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I'm probably revealing my ignorance about The Sandman and comic books here. Why does Morpheus look like the writer who created him, Neil Gaiman?


On the left - younger Neil Gaiman (src); on the right - Morpheus from Preludes and Nocturnes

Is this just a random choice? Or is there a deeper thematic significance?

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    related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/129326/… – Yasskier May 2 '17 at 21:36
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    Speaking as a God of Dreams, I find the idea that Morpheus is anything other than an alter-ego of Gaiman, himself a spinner of "dreams" (fairytales, fables, etc.,) to be absurd. The similar taste in wardrobe is merely a clue as to the deeper connection. Great question, long overdue imo. – DukeZhou Jul 16 '17 at 22:53
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Because he doesn't.

Or maybe he does, just a little bit, because Gaiman sort of looks like a whole bunch of other dudes (and dudettes) who influenced Morpheus' looks.

Well, at least his face hasn't been explicitly stated to be based on Gaiman's.

Reading through canon (that is, word of gods - people who actually worked on The Sandman) sources, I couldn't find an indication that Gaiman was explicitly used as an inspiration for Morpheus' appearance.

There's one bit where Gaiman says about his motivation with Morpheus:

The inspiration for his clothes came from a print in a book of Japanese design, of a black kimono, with yellow markings at the bottom which looked vaguely like flames; and also from my desire to write a character I could have a certain amount of sympathy with. (As I wouldn't wear a costume, I couldn't imagine him wanting to wear one. And seeing that the greater part of my wardrobe is black [It's a sensible colour. It goes with anything. Well, anything black.], then his tastes in clothes echoed mine on that score as well.
From the afterword to Preludes and Nocturnes. That last part about wearing black had also come up in Gaiman's Tumblr

For the record, this is the black robe with flame motif Gaiman is mentioning:


Left - from "Sleep of the Just"; middle - from "Dream a Little Dream of Me" (Constantine even joked that he wouldn't get on public transport with Morpheus looking like this); right - from "Sound and Fury"; all collected in Preludes and Nocturnes.

But according to Mike Dringenberg (the inker and then penciller of the first 8 issues), none of the characters were copied directly from real people:

None of the characters are direct renderings of individual people; they're composites emerging from my memories;
src

I think there's only one character that has explicitly been stated to be mostly inspired by a real person - Death:

Cinamon Hadley and Death of the Endless
Left - Cinamon Hadley; right - Death of the Endless.

Coming back to Morpheus, he's never stated to be based on, or even to intentionally resemble Neil Gaiman. He was a sort of collage of many people the artist knew back then:

The Sandman himself is even more of a composite. Certain well-known people influenced the design -- his mop of hair came from Robert Smith and ballet dancer Farukh Ruzimatov was always in my mind for his dramatic physique, but face wasn't so much Bauhaus' Peter Murphy, but rather a type of English face, of which Murphy's is a shining example. That face can be averaged between Dirk Bogarde, as he appeared in the 1959 version of A Tale of Two Cities; the young Terrence Stamp of Billy Budd, and David Bowie in the '70s, with a dash of Syd Barrett.

As for his bearing, he's an amalgam of half a dozen guys that I knew slightly in the old punk/ club scene and didn't want to know any better: they were all tall, pale, beautiful, and serious sleazebags who used women like toilet paper.
Ibid; emphasis mine.

I can see Morpheus resembling the people Dringenberg mentions:

  • Robert Smith's hair

    Robert Smith Morpheus
    Left - Robert Smith from The Cure (image src); right - Morpheus from "Dream a Little Dream of Me".

    Robert Smith and Morpheus
    Left - Robert Smith; right - Morpheus from "Into The Night", collected in The Doll's House (image src).

  • Farukh Ruzimatov's physique

    Ruzimatov and Morpheus
    Left - Farukh Ruzimatov (adapted from src); right - Morpheus from "Sleep of the Just".

    Both are fit, skinny, muscular (Ruzimatov is a ballet dancer), but it's not possible to see a direct resemblance - for one thing, there are no clear shots of Morpheus' body in the first 8 issues. Once again, it changes later in series, when the art becomes more abstract:

    Morpheus
    Morpheus from The Kindly Ones chapter 5.

  • Peter Murphy's face

    Morpheus and Peter Murphy
    Left and right - Morpheus; middle - Peter Murphy (adapted from src).

