The "Sandman" series by Neil Gaiman and various artists was originally sold as 32 page(?) comic books. Now, for those of us who just want to read them (as opposed to collecting them), they also exist in graphic novel form, bound collections of the comic books. Determining which books to read in what order isn't very easy, especially since they seem to have been re-issued in other formats with different titles. I'm going by what's available in the Toronto Public Library system, and as far as I can tell, this is the correct order:
- Preludes and Nocturnes ("Volume 1")
- The Doll's House ("Volume 2")
- Dream Country (no attribution anywhere)
- Season of Mists ("Volume 4")
- A Game of You ("Volume 5")
- Fables and Reflections ("Volume 6")
- Brief Lives ("Volume 7")
- World's End ("Volume 8")
- The Kindly Ones ("Volume 9")
- The Wake ("Volume 10")
The afterword from Gaiman in The Wake says that it's the last book. But he's revisited the characters in at least two other volumes:
- The Dream Hunters
- Endless Nights
While the only one I own is Dream Country, it has absolutely zero attribution on it as to where in the sequence it fits. I'd always assumed it was the first, but evidently not. The ones with "Volume" numbers on them are ones I've actually held in my hands recently and been able to mark down the labelling.
I started re-reading of the Sandman series after I picked up and read Black Orchid, another Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean graphic novel about a flower-turned-superhero. Set aside the premise: Gaiman has made better from worse ... but I didn't think much of this one. So I returned to the Sandman series, which remain utterly brilliant (read in any order, ie. when I can get them from the library). I know a lot of people like American Gods, but I thought it was just okay: a bunch of really good ideas in search of a plot. Or even a protagonist. Where he found both those things was with Terry Pratchett as co-author: Good Omens is just fantastic.
Preludes and Nocturnes is probably the weakest of the lot, possibly because of the greater number of tie-ins to the DC Universe than the later volumes (I recognized John Constantine, Dr. Destiny, The Scarecrow, and Arkham Asylum), or because he was still finding his footing. It's also possibly the most violent and nasty. I'm good with threatening and/or creepy, which is common in the series, but this one is violent with quite a few senseless and bloody deaths. The last story sees Dream going for a walk with Death (in her first appearance), and suddenly the series seems to find its feet. The next volume, The Doll's House, is excellent: I particularly love the Corinthian and Gilbert/Fiddler's Green. And after that volume ... it just rolls along brilliantly.
Gaiman used a lot of different artists throughout the series. The styles varied most widely in The Kindly Ones to dazzling effect.
Endless Nights is also quite weak: it has one chapter for each of the seven Endless, and I wasn't too thrilled with it.
The Dream Hunters is a particular oddball: instead of having several chapters, each of which was originally a comic book, it's a single long graphic novel. The story is good but not brilliant (Japanese Monk and Fox Spirit fall in love and things go poorly), but the artwork by P. Craig Russell is a standout for a series already rife with great art.
Fables and Reflections is also an oddball item in the Sandman catalogue: it's the hardest one to get from Toronto Public Library (it took more than three months to arrive) and the stories are all over time - from distant history and legend to more or less the present day, in no particular order. But I finally read both the "origin" story of Orpheus and the episode that shows Desire getting upset with Dream and deciding to cause him to shed family blood (they're related), which together lead to The Kindly Ones and the grand finale. There are several good stories: it's neither my favourite nor the worst of the collected books.