The Original Series
The Sandman was originally published as 76 monthly comic book issues (75 monthly issues and a special) between 1989 and 1996. These comics were collected into 10 graphic novels. This is the original or "core" Sandman series. The easiest way to start reading The Sandman is to simply read the original graphic novel series in order. This consists of:
- Preludes & Nocturnes (issues #1-8)
- The Doll's House (#9-16)
- Dream Country (#17-20)
- Season of Mists (#21-28)
- A Game of You (#32-37)
- Fables & Reflections (#29-31, 38-40, 50, The Sandman Special)
- Brief Lives (#41-49)
- Worlds' End (#51-56)
- The Kindly Ones (#57-69)
- The Wake (#70-75)
Obviously ten graphic novels are a fairly expensive investment when bought independently (or in a slipcase edition), so there are other options.
DC recently reprinted the series as four large-format collected editions. These editions are not the prettiest (they are similar to Image's recent one-part binding of the entire first half of Saga: cheap but effective) but they are probably the best way of getting the whole story as cheaply as possible (you also have to be happy with the Netflix advert on the front cover):
The Absolute Sandman hardcover collection uses the same numbering as above but is very expensive, although likely to sustain many more readings. The Annotated Sandman also uses this system but is published in black-and-white and features extensive notes and annotations from Neil Gaiman.
The Deluxe Sandman hardcover collection attempts to split the difference with nice hardcover editions but keeping the price down by collecting fewer issues, so there are more of them. These are effectively omnibuses with each book containing two of the original graphic novels. This collection has a bonus in that it also incorporates two of Gaiman's other Sandman series (see below) into the main series:
One flaw with this series is that the advert for the Audible version of the books on the cover is actually part of the cover, not a sticker, so cannot be removed.
The Sandman Omnibus is astronomically expensive and also partially out-of-print but is also the most concise version of the series, breaking the whole thing, including the spin-offs, down into just three volumes:
- The Sandman Omnibus: Volume I (#1-37, The Sandman Special)
- The Sandman Omnibus: Volume II (#38-75)
- The Sandman Omnibus: Volume III (Death: The High Cost of Living, Death: The Time of Your Life, Sandman Midnight Theatre, Endless Nights, The Dream Hunters, Overture)
This edition was available in a two-volume silver slipcase, a three-volume set and individually, but at the moment you can only afford to get most of these by selling at least three internal organs and your firstborn on the black market.
Gaiman's Sequels, Prequels & Expansions
The Sandman universe soon expanded into a wider universe of stories, books and collections. These are divided into works by Neil Gaiman and works by other hands. These are the works written by Gaiman expanding his original series. Below are the most common graphic novel collections:
- Death: The High Cost of Living
- Death: The Time of Your Life
- Endless Nights
- The Dream Hunters
The first two graphic novels spin off the character of Death from the main series into her own stories, whilst Endless Nights is an anthology telling seven stories, one about each of the Endless. The Dream Hunters is a self-contained, spin-off story about Dream and Overture is a prequel taking place immediately before the events of the main series. Endless Nights is sometimes counted as #11 of the main graphic novel series and Overture as #0, although they can be read fully independently of the main series.
These graphic novels are available independently apart from the two starring Death, which are now more usually found in one collection simply called Death (UK, USA), and Endless Nights and The Dream Hunters can also be found as part of The Essential Sandman: Book Five (as noted above) and all five as part of The Sandman Omnibus: Volume III (also see above).
Series by Other Hands
Neil Gaiman has given his blessing for other writers to carry on with stories set in his world, both as mini-series and ongoing series. Some of these series are only loosely or nominally connected to the Sandman universe, whilst others have more definitive connections.
These are as follows:
- Sandman Mystery Theatre (70 issues, 1993-1999, Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle)
- The Dreaming (60 issues, June 1996 - May 2001, Peter Hogan, Caitlin R. Kiernan)
- The Girl Who Would Be Death (4 issues, 1998-1999, Caitlin R. Kiernan)
- Sandman Presents (31 issues, March 1999-July 2004, various)
- Lucifer (75 issues, June 2000 - June 2006, Mike Carey)
- Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold (3 issues, 2000, Alisa Kwitney)
- Dead Boy Detectives (2001: 4 issues, Ed Brubaker, Bryan Talbot; 2012: 12 issues, Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham, Gary Erskine)
- House of Mystery (42 issues, 2008-11, Lilah Sturges, Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi)
Since 2018, DC has produced a family of titles under the banner heading The Sandman Universe, with writers specially chosen by Neil Gaiman:
- The Sandman Universe (2018, 1 issue, various)
- The Dreaming (2018-20, 20 issues, Simon Spurrier, Bilquis Evely)
- House of Whispers (2018-20, 22 issues, Nalo Hopikinson, Dan Watters, Dominike Stanton)
- Lucifer (2018-20, 24 issues, Dan Watters, Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara)
- Books of Magic (2018-20, 23 issues, Kat Howard, David Barnett, Tom Fowler)
- John Constantine, Hellblazer (2019-20, 13 issues, Simon Spurrier, Marcio Takara, Aaron Campbell)
- The Dreaming: Waking Hours (12 issues, 2020-21, G. Willow Wilson, Nick Robles)
- Locke & Key: Hell & Gone (3 issues, 202-21, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez)
- Nightmare Country (ongoing, 2022-tbc, James Tynion IV, Lisandro Estherren)
There have also been additional graphic novels not published as individual comics:
- The Little Endless Storybook (2001, Jill Thompson)
- Death: At Death's Door (2004, Jill Thompson)
- Dead Boy Detectives (2005, Jill Thompson)
- God Save the Queen (2007, Mike Carey, John Bolton)
- Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook (2011, Jill Thompson)
There have also been two prose works set in the world of the Dreaming. The first, Sandman: Book of Dreams (1996) features short fiction by authors like Caitlin Kiernan, Tad Williams, Gene Wolfe, Susanna Clarke, Colin Greenland and an introduction by musician Tori Amos. The second, Dream Hunters (1999) by Gaiman himself, is a short, self-contained novel. Most of the graphic novel versions of Dream Hunters include the prose version.
Probably the best overall place to start with is The Deluxe Sandman collection of five hardcovers which covers the entire original comic series plus the most significant spin-offs, followed up by the Death one-volume collection and Overture.
If that's not possible (Deluxe seems to going in and out of availability fairly quickly, despite only being released a year ago), the 2022 four-volume edition is perfectly fine, followed up by Death, Endless Nights, The Dream Hunters and Overture.