    This one is the most well-known source inspiration. Here's what Gaiman has to say:

    The original idea-model for Morpheus was Peter Murphy from Bauhaus. …and even that was after I’d described him a lot and Sam Kieth had sketched pages of faces, and we’d picked one. Mike Dringenberg went “Oh, you mean a Peter Murphy face” and we went, “Oh yes.”
    src

    Thank @Slytherincess for hooking me up on Peter Murphy. Goth rules!

Gaiman even mentions in his interview in The Sandman Companion that he also wanted Morpheus to have a rock-star appearance:

I wanted him to look like royalty. In the late 1980s, kings and queens were dressing and behaving like ordinary people, and I felt it was celebrities - and especially rock stars - who were our true royalty. I made some drawings with that in mind, and with the Sandman dressed in a black kimono I ran across in a book of Japanese design. I sent those off to Sam Kieth, who was the first issue's penciller, and Sam developed the Dream we see in issue 1. The Mike Dringenberg, who was inking the first issue, said, "Hey, he looks like Peter Murphy from Bauhaus." Dave McKean and I got some Bauhaus videos and immediately saw that Mike was right; and Dave ended up making the central image on the cover of Sandman 1 a Peter Murphy-like face.
The Sandman Companion, "Secret Origins - Origins of Dream", page 236.

The closest thing I cold find for Morpheus to resemble Gaiman was like this (the general shape of the face and all the hair):

Morpheus, Neil Gaiman, and Morpheus once again.
Left and right - Morpheus, from "Sleep of the Just" (Preludes and Nocturnes) and Season of Mists chapter 3, respectively; middle - Neil Gaiman somewhere in 80s or 90s (src).

Neil Gaiman himself certainly doesn't believe Morpheus was modeled on him:

Q: You look very much like Dream of the Endless. Is this purposeful?

A: I don’t think I looked like Dream while I was writing him. Maybe it’s a similar phenomenon to the way people grow to look like their dogs.
From Neil Gaiman's Tumblr.

and:

Q: I have just started reading The Sandman and I had a question. I know you said that Dream's wardrobe is based on your own but is his appearance based on you as well? I personally think the resemblance is uncanny.

A: I don’t think so. This is what I looked like when SANDMAN 1 came out, after all…

(Photo of Mike Dringenberg and me at the first ever Sandman signing, at Jim Hanley’s Universe. Note the non-existent crowds, and the piles of unsold copies of Sandman #1.)


From Neil Gaiman's Tumblr.

Notice that with all of these, some traits seem similar, but Morpheus doesn't really look like any of them. My point is, sure Morpheus seems to look like Neil Gaiman - Gaiman was there, he's the creator of the character - but he also looks like a lot of other people who influenced the artist at that time. And if one was to look at later issues, Morpheus looks even less like Gaiman or anyone mentioned:

Morpheus(es)

Morpheus(es)

He retains the basic traits, but it becomes harder and harder to identify him with any particular person.


But it's only fair to point out that some artists apparently did use Neil Gaiman for their depictions of Morpheus. Here, it's Marc Hempel, who illustrated The Kindly Ones.

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    "Even the character whose appearance was mostly inspired by a real person - Death - bears little resemblance to the person" - to me, this looks like the artist straight-up drew Cinnamon Hadley; I'd dispute that they're dissimilar. Other than that, I definitely agree with this answer. – Aza May 4 '17 at 16:36
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    Not the best picture, perhaps. She doesn't look that similar in the rest of the comic. But I see what you mean - I'm not even sure why I wrote that. curls in a ball in shame – Gallifreyan May 4 '17 at 16:43
  • Y'know, I really miss the coat with the flames on it. I haven't seen it since vol. 1 (now waiting for vol. 7 from the library), and I thought it was an excellent (if simple) way to depict Morpheus' level of rage. A small amount of flame at the bottom for a simmering rage, and that one amazing panel where his coat has flames going up to 90-95% (perhaps that was right before going to Hell, or to fight Dee?). – Shokhet Jun 28 '17 at 19:15
  • @Shokhet I never thought of that :) If it's any consolation, the flames come back at least in some chapters of The Kindly Ones (just checked). – Gallifreyan Jun 28 '17 at 19:50
  • All right! Looking forward :) – Shokhet Jun 28 '17 at 20:02
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Take my word for it or not, but I'm the writer of the article "Mytho-Auto-Bio: Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the Romantics, and Shakespeare's The Tempest." The study focuses the reasons why Gaiman intended to finish Sandman with "The Tempest" by representing Shakespeare completing his bargain with Morpheus in writing The Tempest, which is supposedly Shakespeare's final play. I argue that he uses an autobiographical simile in the issue.

