As writer Simon Spurrier launches his new Sandman Universe title The Dreaming, he wants readers to know that things will get a lot darker before they get brighter - but he “desperately” loves the characters and is leading it all toward something new and exciting for fans.
The Dreaming #1, with art by Bilquis Evely, spins out of August’s The Sandman Universe one-shot, which introduced several mysteries that are being picked up in various Sandman-related titles.
The central conflict of The Dreaming is the departure of the Lord of Dreams, which has caused chaos in this realm where stories are born. With his departure has come a series of problems, leaving the librarian Lucien overwhelmed, while a new character named Dora deals with dangers of her own.
The Dreaming is the first of four new Sandman titles being released by DC over the coming weeks. All four of the writers, including Spurrier, were chosen by beloved Sandman writer/co-creator Neil Gaiman to carry on the story he made famous.
Newsarama talked to Spurrier about his plans for The Dreaming, who this new character Dora is, and what readers can expect from the series.
Newsarama: Si, as The Dreaming spins out of Sandman Universe, the main problem for these characters is that their master is missing, right?
Simon Spurrier: Yeah, the whole point of that launch special was to introduce not just one but a series of inciting events which will separately have great ramifications for all four of the Sandman Universe titles but when looked at separately, will each define the different books in different ways.
And that’s particularly true of The Dreaming title. Dream has gone missing. He seems to have abdicated his throne. And part of the “A” arc is not just trying to find him, but trying to figure out why this has happened and what they can do to reverse it, if anything. But as a result of that abdication, as a result of his mysterious disappearance, it has either directly caused or at least has permitted to happen a series of other strange things, one of which is that there is this great crack in the sky of the Dreaming. It seems to be letting curious influences and strange beings to enter the realm that would previously not have been able to get through.
So you start from this position of the lord and master of a place has gone missing and you see what chaos spins out from it.
Nrama: I know you have a new character as one of the focuses in the book, and we’ll talk about her in a minute. But we’ll also continue to see the characters who are more familiar to Sandman readers, right?
Spurrier: Very much so, yes. The first arc, which is six issues, revolves predominantly - I mean, if there’s such a thing as a main character, there are actually two - but in terms of the familiar characters, Lucien is the guy in the middle, the guy with his head in the crosshairs.
I like to use the analogy of this being a Western. It doesn’t really feel like a Western, but in Western terms, it’s the story of a frontier town whose sheriff has gone missing.
And so Lucien is the deputy. He’s the guy who’s like, "Yyou know what? I never really had to worry about much, but now my boss has gone missing; I’m supposed to hold everything together and this happens to coincide with literally everything that could go wrong going wrong all at once."
To use the same “sheriff/deputy” analogy, there are rampaging drunken cowboys and railways coming through town and savages on the warpath and all those great old cliches.
It’s all happening, all at once.
So Lucien is very much in the middle of things.
The problem is that he can no longer trust his own mind. He’s always been somebody who has this totally perfect memory, totally perfect organizational skills. And suddenly, he’s really struggling to remember stuff. He’s forgetting who he is. He’s forgetting where he put things. So he’s in a really bad way.
And the second of the two protagonists is the new character you mentioned.
But we have a massive secondary cast of characters that includes many familiar faces. Mervyn Pumpkinhead, Cain and Abel, Eve - all those tertiary Dreaming characters who, over the coming episodes, will have their own chance to shine.
For instance, the whole of issue #2 is told from the perspective of Merv Pumpkinhead, and then at the end of that, we introduce a really cool old character who is going to be a fairly major part of the things that happen further on down the line.
Nrama: OK, let’s talk about the new character. What can you tell us about Dora, and what made you want to bring this new person into the story as a central character?
Spurrier: I really wanted to present all these wonderful old characters from the Gaiman-verse that we’re all absolutely in love with, but also to introduce a new beginner’s eye view onto this whole territory.
