Among its many other honors, Vertigo’s The Sandman has the distinction of being the portal through which a huge number of readers got their first look at a theretofore mysterious and unseen artifact: an actual comic book script. Available in numerous editions and formats now but Initially published in 1991 as a supplemental feature in the Dream Country paperback, writer Neil Gaiman’s script for the Shakespearean “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” chapter revealed the writer’s deference to his artistic collaborator Charles Vess. Gaiman’s words expressed a deep understanding of comics as a visual medium and Vess’ strengths as a master illustrator, with panel descriptions reading less like mechanical instructions in a script and more like helpful suggestions in a letter. The process, overseen by Sandman editor and Vertigo imprint founder Karen Berger, was a resounding success, winning the issue (#19 in The Sandman’s original run) a World Fantasy Award.
Throughout the history of The Sandman, Gaiman has maintained this close collaboration with artists; always challenging them with his variously dark, funny, intimate and horrific visions, but always building in opportunities for strong storytelling and the delightful idiosyncrasies that define the best comic books and comic book artists. Some of them include P. Craig Russell, Chris Bachalo, Milo Manara, Sam Kieth, Dave McKean, Marc Hempel, Matt Wagner, Jill Thompson and Bill Sienkiewicz. Even the great Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano was drawn to the Sandman’s realm of the Dreaming (albeit not in the form of a comic but an award-winning illustrated novel, The Dream Hunters).
Gaiman understands how much of The Sandman’s -- of all great comic books’ -- power comes from the image, so it was honestly not a surprise to hear that Gaiman’s collaborator for The Sandman: Overture, a 25th anniversary celebration of the enduringly popular series, would be the great JH Williams III. It was, however, a surprise to see just how far Overture exceeded expectations.