Charles Rowland & Edwin Paine (The Dead Boy Detectives)

Created by Neil Gaiman & Matt Wagner

Originally created by Neil Gaiman in his popular Sandman series from DC/Vertigo back in the nineties, EDWIN PAINE (died 1916) and CHARLES ROWLAND (died 1990) are two British schoolboys who have shuffled off this mortal coil–but that hasn’t stopped them from making like the would-be Hardy Boys of the afterlife, investigating cases that involve the supernatural.

The obligatory origin story? Evidently Charles and Edwin refused to head off with Death to the afterworld, and instead spent years together haunting assorted theatres and libraries learning how to become first-rate detectives. Trapped for eternity in between worlds, locked in perpetual youth, with Death always on their case, they can’t really be seen by mortal adults, although children can see them.

Get it? Me neither, or at least not exactly, but then, truth to tell, I never quite got Sandman either.

Fortunately, for Charles and Edwin, there definitely was life after Sandman. After making their debut in the five-part story arc “Season of Mists” (Sandman #21-25) in 1990, they reappeared in a short story in Winter’s Edge #3 (1991), written by Peter Gross, and then in a couple of Sandman annuals in 1993-94.

The spectral Sherlocks returned seven years later in In The Dead Boy Detectives and the Secret of Immortality (2001), a four-issue mini-series written by Ed Brubaker (a man who knows his way around crime comics) and drawn by Bryan Talbot and Steve Leialoha. This one had the ghostly gumshoes–who are operating their detective agency out of a tree house–investigating the macabre case of bodies of homeless children washing up on the shores of the Thames.

It was this version that convinced me that the Dead Boys were actually pretty fun. Definitely for adults, although older kids will probably get a kick out of this light-hearted boys’ adventure tale with its supernatural overtones and easy-going humour, despite the macabre trappings–sorta like the Harry Potter gang as P.I.s.

And that’s a notion that must have crossed the minds of the good folks at DC/Vertigo, because in the summer of 2005, the boys returned in their own manga digest, The Secret of Immortalitywith text and art by artist Jill Thompson. In it, the boys travel to Chicago on a missing persons case, where they’re forced to go undercover at an all-girl’s school.

A proposed series never quite caught on, but in 2014, Vertigo decided to try again, this time with a monthly series, which lasted twelve issues.

And at the tail end of 2022, DC tried yet again, as part of a concerted expansion of the Sandman universe which already included several other Sandman-related comic titles, a TV adaptation of Sandman and… a Dead Boys Detective television series slotted to debut in 2023.



    (1989-96, DC/Vertigo)
    Monthly series
    Created and written by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner

    • “Season of Mists: A Prologue” (December 1990, #21)
    • “Season of Mists: Chapter 1” (January 1991, #22)
    • “Season of Mists: Chapter 2” (February 1991, #23)
    • “Season of Mists: Chapter 3” (March 1991, #24)
    • “Season of Mists: Chapter 4” (April 1991, #25)
      The Boys’ official first appearance.
    • “Season of Mists: Episode 5” (May 1991, #26)
    (1993-94, DC/Vertigo)
    Written by Neil Gaiman
    Art by John Totleben

    • “The Children’s Crusade” (December 1993, #1)
    • “The Children’s Crusade” (January 1994, #2)
      Gaiman brought back Charles and Edwin for the opening and closing volumes of a series of Vertigo annuals.
    • The characters also appeared in The Books of Magic short story in Winter’s Edge #3, written by the then current writer Peter Gross.[1]
    (2001, DC/Vertigo)
    4-issue mini-series
    Created by Neil Gaiman
    Writer: Ed Brubaker
    Art: Bryan Talbot, Steve Leialoha

    • “The Secret of Immortality (Part One)”
    • “The Secret of Immortality (Part Two)”
    • “The Secret of Immortality (Part Three)”
    • “The Secret of Immortality (Part Four)”
  • DEAD BOY DETECTIVE DIGEST | Buy this book | Kindle/ComiXology it!
    (2005, DC/Vertigo)
    144 pages, digest-size
    Created by Neil Gaiman
    Written and drawn by Jill Thompson
    (2014-15, DC/Vertigo)
    12 issues
    Based on characters created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner
    Written by Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham
    Art by Ryan Kelly, Lee Loughridge, Gary Erskine

    • “Schoolboy Terrors: The New Girl” (February 2014, #1)
    • “Schoolboy Terrors: Ghost Knives” (March 2014, #2)
    • “Schoolboy Terrors: Soul-Stripped” (April 2014, #3)
    • “Schoolboy Terrors: School Blazers” (May 2014, #4)
    • “Halfway House: Topsy-Turvy” (June 2014, #5)
    • “Ghost Snow: Higgedy-Piggedy (July 2014, #6)
    • “Ghost Snow: Flakes” (September 2014, #7)
    • “Ghost Snow: Twirls” (October 2014, #8)
    • “Ghost Snow: Swirls” (November 2014, #9)
    • “Ghost Snow: Drifts” (December 2014; #10)
    • “Ghost Snow: Drifts” (January 2015, #11)
    • “Yonda” (February 2015, #12)
    (2022-23, DC/Vertigo)
    Based on characters created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner
    Written by Pornsak Pichetshote
    Art by Jeff Stokely



    (2023, HBO)
    8 episodes
    Based on characters created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner
    Developed for television by Steve Yockey
    Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
    Starring Jayden Revri as CHARLES ROWLAND
    and George Rexstrew as EDWIN PAINE
    With Max Jenkins as Kingham
    And Caitlin Reilly as Litty
    Also starring Lauren K. Robek, Lukas Gag, Michael Beach, Lindsey Gort, Ruth Connell, Briana Cuoco, Alix West Lefler, Jenn Lyon, Joshua Colley, Rochelle Okoye, Kassius Nelson, Yuyu Kitamura, Gabriel Drake, Robbie Segulam, Amanda Marier, Harpal Khabra, David Iacono


Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

2 thoughts on “Charles Rowland & Edwin Paine (The Dead Boy Detectives)

  1. The Dead Boy Detectives also appeared on TV in season 3, episode 3 of DOOM PATROL. Not quite the same as in the comics, but the basic concept was there.

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