Sandman #4: this POP Retro Cover Classic is a Dave McKean collage masterpiece from 1989

Dave McKean's cover art from Sandman #4 (without trade dress) is a magnificent melding of illustration, typographic design, and collage

Sandman #4, 1989, Cover by Dave McKean, DC Comics

POP Retro Cover Classic continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this time jumping to the Eighties. In 1989, DC Comics had a strange new title hitting the stands, written by New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman.

Sandman featured Morpheus, AKA Dream, and his family of fellow supernatural embodiments of various aspects of humanity. Curiously the title logo for The Sandman lost "The" before his name after the first few issues, only to return on later covers. And then disappear and reappear again, as if a recurring bad dream.

The covers for Sandman immediately let you know this comic was going to be very different from any other DC Comic you had ever seen (the mature-themed Vertigo Comics line was still years away from its birth). The covers were large (24x36) 3D mixed media collages by Dave McKean: issue #4 was composed of acrylic and ink illustrations, and burnt book page scraps, arranged in a wooden framing device made of compartments and shelves. This format would be used often on many other covers.

The cover to Sandman #4 featured a portrait of Lucifer, based on a young David Bowie, according to the artist. While the illustration is evocative and effective on its own, what really makes this a POP Retro Cover Classic for me (as both a graphic designer and an illustrator) is the meticulously arranged and painted text that flows and beautifully gradates in color across the cover, interacting and merging with the portrait. The effect is ephemeral and dreamy and creepy all at once. The burnt book pages add a layer of detail to emphasize the hellish fires raging around Lucifer in the background.

The final cover art with all the trade dress (comic title logo, banners, creative credits, etc.) are well-designed, but are unfortunate additions that cover up too much of McKean’s wonderful art. The "virgin" art shown above is so much more satisfying.

No doubt there will be more than one of McKean’s Sandman covers chosen as a POP RETRO COVER CLASSIC! After all, there’s an entire coffee table book collecting these masterpieces, called Dust Covers: The Collected Sandman Covers 1989-1997 by Dave McKean.

Also, be sure to see new McKean artwork (in motion!) in the end credits of each episode of The Sandman adaptation on Netflix.

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