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Nalo Hopkinson and Dominike Stanton Talk Sandman’s “House of Whispers”

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S.W. Sondheimer

Staff Writer

When not prying Legos and gaming dice out of her feet, S.W. Sondheimer is a registered nurse at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures, a herder of genetic descendants, cosplayer, and a fiction and (someday) comics writer. She is a Yinzer by way of New England and Oregon and lives in the glorious 'Burgh with her husband, 2 smaller people, 2 cats, a fish, and a snail. She occasionally tries to grow plants, drinks double-caffeine coffee, and has a habit of rooting for the underdog. It is possible she has a book/comic book problem but has no intention of doing anything about either. Twitter: @SWSondheimer

The first of the Sandman Universe books drops today, and it’s going to be gorgeous. It will be followed by several other books set in the shared world, one of which, House of Whispers, by Nalo Hopkinson and Dominike Stanton, will debut on September 12th.

I’m super excited about this one, guys.

Nalo and Domo are amazing artists and an incredible team. I’ll let them speak for themselves, and the book:

BR: Nalo, you started reading science fiction and fantasy at a young age. Do you remember the first story that captured your attention?

NH: The first one that was officially science fiction was Shattered Like a Glass Goblin by Harlan Ellison that was a sort of fantasized, science fictionalized version of The Haight—Haight-Ashbury. Of course, I didn’t know that as a ten year old in the Caribbean but I knew the story had a “thing” that I liked.

BR: And you also read a lot of mythology as a kid? Do you have a favorite story?

NH: Yes, I did. I don’t have a favorite, there are so many good ones! Science fiction and fantasy are the mythology of the modern age—that’s what Ursula LeGuinn says and I quite agree—those stories are like reading superhero stories and they all are so powerful. There’s something you can get from all of them, and I’ve read mythologies from all around the world and still do. I’m not good at having a single favorite of anything. I’m not good at picking just one.

BR: Domo, you’ve worked across comics. What drew you back to Vertigo now? Was it this particular project?

DS: For sure. It was 100%. Molly Mahan, the editor at Vertigo comics, asked me if I was interested in drawing the Sandman and I said, “Of course! There is no question! Of course.” I haven’t done that much in the industry but I’ve done enough…I still feel like a newcomer.

BR: You’ve done Deadpool, you’ve done stuff for Image…Is it your full-time career at this point? Did you have a “before” career?

DS: I actually worked in animation for three years, for Floyd County Studios. They animate Archer for FX. I was also the lead character developer on their sister show Chosen.

BR: Did you guys know each other before you teamed up for House of Whispers? How did you establish the team dynamic?

DS: No, not at all.

NH:  Because I’m new to this, I have no idea how I work. I throw something out, the editors say, “Well…maybe you could tell him what expression you want the character to have?” and I think, “Oh, damn, I have to do that too.” I feel like I’m getting a lot of guidance from people like Domo who were doing this before me. He sends his art back and I always learn something. I think it’s been really good. I have a lot of backgrounds and links and reference stuff because I know that I’m pulling from a range of 57 years of knowledge, all that mythology, I’ve been writing in different languages…I’m aware that I’m throwing a lot at people. I have very quickly become confident that I can throw something at Domo and something will come back and it will be beautiful.

BR: How does it feel to come in to this massive universe that people have so much feeling about?

NH: We were talking about that last night. Terrifying.

DS: Completely.

NH: It’s hard because you always pay attention to that one thing. I heard someone say he was excited there were going to be new books but he wished Neil (Gaiman) was writing them…wrote that to me! I don’t think it was rude, I think he was just one of the tribe, saying what he thought. I love my people but still, it was a little, *gasp.* Knowing full well I’d probably feel the same way. It’s intimidating, but I have to put that aside.

DS: One of my major influences in comics is Chris Bachalo and he worked on Death: The High Cost of Living for Sandman and I love his work so much. I want to live up to that expectation, but at the same time I’m hoping I can impact the series just as much as some of the bigger guys who have worked on it have.

NH: Same for me, as a writer. I have these frequent moments while working on it when I think, “Well, what would Neil do?” and I look at back issues. When you look at the old stories, you’ll be going along fine and then you’ll come to just a moment and you want to sit with it for a while. I’m trying to figure out how that effect happens…

BR: Is there anything in particular—books, music—you guys keep nearby when you’re working in case you get a little stuck or need a little push?

NH: I just came back from New Orleans and I bought a bunch of books that are becoming references. There is one on New Orleans Voodoo, written in 1945 by an outsider, a white guy, who was very sympathetic. He gets a lot of it wrong, hilariously wrong, but there are occasionally tidbits of information, because he’s living in New Orleans when he writes it, that are gold. I have a bunch of websites that talk about the religions, I’m sort of hybridizing them, and my French dictionary. At one point, I needed to look up a dictionary of Yoruba.

DS: Most of the characters I design are family members. Some of my family members may open these books and see themselves.

NH: Your family is pretty.

DS: No warning. It will be a surprise.

BR: Is the story yours or was it presented and then you took it and personalized it?

NH: In 2016, Ellie Pyle emailed me to tell me that this reboot was going to happen any minute now and I had a day to write a pitch. She said there was a new House in the Dreaming. What she gave me looked like a half page of quick notes by Neil. He hasn’t plotted it for any of us, sort of told us what’s happening in the Dreaming right now, what the situation is that the characters are coming in to. We’re all writing our own thing based on that.

BR: I happened to notice both of you mention an interest in and love of food on your blogs. I’m wondering if that’s going to show up in the book. I know that’s a weird question but I also love to cook so it caught my interest.

NH: It’s showing up, sometimes in very odd ways. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

BR: What are each of you reading right now?

DS: I’m currently reading Super Sons, love that series. Jorge Jimenez’s art is incredible. I’m also reading the The Infinity War Omnibus. The feeling of comics back then was so different, it’s kind of refreshing to go back to them.

NH: I’m reading Daniel José Older’s Dactyl Hill Squad. I really need to teach that thing soon, because he isn’t pulling any punches. When stuff gets dire, it gets dire, but it’s still a children’s story. He has the right way about it.

BR: If you had a lightsaber, what color would it be?

DS: Blue. 100% blue.

NH: Joker-hair green.


House of Whispers will tell the story of “a desperate woman attempting to save the life of her girlfriend by summoning the voodoo deity Erzulie. When she accidentally steals the goddess’s essence, her house is thrust unto the Dreaming where it lands beside the Houses of Secrets and Mysteries.”