Culture  Sandman’s 25th at an anti-art school

Why two great tastes don’t taste great together

Comic book fans aren’t known to be a restrained group in general, but even so, few series find themselves celebrated with quite the same fervor or creativity as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, for which a sketch session was recently held by Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School in celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary. Sandman, which was published in the late eighties and early nineties, is a celebration of the power of story, a genre-hopping epic that could often range into the realm of English major pretension, with its nested references to Shakespeare, Arabian Nights, and various mythologies from around the world. In addition, it created its own meta-canon of anthropomorphic personifications, rather than deities: the Endless, namely Death, Desire, Delirium, Destruction, Destiny, Despair and regular protagonist, Dream. The series is, as a result, something of a touchstone among vaguely dissatisfied teens with a penchant for dark clothing and poetry-writing.

Dr. Sketchy’s, which has permanent locations in various other cities in North America,  set up shop in the Mainline Theatre in Montreal, a small black box theater. The main stage was right in the middle of the room, surrounded by three raised platforms with rows and rows of soft sea green seats. The room was mostly dark except for the few beams of light that surrounded the theater, the main stage itself empty except for a flat platform, covered in black velvet, littered with blue and black pillows. A stand with a book on the platform was covered in large plastic chains, and a black wooden chair stood on the side with a black, stuffed raven in its seat.

The room filled quickly with creative types taking out their sketchbooks, setting up their easels, and taking out their charcoal and pastels. A reporter toting only a spiral notebook and a few pencils might feel a bit out of place, even if they were determined to move beyond their usual doodling to the more elevated discipline of sketching.

After a few announcements, it was finally time for the session to start. Three female models, dressed punk getup to imitate characters from the series, walked onto the stage and after some cheer, quickly took up their poses. In the two minutes (positions weren’t held for long) it wasn’t easy to capture the angry shocks of pink hair, the hips covered in tight leather pants, and the fierce badass looks the models gave with my pencil and notebook. Dream-themed music was piped in (“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and the like), some of it recognizable from references in the books, most of it not. The sketch session continued on for an hour and a half. At one point, the models’ shirts came off to reveak pieces of black tape that covered their breasts.

The effort toward celebrating this auspicious date in Sandman’s history as a franchise was admirable, but came off a bit half-hearted. It might have been a successful sketching session, but was it a successful Sandman-themed sketching session, as it was billed? This collision of two very different outsider cultures, between the province of teenage outsiders in black eyeliner and hoodies (Sandman) and of adults with disposable income and a desire to feel mildly subversive, but still classy (the neo-burlesque scene), might look like something put together by an out-of-touch focus group on the outset. But after a bit of thought, it makes more sense: media and entertainment catering to ‘outsider’ social demographics, combining themselves in hopes of gaining a bigger audience. Maybe it didn’t work out terribly well this time around, but the effort was noble.