Beginning in the nineteenth-century, criticism typically identifies autobiographical dimensions of Shakespeare in his character Prospero, from The Tempest--Coleridge being one such critic. There are many instances where such criticism reads Prospero's monologues as instances where Shakespeare speaks through the character, especially within the final epilogue, wherein he bids "farewell" to the stage. I argue that Gaiman titles his intended final issue "The Tempest" to connect with Shakespeare writing his supposed final play.

To quote from the relevant portion of my article:

It is within The Tempest’s epilogue where one may be drawn to an understanding of how Shakespeare assumes Prospero’s persona to announce his exeunt from The Globe:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint….
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

These portions are traditionally read as Shakespeare’s final curtain call; Prospero’s magical charm are Shakespeare’s ‘charms’, or imaginative power, which has lost strength. Shakespeare has exhausted his charms; he is tired and seeks respite.

In response to Gallifreyan's comment: no one ever said Morpheus was a superhero (I certainly do not), but I wanted to make clear that although the series is connected to the larger DC Universe, Morpheus is not a superhero but distinctly connects with the model of the Romantic hero--in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century sense.

  • To share the article, you could upload it to another website and share the link here, or you could quote the relevant portions in your answer, or both. Much appreciated! – user111 May 12 '17 at 23:01
  • Thanks, this is a really interesting answer, I just gave it an upvote. Sorry if this is confusing (Stack Exchange has weird rules), but comments that expand on the points made in the answer should be edited into the answer, and questions about the Stack Exchange platform should usually be made as comments. – user111 May 12 '17 at 23:13
  • I just edited everything into your answer for you. Anyway, thank you for the excellent answer; it is much appreciated. I'm sure you don't have a lot of free time, but we have some other Sandman questions you might find interesting, as well as questions about other texts, and even questions about texts many people wouldn't consider literature. – user111 May 12 '17 at 23:21
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It seems it is because many people believe that Dream is Neil's alter ego, probably because at least in some panels Morpheus DOES look like Gaiman: Empire's "50 greatest comic characters" states that

Over the run, Dream's appearance has been based on David Bowie, Bauhaus' Peter Murphy, The Cure's Robert Smith and author Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman himself denies that he and Dream are the same person. Here, in an interview with Rolling Stone:

Q: Is the character sort of an idealized version of yourself?
God, I hope not. The only thing that I think is particularly funny is that when I was a young man with very normal hair, I was writing Sandman with huge, weird, crazy hair.

And for Edmonton Journal:

He's a lot like me, only with an immortal's superpowers and no sense of humour of any kind," Gaiman said. "Hmm. So in fact, he isn't anything like me at all, but he does have very messy hair. That was a great point of correspondence between me and the character. He's much paler than I am, too."

Here is an interview with The Guardian:

Years later, Karen [DC Editor] said: "Of course, Dream is you." I said: "No, I've got a sense of humour." I suppose he looks like me, though. But that's one of those peculiar things where you gradually start to look like your dog.

Although this study1 suggests, that indeed that Dream IS Gaiman (sadly, I have access only to abstract)

I maintain throughout the article that Gaiman designs Morpheus with Romantic understandings of Prospero and, drawing from the larger DC Universe of superhero motifs, how Gaiman constructs Morpheus as an alter ego. Rather than a superhero, I argue that Morpheus is a Romantic hero bearing traces of the author’s autobiography.

(emphasis mine)


1 Katsiadas, Nick "Mytho-auto-bio: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the Romantics and Shakespeare’s The Tempest" in Studies in Comics Volume 6 Issue 1 (July 2015). DOI: 10.1386/stic.6.1.61_1

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    It's unfortunate that the study is behind a paywall. I'm less interested in the conclusion of the study and more interested in the logic/evidence the study used to support the conclusion, but again, I understand that you can't access it. – user111 May 3 '17 at 0:26
  • "rather than a superhero" - who ever said Morpheus was a superhero? – Gallifreyan May 4 '17 at 14:01
  • This answer would be improved if it gave some reasons for why people think Dream is Gaiman's alter ego. Right now all it does is state that people believe this, which isn't very helpful. – user111 May 19 '17 at 16:47
  • @Hamlet I've added fragment from "Empire" stating that Morpheus' appearance was (sometimes) based on Neil Gaiman's one. – Yasskier May 24 '17 at 4:30
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    Too bad that one doesn't cite anything. In fact, none of the things that claim Dream was based on Gaiman do. – Gallifreyan May 24 '17 at 11:42

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