Any­one who has read Neil Gaiman’s (pro­nounced gay–man) comic book series The Sand­man will know that the pro­tag­o­nist Dream, who is an eter­nal man­i­fes­ta­tion of dream­ing, has black pools for eyes. Some comic artists ren­der him with “starry” black eyes as Gaiman described them, but oth­ers just made them dead black, per­haps with a sin­gle sparkle as a nod towards the “canon” ver­sion of Dream. Some­times they’re not even so much eyes as deep gouges in his face, like I ren­dered it in this pNote.

I sup­pose Dream doesn’t really “see” with them so they don’t have to func­tion like “real” eyes, with a pupil and a lens. Over the course of the series you will find that he looks dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent species or races, so he doesn’t really have an immutable form to begin with. Dream’s sib­lings, on the other hand, always appear basi­cally as described.

As a side note, his sib­lings are all man­i­fes­ta­tions of some base uni­ver­sal ele­ment, like Death, Delir­ium or Des­tiny. Appar­ently, the uni­verse also had the fore­sight to make all seven base beings with names that begin with the let­ter “D”, which makes me think that the most ele­men­tal con­cept in the uni­verse is actu­ally the let­ter “D.”

The only other sib­lings of Dream with strange eyes are Delir­ium, who rarely has eyes that match in color (because she is cray cray) and Des­tiny, who is appar­ently blind and his hood casts a deep shadow where his eyes would be. He is also the only clothed being that appar­ently never changes dress in the lifes­pan of the universe.

Even if you have never read the series, this is a good time to won­der about the deci­sions authors make when cre­at­ing comic book seri­als. Once you describe a char­ac­ter and it is com­mit­ted to pub­li­ca­tion, it is very, very dif­fi­cult to “change” that character’s appear­ance. They have been born and noth­ing short of plas­tic surgery is going to change it. I think that per­haps this is the comic’s great­est weak­ness. What if, half-way-through, Gaiman real­ized that Dream’s eye-sinkholes were stu­pid? He couldn’t just sort of describe his way out of it and change the reader’s mind about how they pic­ture Dream. No, because peo­ple would notice that Dream looks wrong if you asked a comic book artist to just pop in some reg­u­lar eyes. It would be the most sig­nif­i­cant thing ever. In a reg­u­lar book, he could just stop reit­er­at­ing that Dream has tar pits for eyes and focus on the story.

Peo­ple get a lit­tle wrapped up in faces in comic books, just as they do in cin­ema. Does this make the comic book (as we know it) more closely related to motion pic­tures or tele­vi­sion than literature?