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SYFY WIRE The Sandman

Neil Gaiman coaxed Dave McKean out of retirement to make 'The Sandman's trippy end credits

The legendary artist created unique short films for every episode of the Netflix series.

By Matthew Jackson
The Sandman PRESS

Though a large, frequently shifting roster of artists was responsible for drawing The Sandman in its original 75-issue run, there are a few names who stand alongside writer Neil Gaiman as contributors for the whole of the series. There's letterer Todd Klein, who developed Dream's distinctive white-on-black speech bubbles; editor Karen Berger, who championed the series; and Dave McKean, a visual artist and longtime friend of Gaiman's who designed the original series logo and every cover throughout the original run. 

McKean's mixed media style gave issues of Sandman a distinctive look unlike anything else on the comics stands at the time, and helped make the series an iconic piece of early '90s pop culture. He also returned time and time again to design covers for various reissues and follow-up projects, but after a while, he decided to retire from working on Sandman altogether and focus on other work. Still, when it came time to make the Netflix adaptation, Gaiman couldn't imagine doing it without McKean contributing in some way.

"When The Sandman show began, people kept asking me, 'Is Dave McKean going to do something for it?'" Gaiman recalled in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "After literally 30 years of Sandman covers and redesigns, Dave had retired formally from doing Sandman books. He was like, 'Okay, can I stop now?' I was like, 'Yes, you can stop.' But [then] I called Dave and said, 'We're doing the TV show — you have to do something.' So every episode has end-title credits, and it's a different sequence for each episode — these amazing, flowing, kaleidoscopic little films that Dave McKean made. So do not skip the end credits! Just watch. It's pretty."

So, while the Netflix series retained a version of the original Sandman logo that he designed, it also added several new short films from McKean, an accomplished film stylist as well as visual artist with credits like MirrorMask (written by Gaiman) to his name. It's a fitting collaboration, and a tribute to McKean's years of work on Sandman, which he continued to do even after, according to Gaiman, he was once fired early in the run because Berger was afraid he was carrying too much work. 

"Which he dealt with in typical Dave McKean fashion," Gaiman recalled in a 2009 conversation with Chip Kidd celebrating the comic's 20th anniversary. "We had the first nine issues of Sandman, which had been these gorgeous, huge oil paintings. And Karen had brought him into her office and said 'Look, Dave, I'm just really sorry. You've gotta finish this other stuff, and we're just gonna take you off Sandman.' And Dave was a bit upset, and he said 'Well, OK.' And he came home, went into his office...phoned me up, said 'What's in the next three Sandmans?' And I talked him through the next three issues, and 14 hours later, he sent Karen the next three covers, on the basis that she'd probably unfire him. And not another word was ever said about the firing."

More than three decades later, it seems McKean still can't let go of Sandman, and the audience gets to reap the benefits.

Looking for some fantasy content? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.