The Little Endless Storybook
written by Jill Thompson
Originally published in 2001 and collected for the first time in hardcover in 2004, The Little Endless Storybook chronicles the lives of the seven diminutive versions of Neil Gaiman's classic Endless characters--Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. Although pint-sized adaptations of Death and Dream, also known as Morpheus, were introduced by Jill Thompson in The Sandman #40, "The Parliament of Rocks" story arc in 1992, The Little Endless represents the premier of all seven figures. At 47 pages of story (almost half text), this 2011 hardcover edition also includes original sketches by Thompson and a short history of how the characters came into being.
While Thompson's approach from the onset may lead some readers to believe that only audiences familiar with the adult, mature versions of the Endless will comprehend and appreciate the story, it does in fact also serve as a solid framework for anyone who has never picked up The Sandman comic or collected editions nor experienced the major players in other, related DC and Vertigo publications. In fact, that is in part the genius of Thompson's process here. Unlike many in her profession, she is able, from the first page, to forge an immediate connection with the audience, bridging any potential narrative gaps in understanding exactly who Delirium or her siblings are, and building, in the process, an important bond between reader and text. One could argue that because Thompson's sequential tale breaks with the traditional graphic novel format of panel pages and conversation bubbles, and instead borrows a design tool from illustrated children's books, that the connection is easier to accomplish. This might be true; however, even a cursory reading will reveal that it is quite more—it is a testament to Thompson's skills as both a writer and visual storyteller that few of her contemporary peers possess.
Reissuing The Little Endless Storybook now comes at an auspicious time for comics and graphic novels; not so much for the decline in monthly print sales or the increased attention paid to the prospect of digital comics, but rather in crafting a story and product that is both geared toward all-ages and comics and non-comics fans alike. That is an impressive feat few titles can match and fewer publishers can accomplish. DC is wagering that canceling all existing titles, redesigning some costumes, and renumbering their catalog will be a saving grace in the dwindling and diminishing periodical industry that will bring in new readers. One of the key features that allows Thompson's book such breadth is not only the style of her illustrations--"a cute, gothic kewpie doll," as she describes one specific character—but also the content, particularly for this character.
Unlike her siblings, Little Death is never named. Although the context for inhabiting her realm is revealed as fearful and something Barnabas the Dog, the faithful companion and watchful protector of Little Delirium, dreads immediately, Thompson's choice here reflects the all-ages intentions driving the narrative. More important, because she is writing for such a varied and potentially diverse audience, her story has to serve many masters. Entertaining young adults or even children without insulting the intelligence of adult readers is often the privy of Pixar or Dreamworks animated films rather than comics and graphic novels. Yet, Thompson succeeds here as well with illustrations and a story that will delight and intrigue younger audiences while simultaneously engaging a more mature readership.
The story itself follows a who's who pattern as Barnabas looses Delirium and must therefore traverse the kingdoms of each of her siblings in the hope of locating her. It's fantasy at its very best as readers are taken into a realm of ice-cream colored landscapes, an environment where Alice has gone through the looking glass and never returned. The amount of detail Thompson ascribes to a scene and setting with her vivid, tonal paintings and complex range of hues blend nicely with the softer linework given to the youthful figures. Part of the enjoyment is simply taking a moment to digest all Thompson is giving out on the page from melting, Dali-esque clocks and cups and hats that grow as wild as toadstools to the miniaturized versions of the Eiffel and Sears Towers. And, while the pages become less busy in their features, none lose the power and potency of her watercolors and painted canvas.
Vertigo also deserves attention here for not only producing such an innovative and enjoyable book, but also for one that is extremely high quality in its design, particularly in the heavy bonded paper that gives extra weight and impact to Thompson's magnificent art. Quirky, bizarre, and undeniably silly yet sincere in parts, The Little Endless Storybook is one fans of comics and those who appreciate art will be proud to own.