She is a little bit of a mystery to herself as much as everybody else. But she has a really bad temper. And she’s not particularly fond of Dream. So it doesn’t really bother her that he’s gone missing, up until the things that his departure have caused start to influence her life as well.
Nrama: How has it been picking up the characters that people know so well and putting your own spin on them?
Spurrier: It’s exactly what you’d expect. It’s half daunting, half delightful.
Part of the planning process, part of the set-up for this project, was all four of us writers had this incredible opportunity to sit down with Neil over the course of a weekend in New Orleans.
We all went into it with grand but slightly anxious plans. You know? We sort of discussed it amongst ourselves. We wanted to do clever crossover-y event-style stuff, and we wanted to treat these characters that we all loved with great respect, but also to try and do some new and up-to-date stuff.
But we just didn’t really know how to approach that without it seeming like we were either being a burden on the shoulder of giants or kind of taking the piss a little bit.
And Neil did this amazing thing which only he could do, which is to very calmly and very wisely and with great erudition tell us all that we had permission to be calm and not be so anxious and to treat these toys as if they are our own toys rather than as if we were borrowing them from him. And to just have a view to telling amazing stories that made sense and were valuable rather than servicing a brand in some cynical, commercial way.
And I think he’s right in that when you just tell great stories and really lean into your love of character, and those characters in particular, then even if you find yourself taking them in new directions or different directions or directions which, frankly, reduce their lovability, then you are servicing the brand, whether you like it or not, because it keeps it fresh and it keeps it wonderful and it keeps it exciting. And that’s what we all want from comics, whether they’re shared universe comics or completely creator-owned independent stuff.
Nrama: I think that, if there’s any concern among readers about what’s going to happen to the characters, they have to come at it from that approach as well - that the characters should live on. I mean, I don’t know if you want to reassure them about how you’re taking care of these characters…
Spurrier: I’m absolutely not going to reassure them, because they should all be sitting on the edge of their seats at the danger that is apparent.
No, please - just know that I am desperately in love with this world and its characters. I’m not here to write fan fiction. I’m here to cause real problems for these characters. And there are some fairly major beats coming down the pike which will gradually work to building up a picture of what’s really going on. All these mysteries that you might have seen in The Sandman Universe special, all these mysteries which continue to depend throughout the first few issues of The Dreaming - they all slowly converge into one place, which is the arrival of something new. And I’m saying nothing more about that. But yes, heads will roll and dreams will fall and there will be plenty of glory and wonder along the way.
But yeah, things are going to get a lot darker before they get brighter.
Nrama: Art is obviously always important in comic books, but there’s a certain expectation of the art in the Sandman Universe, and the Dreaming in particular. How do Bilquis Evely’s visuals help tell the story? And did you know Bilquis was going to be on the book when you wrote it?
Spurrier: Yeah, Bilquis is an amazing artist. Weirdly enough, when we were summoned to New Orleans to meet with Neil, the group of writers that Neil had hand-picked had this conversation, and it was at the forefront of our minds, that we desperately wanted to start getting on with figuring out who was going to be doing the art.
And so the conversation quite quickly became, any list of names that we might suggest, people we desperately wanted to work with? And I think that my book, The Dreaming, was the only one where the editors did not even give me the choice, because it was so clear from the beginning, before they even came to the task, that Bilquis was the one for the job.
And I wholeheartedly agreed, because I absolutely love her work.
Every time she delivers a page, there’s this little round of superlative emails that come in from myself and the editors as we all kind of feel our jaws hitting the floor. She’s just perfect for it. There couldn’t be any better choice for this job.
One of the talents which it’s taken me a very long time to figure out as a writer in comics is in accepting that you aren’t the most important voice, and especially that’s true in something like The Dreaming, where we’re literally dealing with the human subconscious. This is a place of pure visual wonder.
And so quite frequently, the best that I can do as a writer in this sphere is to say, you know what? Let’s just let Bilquis do something, and she’ll do something absolutely wild.
And I think that’s what you will have seen when you checked out that first issue. She’s just born to do this job.