What? A comic book? Does that even count as a "real book?" I would submit, based upon reviews and awards given through two decades, that it does. Could be even more than a real book. Many superlatives are thrown the The Sandman's way, and I see why. I was very, very impressed with the story, the writing, the art, the complexity of the plot - but at its core, it's about stories. This is Gaiman's wheelhouse - he likes a good yarn.
The Sandman is one of the Endless - seven eternal anthropomorphized aspects of human consciousness: destiny, death, dream, destruction, desire, despair, delight/delirium. Dream is the Sandman, and he oversees what we, and all things, dream and hope and fear. He's close to omnipotent, yet manages to not make things boring. He's complex, and grows, and bad things happen to him that he tries to fix, and often can't. He's got a crazy family, some offspring that cause trouble, and is always dealing with other supernatural entities to preserve the dreamland - wondrous and terrifying - from unspooling. He manages to walk out of Hell because he reminds Lucifer's host of demons that Hell would be nothing were it not for the dream of Heaven. He inspires Shakespeare, he helps lost children. He exacts revenge on lovers that he thinks had spurned him. And he manages to do this all with the utmost serenity. The scope of these ten huge collections are enormous. I read the first three in an enormous anthology, and then the rest in smaller paperbacks. The art is rather good, and the writing is always fun and interesting. Very few full spots. And though lots happens in America and the UK, a lot else happens in the rest of the world - not a pantheon of gods are neglected, and very few nationalities are ignored.
But the story soars through our highest hopes to our deepest fears, our funniest jokes to our most disgusting gore, our boring day-to-day to the heights of fantasy. Sometimes the day-to-day is what Dream wants most - the scene I'll remember most is him and his sister Death (who looks like what all the Goth chicks want to look like) feeding the pigeons in New York. Two supernatural uberdeities, and all they want to do is nourish the birds.
Clive Barker does this better justice:
"There is a wonderful, willful quality to this mix: Mr. Gaiman is one of those adventurous creators who sees no reason why his tales shouldn't embrace slapstick comedy, mystical musings, and the grimmest collection of serial killers this side of Death Row. He makes this combination work because he has a comprehensive knowledge of the medium and knows where his strengths lie. He has also - and this is infinitely more important than being a Comic Brat - a point of view about the world which he uses the anarchic possibilities of the medium to express. After all, where can the glorious, the goofy, and the godlike stand shoulder to shoulder? Where else can the bubble-gum hearts, the dream travelers, the serial killers, and the occasional guest-star from beyond the grave all occupy the same space? If the sheer profusion of these inventions and the apt absurdity of some of the juxtapositions puts you in mind of on of your more heated dreams, then surely that's what Mr. Gaiman intends. Forget what he's written on the title page. Hero and author are here synonymous. For the time you spend in these pages, Mr. Gaiman is the Sandman. And look! He just brought you a dream."