As The Sandman: Overture finally reached completion in 2015, artist JH Williams III demonstrated the full, staggering range of his imagination and technique.
Given the plot-heavy nature of most comics, and the fact that, unlike film, the reader is in control of pacing, we’ve all whizzed through a comic to get to the end, without giving the on-page world created from scratch by the artist(s) the attention it deserves.
Of course, that “weakness” in the comics form can also be a strength: sometimes, instead of being whisked away to the next scene, you can press the mental pause button and stop to drink in what’s on the page before you.
And that’s something you find yourself doing a lot while you’re reading The Sandman: Overture
However, within those two issues, which concluded the prelude to Gaiman’s original industry-changing epic, Williams provided a pyrotechnic demonstration of what can happen when technique and imagination kick off their shoes and hit the dance floor.
(And, as the collected edition also popped out in 2015, I think we’re entitled to pay tribute to Williams’ achievement across those years and interruptions.)
Gaiman’s story depicts the events leading up to Sandman #1, revealing the ‘war’ from which Morpheus was returning when, weakened by his exertions, he was ensnared by ham occultist Roderick Burgess.
The tale, in which the universe must be destroyed and recreated to right a key wrong, is first and foremost an effective bit of fan service, adding a few more ornaments to the crowded mantelpiece of the Sandman mythos.
However, what makes the series extraordinary is the relish with which Williams goes about the task of realising some mind-boggling scenes and concepts on the page. Gaiman and Williams set down a marker in the very first scene, in which we meet a botanical version of the Dream Lord facing a fiery apocalypse, and the ambition and imaginative scale of the book only get bigger from there.
(And, of course, full credit is also due to colourist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein, who embellish Williams’s pages into the beautiful finished articles that eventually hit the shelf. Klein in particular rises to the challenge of a book that spans the widest possible range of character voices.)
Our nominations in this category reflected the range of great-looking work on the shelves this year, from the cool, clean naturalism of Adrian Tomine (Killing and Dying) to the expressive sci-fi watercolours of Dustin Nguyen (Descender). However, this award is a tribute to a staggering achievement.
Reading The Sandman: Overture, you find yourself pausing before turning the page, keen to tease out every possible nano-second of anticipation before you thumb over and see what Williams does next.
So why not give the book another look? And this time, give Williams’s work the attention it deserves.