Alisa Kwitney, The Sandman: King of Dreams [introduction by Neil Gaiman] (Chronicle Books, 2003)

Itís been several years since Neil Gaimanís Sandman officially became a phenomenon, and every day creates more and more fans who want more and more of it. This year theyíve been gratified by a new anthology of stories about Morpheus and his immortal dysfunctional family, Endless Nights. And, in case the lovingly produced Dustcovers and Sandman Companion werenít enough, theyíve been gifted with another book of Sandman scraps: the coffee-table book The Sandman: King of Dreams, edited by longtime Sandman editor Alisa Kwitney.

The latter is a sort of Sandman grand tour, presenting bits and pieces from each book in chronological order, illuminated with brief notes on the comicís history and production, and reproducing a small amount of rare or hitherto uncollected Sandman-related art.

Neil Gaimanís introduction takes on the question of whether the book represents a mere cashing-in. He acknowledges that it contains little new material, but points out that he encountered a number of well-known stories in similar rag-bag collections, and says that itís often illuminating to encounter old material in a new context. The subtext would seem to be, ďAnd if that doesnít interest you, donít buy it.Ē

Despite the misleading flap on the inside cover, King of Dreams is not, except in tiny and not-very-revealing snippets, a backstage peek at the making of a comic book epic. This is disappointing, as Iím not sure what a comic book editor does, exactly, and even one chapter focusing on Kwitneyís work on Sandman would have been fascinating.

But once oneís expectations have been lowered to a reasonable level, the book becomes quite enjoyable. Though Iíd seen most of its content before, the chronological sorting, editorís notes, and high-quality art reproductions did indeed give it all a new and different shine.

The few bits that were original or that I hadnít seen before are corkers: a delirious faxed note from artist Jill Thompson including a sketch of the artist, in which she bears a strong resemblance to her muse Delirium; a goofy cartoon which was accidentally reproduced in the German edition of a very serious issue; a series of Endless portraits for trading cards, including an uncensored Desire in his/her dangerously erotic glory by Jon J Muth; and an arresting pop art ďfamily portraitĒ by Mike Allred.

Given the high cover price and minuscule amount of original artwork or information, this is a book for Sandman completists only. Less-fanatic fans can satisfy themselves with the knowledge that if they have all the comic collections, they have ninety percent of its content already. As it was a review copy, I didnít have to pay for it, and Iím quite happy to have it on my shelf for occasional browsing. If I had a coffee table, it would rest there, serene in its natural habitat.

[Rachel Manija Brown]