Considered one of the greatest pieces of comics writing ever crafted, Neil Gaiman's Sandman is the rare series that can also be considered bona fide literature. Like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, it's not just a comic book but a transmutation of the very medium itself, with Gaiman incarnating metaphysical concepts into characters like Dream, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Death.
Sadly, the inspiration for the character of the goth-like Death, Cinamon Hadley, died Jan. 6 after a battle with colon cancer, according to reports. Hadley had raised money for treatments that placed her cancer into remission, but its return prompted another round of crowdfunding in November.
Gaiman mourned Hadley's passing on Twitter:
Created by Gaiman and artist Mike Dringenberg, this depiction of Death subverts the archetype of a skeletally cloaked Grim Reaper holding a scythe. Instead, the character appears as an attractive, sassy punk rocker wearing a casual black shirt, jeans, and a silver ankh necklace. She first appeared in Weird War Tales #1 (1971) and made her Sandman debut in The Sandman Vol. 2, #8 (1989).
Bubbly and kind, Gaiman and Dringenberg's Death accompanies souls into the afterlife, but also visits new souls as they're born. Her relatable and carefree demeanor has made the character popular among fans, and in 2016, Empire Magazine ranked her No. 15 on its list of the 50 Greatest Comic-Book Characters, writing that "the grim reaper doesn't have to be grim."
According to the American Gods author, the original design for Death was provided solely by Dringenberg, who was friends with Hadley. Moreover, it was the only character who was not designed by Gaiman. In an interview within The Sandman Companion, he said:
"In my original Sandman outline, I suggested Death look like rock star Nico in 1968, with the perfect cheekbones and perfect face she has on the cover of her Chelsea Girl album. But Mike Dringenberg had his own ideas, so he sent me a drawing based on a woman he knew named Cinamon Hadley — the drawing that was later printed in Sandman 11 — and I looked at it and had the immediate reaction of, 'Wow. That's really cool.' "
Gaiman recalled grabbing dinner that evening with artist Dave McKean, who created Sandman's iconic covers, and the waitress who attended to them "was a kind of vision. She was American, had long black hair, was dressed entirely in black — black jeans, T-shirt, etc. — and wore a big silver ankh on a silver necklace. And she looked exactly like Mike Dringenberg's drawing of Death."