Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of the most influential graphic novels ever written. Published by legendary powerhouse DC Comics, it features the artwork of a whole host of legends, including Sam Kieth, Bryan Talbot and Jill Thompson, augmented by the lettering of Todd Klein and the cerebral covers by Dave McKean.
The original series ran for 75 issues between January 1989 and March 1996. A critically acclaimed masterwork, it was one of the first graphic novels that made it a socially acceptable form of art, and alongside Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Alan Moore‘s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, it helped to set a high bar for all graphic novels moving forward.
Now they were darker, artful, intellectually driven and thought-provoking. Even the eminent Norman Mailer shared some praise for The Sandman, describing it as “a comic strip for intellectuals”.
Duly, The Sandman has had a far-reaching influence outside the realm of graphic novels. The series has had a transformative effect on the development of the wider fantasy genre since its publication, and now you can see it colouring TV shows, books and video games.
Notably, The Sandman‘s main character is Dream, also known as Morpheus, as well as a host of other names. He is one of the seven ‘Endless’, a group made up of Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium and Destruction. Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams, and the story focuses on him as he is captured and learns that sometimes, change is inevitable.
A critique of society, Gaiman’s trademark use of anthropomorphic personification of metaphysical entities carries the work. It also mixes in mythology, history and horror, creating a fantasy setting like no other.
Interestingly, Gaiman based Dream on a real figure, and it may surprise you who. It is well-known that Gaiman is an avid consumer of music, and loves everyone from The Velvet Underground to Tori Amos. However, for his enigmatic main character of The Sandman, he opted for one of the most iconic frontmen in music history, the gothic prince himself, Peter Murphy of Bauhaus. On his official Tumblr in 2013, Gaiman wrote: “The original idea-model for Morpheus was Peter Murphy from Bauhaus”.
In 1997’s The Sandman Covers, Gaiman explained: “The Sandman image was inspired by Peter Murphy, the ex-Bauhaus singer and Maxell tape model, because when artist Mike Dringenberg saw the original sketches for the character, he said: ‘He looks like Peter Murphy from Bauhaus'”.
After Dringenberg’s observation, Gaiman and McKean “got some Bauhaus videos and immediately saw that Mike was right”. After this discovery, the dye was cast. Dream was to be based on the enchanting frontman of Bauhaus, who was always photographed in deep lighting, something that would go on to be a vital element of the character’s presentation.
A marvellous story, and indicative of just how Gaiman cherrypicks from across the spectrum of popular culture, Dream wasn’t the first character to be based on Murphy, and we’re sure it won’t be the last.
Watch Peter Murphy ‘Cuts You Up’ below.