Stories—like the words they’re made of—are things of power. And power is hard to control. Telling and learning from stories is so deeply wired in our brains that we need to be especially attentive to how we use that power, and how it sometimes uses us.
Lately I’ve been rereading The Sandman—a series of comic books written by Neil Gaiman, originally published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint when I was in high school and college. It ran 75 issues, from 1989 to 1996, and, with its sweeping, multi-issue story arcs, was one of the first series to achieve the highbrow literary distinction of “graphic novel.” Along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Art Spiegelman’s Maus (which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992), and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series of noir Batman comics, it was responsible for a kind of critical reevaluation of the medium across the literary world: “Comics: they aren’t just junk food anymore!” For their creators, all of whom had grown up inspired by comic books and knowing them for what they were—angel’s food for the soaring imagination—being turned into poster boys for “worthwhile” comics must have been an awkward feeling at best.