To start with, it is worth noting that this is not a book for the casual fan, nor is it the ideal format to read the Sandman stories in. However, it is vital to realise that neither of these things are the point of a work such as this. This book is a detailed, scholarly analysis of the influences behind the characters and stories contained within Neil Gaiman's now-legendary Sandman series of comics. The annotator, Leslie Klinger, has a great track record in this field, renowned for his works annotating the original Bram Stoker Dracula novel, (in The New Annotated Dracula
) and the Conan-Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories (in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes - Vols. 1 & 2 The Short Stories
and The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: Novels v. 3
Here, he turns this academic attention to the Sandman series, and as someone with expertise in annotation and someone who is a friend of Neil Gaiman, he is the ideal man for the job. (Indeed the whole project apparently stems from a dinner-table conversation between the two men.)
Every frame of the original comics is intended to be reproduced in the Annotated series (in black and white - more on this in a moment) and where appropriate commented upon in a spacious margin. This second volume covers comic issues 21-39. It is a big, heavy book - 12 inches square and weighing at least a couple of kilograms. This means there is room for the annotations to sit alongside the pages. Each annotation makes it clear which frame it refers to, and then gives information about the content that covers sources, influences, ideas and themes. Where appropriate also cross-referencing other issues of The Sandman. (Helpfully also referring to future Annotated editions so when they have all been published the set will be definitive.)
It may sound odd to say that there is a "correct" way to enjoy reading a book, and I am sure everyone has different approaches, but my recommendation is that this is a book to be read as a companion volume to a set of Sandman trade paperbacks. (Each volume available separately or in a box set as Sandman Slipcase Set
.) If you have never read the stories before, this is not the book to read them in for the first time. If you just want to read the stories again - and who wouldn't - this is not the book for that either. (A key reason for this being that apart from the physical bulk of the book the stories are reproduced in black and white. This is not an issue if you're referring to the book to learn more, and means of course that the cost of the book is affordable especially compared to the lavish Absolute editions. Missing the colour would rather spoil enjoyment of the stories alone though, so when just enjoying the stories I recommend reading the trade paperbacks, or whichever colour edition you have available.)
Really, this book is about learning more about the way the Sandman stories all join up, about the myths, legends and history that they draw upon. Klinger, using resources such as Gaiman's original scripts and conversations with the man himself, pulls together and carefully cross references each reference to allow fans to gain new insights. It's very exciting finding out about all the threads that are a part of the Sandman series and discovering just how many hugely varied storytelling themes - some as old as humanity, some used in comics for the first time by Gaiman - were a part of the creative process. It gives the reader a chance to know more than anyone could possibly derive, even from multiple readings of the stories, and so allows you to truly get as close as possible to a complete Sandman experience.
This is a book to accompany a book, a book for fans who know the stories well and still want more and a book that will truly enrich and reward the dedicated reader who joins Leslie Klinger on his journey into The Dreaming.