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Death pictured by me Death

by Neil Gaiman

"They're not too keen to see me"

Foreword : I have read the French edition of "Death",
and scanned all pics on this page from that version too
(except the one above, that I've done myself).
So all apologies for misquoting if that happens.

Problem. How do I talk about Death without being called morbid?
Of course, it is Death. Not death, but the very Death with a capital D, anthropomorphic personification of the principle of, well, the end of life, you know. One of the seven Endless, in Neil Gaiman's cosmogony.
How do I start? Let's briefly introduce her "family", the seven Endless :

Death, or just another weird girl?
  • Death is the most ancient one - even though she probably looks the youngest.
  • She seems to relate pretty well to her brother Dream, also call Sandman, or Morpheus... It's true enough that their kingdoms are close from each other.
  • Their brother Destiny (an old character from DC Comics) writes down everything that was, is and will be in the universe. Not very talkative.
  • Delirium, as her name says it all, has some mental health troubles - she used to be Delight, buth changed for reasons that her incoherence can't explain.
  • Desire, male and/or female, likes nothing more than causing troubles, in any ways.
  • Despair, his twin sister, shares his/her games and is not of very good company either.
  • Destruction needs no explanations, but he gave up his title : all destructions now happening are not his work.

Death first appearead as this young optimistic punk-looking girl in Sandman (book 1), already by Neil Gaiman, published by Vertigo. Dream, having finally regained freedom and his powers after being imprisoned for 70 years, felt a bit empty and aimless. So much that his sister Death came to him (yes, that says how bad he felt).

Death tried to cheer him up with a quote from Mary Poppins (yes, I know...), talked about their mission and his role, and after that little speech, she took him on her "tour". He came back with renewed motivation.

Death, on her side, had found her own audience, so much that she soon had her own mini-series (2 series of 3 issues each, later gathered in two reprints). Drawn by Christopher Bachalo, she reveals herself to be still so exalted, charming and deep, as well as whimsical.

Here, Death appears to Hazel, in book 2

Death by Bachalo

Death is not fair, nor predictable. She does her work, in time and place, and everyone meets her sooner or later. But few enjoy her. Actually, it bugs her a little, that people are seldom glad to meet her. After all, she's only doing her duty, and she cares about people and their lives - think that she's one of the few who knows each of us personally.

And without death, there is no life.

Death and her little brother
Death is full of contradictions. She wears on a necklace an Ankh, the Ancient Egypt Cross of Life.

She can be merciful, put an end to sufferings, or turn out to be cruel and unexpected. "Death" (the comics) is less dark than "Sandman", which tends to confirm Dream's words when he says that he's a lot more dangerous than his sister.

Sandman and Death, in "Sandman"

The strangest contradiction of all about Death, is that this comics tends to reconcile you with death (well, for those who are allergic to it, because for myself I've always been "half in love with easeful death" myself, as shows my attraction for Amadeo) while making you enjoy life better. And I so like apparent contradictions...

In the first book, "The High Cost of Life", she takes a day "off", not stopping to work, but living on Earth like a mortal being for a day. She does that once a century to taste what she cuts off, and to understand those she meets.

This time, she spends her day with Sexton Furnival, son of a hippie mother and unluckily suicidal (? well, you got to figure it out what luck is in that occurrence : failing or succeeding).

Between a concert in a night-club, a crazy sorcerer who wants to steal her power, Mad Hettie who asks her to find her heart and other weird encounters, her day as a mortal will be anything but boring.
Didi and Sexton

The second book focuses on Foxglove, the singer seen in concert in the first, and on her surroundings. A life that has lost a sense of direction, around which others are floating. Of course, Death is not far. But for whom did she come?

Settled in a West-Coast fake show-business attitude, this book strangely echoes the first one, that was quite typically New-Yorker.

The ones who gave birth to Death

Seen by Dave McKean - Neil Gaiman, the writer, is british (which may explain his weird sense of humor and taste for strangeness). He writes novels ("Neverwhere"), co-wrote the excellent "Good Omens" with Terry Pratchett (which is a big reference for me), and also comics - though they usually don't look like what you think of when you hear "comics". His work is usually... unusual, quite dark, mystical without piety and , uh... Gloomy? But there's usually a touch of humor or light in his dark tales. And he can write true pieces of laugh (read "Good Omens". Absolutely. No I don't earn a penny on it). His most famous work is the cult comics "Sandman", from which Death was "born".
- original appearance of Death in "Sandman" book 2 was pictured by Sam Kieth and Malcolm Jones III.
- Art is by Christopher Bachalo, who also works a lot for Marvel - on GenX and the X-Men, for example.
- Covers and some inner illustrations are by Dave McKean, who has worked a lot with Neil Gaiman : he illustrated "Black Orchid" and all the "Sandman" covers, among others. His work often combines drawing, CG composing and special effects for a beautiful result, as you can see left.

Our sister defines life,
just as Despair defines hope,
or Desire defines hatred,
or as Destiny defines freedom.
- Destruction

Some links about Death, Sandman etc...

Links checked / revised in December 2002

French edition cover for the 1st book

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