of the puzzle to make his vision come true. So we all assembled in New Orleans for an amazing weekend and had a creative summit with him which was inspiring and awesome and not something I’ll ever forget.
During that weekend, the conversation quite quickly turned to artists and who would be drawing our books and who could realize these incredible worlds. In my case with The Dreaming because I’d been talking with the editors, I wasn’t even given the choice because it was clear from the very beginning Bilquis was the only person who could do this job the way we needed it done. I had been a big fan of her work beforehand and luckily she was in the right place, she was available, she was working for DC Comics, so we just snapped her up. We haven’t looked back.
Lately, I haven’t had a day recently where I haven’t had a piece of work in my inbox where the jaws haven’t hit the floor. She was born to do this job. It’s been a real joy.
FS: Bilquis is such a tight storyteller and can do the ethereal elements of The Dreaming gorgeously.
SS: The way it’s worked with Bilquis is that she could do the creative, vast, mind-exploding, splash pages that are staples of this kind of whimsical dream-like fiction, but, because I am a horribly dense writer when it comes to plot, if I give her a page that has nine panels and lots of moving parts, she just does it in her sleep and that’s an absolute gift to a writer. So, yeah, long may it last!
BE: Neil gave some feedback for the visual of some characters. But basically, after respecting the iconic foundations, I’m free to do anything inside the Dreaming. After all, it’s the Dreaming! Everything is possible and changeable.
FS: You were talking about how some of the characters of the Dreaming may be exploitative of the state of the realm. One of those characters is Dora, who may have actual reason to be upset with the Dream King. What can you tell us about her?
SS: The trick with Dora is that, to an extent her character, is a mystery, up to and including how she sees herself. She doesn’t really know much about who she is. Her understanding of who she is is that she woke up one day in the Dreaming and she was broken. She was barely real and her first memory is that Dream, who was Morpheus at that time, said to her that he would help her, but that just never happened.
So she spent this whole intervening time as this sorry of grudge-bearing iconoclast who’s just trying to get by as a happy-go-lucky parasite in the Dreaming. She refuses to be involved in the processes and structures of the place. She sees all the other characters as kind of wage slaves who are working for the Man while she is just stealing stuff and lining her own pockets and trying to get by on the fringes of society. She’s pretty much a self-imposed outsider. There is a lot of anger in her with a huge temper.
The question becomes what she’s going to do about it as the town of the Dreaming, to go back to our western analogy, is in trouble. She’s the petty thief who doesn’t want to be involved in any conversations. She’s probably the town drunk. Now that the sheriff is gone, is she going to step up and exploit the situation or is she going to realize that the prosperity of the town is also her prosperity? Is she going to eventually decide this place is worth defending, worth fighting for?
And so I guess in story terms, as a metaphor, she stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s always fascinated me, especially in the context of dreams. There’s clearly been something in her life that’s reshaped her reality. And the question is she going to come to heal from it, is she going to keep running from it her whole life, is she going to confront it?
But she’s also a kind of a neat tone element. Which is a gift to myself because anyone familiar with the original Sandman series knows that it’s characterized by serious poetic whimsy and I wanted to be able to emulate that through the eyes of certain characters through which that fits, like Lucien and Cain and Abel. But I also wanted to be able to a bit iconoclastic and have a dirty sense of humor and to occasionally point out when things are strange and pompous and that’s Dora. She allows me to exercise a little bit of my mischievous “tear it all down” British sense of humor and at the same time enjoy the musical wordplay and prose of the original series.
FS: Dora’s look vacillates between human and something a bit less so. What was the process like creating a new character so at the forefront of the book?
BE: It was easy to create her. Si suggested the wings which are absolutely brilliant, also the modern punk posture, the skinny body and that subtle sad demeanor. And I added the features, the mannerisms, the boyish style which is slightly based on my own style, I have to admit, and the “modern mullet”, as I named it. As opposed to the other new creations, I made several studies of her, first because I wanted to be sure of her portrayal, and second because I was psyched by her since the beginning!
Besides that, I’m afraid I can’t tell our references and logic to create her without spoiling anything, but we are very proud of what she has become.
FS: Is there a certain process or mindset you find yourself needing to be in when working on a book such as this? Is there anything you do differently versus how you approach another series?
BE: When I start planning a new issue I try to keep in mind that I can do literally anything. It’s a dream so it can be total nonsense with crazy angles, impossible architecture and scenery. This is the big difference from the others books: I needed to learn to be free, conducting the visuals to be more poetic rather than realistic.
FS: Is there anything you can tease about what we can see moving forward in the series?
BE: What Si is doing with the story is amazing and mind-blowing. When I think it’s good enough, it gets even better. So many symbols, layers and great visuals. There are some strong concepts and ideas running through the plot and we’re going to reveal it little by little. Maybe it will be quite shocking.
The Dreaming #1 is on sale now from DC Comics/Vertigo Comics.
From the official issue description:
From the upheaval of THE SANDMAN UNIVERSE #1 rises THE DREAMING—a kingdom in chaos.
There is a place where stories are born. Today its walls lie slashed and bleeding. Dream has abandoned his realm, and until he is found, its residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior storysmiths are tormented by invasive secrets, the warden Lucien is doubting his own mind—and beyond the gates something horrific waits with tooth and talon.
Only Dora, the monstress, finds opportunity in madness, stealing dreams for the highest bidder. But she has no idea how deep the danger lies.
Meanwhile, in Dream’s gallery, something new is growing…