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July 24, 2017 | by  | in Books |
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The Sandman: A Game of You (1993) — Neil Gaiman

Pencilled, Inked, and Coloured by Shawn McManus, Daniel Vozzo, Todd Klein, and Colleen Doran.

Printed by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, Gaiman’s critically acclaimed graphic novel series The Sandman recreates the eponymous DC character as Dream, one of the seven Endless; a powerful being that is simultaneously lord of dreams and stories and their anthropomorphised form. The comics, which span 75 issues and have earned 26 Eisner Awards, follow the protagonist through his travels, but also incorporate several mini-series which only focus tangentially on Dream and instead broaden the scope of the universe with tales of mortals living during different eras. A Game of You is one of these. Published as the fifth instalment of The Sandman, it collects issues 32–37, first appearing in paperback and hardback in 1993, and it can be read alone if you wish, though it features some characters from Volume Two.

If you read any of Neil Gaiman’s works you will undoubtedly encounter characters coming to terms with their identity. A Game of You is no different, with a cast dominated by female-presenting characters who live in an apartment in New York. The collection depicts the everyday lives of recently-divorced Barbie, her best friend Wanda, a pre-operation trans woman, as well as Foxglove and Hazel, the lesbian couple across the hall. Their struggles with rediscovering and remaking their identities are set against the backdrop of Barbie’s fantasy world, which begins to bleed into the real world in a dangerous way. All four characters use their control over tangible things such as their appearance to help them dictate how they wish to be seen by others. In two cases, characters have changed their names in order to create a “clean slate” onto which they can project a new identity, emphasising the importance of names as a marker denoting who someone is.

Wanda’s journey through life is especially emphasised as, haunted by dreams of having surgery to become anatomically female, she struggles to reconcile her true gender with the one she was assigned at birth. The anxiety of constantly having to justify her identity to everyone she meets is vividly depicted in her daily routine. The appalling treatment by her family, who utterly reject her transition and preferred name and pronouns, incisively demonstrates what trans people have to deal with on a regular basis (even in death) and invites readers to think upon their own interactions.

Gaiman has stated that A Game of You was a story “filled with the kind of people I knew in London and New York who didn’t seem to get stories of their own… so I put them into MY comics.” Inhabiting the subliminal spaces of society, Wanda’s narrative brings to light a story which was very much missing from mainstream comics in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, now in 2017, it seems that they still are. After all, how many titles that have a trans character play a major role in the story arc can you name? For this reason, even if you don’t wish to experience the delightful, dark, and creative oeuvre of Gaiman in its entirety, A Game of You is an important read, though the art can be a little brash at times.

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