The idea of one of the best science fiction writers on Earth and one of comics’ most talented artists teaming up to take on a critically lauded property like The Sandman almost seems too good to be true! But earlier this year Neil Gaiman announced that he was opening up the world of The Sandman to new creative teams, and amongst them would be Nalo Hopkinson and Dominike “Domo” Stanton. With their addition to the Dreaming in House of Whispers, the pair–alongside colorist John Rauch and letterer Deron Bennett–have created a fantastical and immersive first issue that promises huge potential and adds much needed inclusivity into the pages of The Sandman canon. To celebrate the upcoming release of the new story, we got a glimpse of some exclusive pages and chatted to the pair about immersing themselves in the world of Sandman. For Hopkinson, the prospect of entering Gaiman’s creation was exhilarating. “The world of The Dreaming is a great world; richly imagined and crafted, with lots of room to build on. That’s the legacy that Neil and the various artists to work on the series have created. More than that, Neil has generously told us to tell our own stories as only we can tell them. He gave us the basic background of what’s happening in the waking world and in The Dreaming in this moment, then invited us to play in that universe. So there’s that. It’s both a lot of pressure–fans of the series will have expectations–and a whole lot of freedom.”
It also gave the award-winning writer the chance to adapt the world, and add some much needed representation. “From my perspective, the original iteration of The Dreaming, wonderful as it was, didn’t do a whole lot of representation of Blackness,” she says. “Women were definitely there in force, and it was by no means an especially heteronormative universe. But while there were characters of colour, I felt I could have used more. And now I get the chance to make that happen! I’m thrilled that Neil has created a new House in The Dreaming–the House of Whispers–which belongs to Erzulie, a deity of love that has origins in West African belief systems which are now diasporic. Erzulie is pretty much in my wheelhouse. Plus I get to make my scripts hella womanist and hella queer. I’m doing as much as I can to weave Erzulie’s domain into the world of The Dreaming. Part of that means pulling in characters from the original that resonated with me for one reason or another. Many of them are minor characters, so I’m hoping that fans of the original will have fun spotting them.”
When it came to the responsibility of crafting the visual landscape of House of Whispers, artist Domo was excited but overwhelmed, saying, “It was intimidating haha. I could only imagine what it’s like for Nalo, as before now, Neil Gaiman has been the sole creator and writer of the critically acclaimed series. There are expectations to live up to–not only for Neil Gaiman, but for the vast number of fans who love the series. In my case, there is a similar sense of expectation as I am joining a very small, somewhat exclusive number of creators who’ve contributed to the series over the years with an extra rare opportunity to help bring new life and all new characters to an already beloved universe.”
One of the things that stands out is Hopkinson and Domo’s dedication to shifting our expectations of who gets to be at the center of a Sandman story, which Hopkinson says was entirely intentional: “I like complicating people’s ideas of what ‘normal’ is, looks like, acts like. I enjoy writing intersectional characters who have multiplicitous identities. And I make it a habit to try not to isolate characters who in the real world would have communities and families. So I try to bust the oh-so-familiar meme in popular storytelling of the lone–Black or brown or trans or queer or disabled or working class or non-anglophone or kinky, etc–character whose only community is people who aren’t like them. And who never has a date.”
It’s a collaboration that has sparked something very special, as our exclusive pages showcase, and for Domo there was an instant connection. “I love working with Nalo. She fills the scripts with so much knowledge and reference that help give me many ideas to play around with when building pages. After the script is written, I bring my ideas into the world when breaking down layouts for the final pages. Using the script as a guide I’ll sketch out pages based on pacing, page composition, and overall storytelling. Sometimes adding, taking out, or shifting panels and word balloons or working them in a cool way based on an idea Nalo gave me in a side note. I’ve definitely felt a sense of freedom with Nalo where our conversations feel like we’ve known each other for years and we just enjoy what we do.”
Domo has created a brilliant world that’s steeped in magic and is instantly engaging, which was a mix of original ideas and hefty research. “Looking at what had already been done by previous artists was important. Specifically J.H. Williams and Chris Bachalo, who were already major influences on my work before I started on The Sandman. I always loved Bachalo’s eye for spotting blacks. The way he laid down shadows to focus his storytelling graphically made his compositions stand out a great deal to me. J.H. Williams’ layouts and compositions were always just so masterful, it inspires me to experiment with how I handle my panel layouts in The Dreaming scenes. Also we’re introducing so many new elements to the universe and my main objective has been to use these influences and other references from source materials to just have fun and continuously experiment in hopes to create interesting looking artwork readers can pick up and recognize as unique to me.”
Will you be picking up House of Whispers? Let us know below! And check out the pages in order, along with two alternate covers.
Images: DC Comics, Vertigo