Among visionary creators, Jim Henson is probably near the top of the list the general public unanimously adores. From to and , Henson built a legacy that would last long after he was gone. But there’s a project of his, unlike any of his puppet work, that has now found its way into comic book form and if I’m right, comic book history.
Tale of Sand from Archaia was a long time in the making. When I spoke with Archaia’s Editor-in-chief, Stephen Christy, last year at C2E2, I was blown away to hear that they were going to be producing an old Henson screenplay that until recently had been locked in archives. Henson and frequent creative partner Jerry Juhl, had written Tale of Sand in the 1960s but couldn’t manage to get a studio to pick it up, even after several rewrites. Lisa Henson, the creator’s daughter and CEO of the Henson Company, supervised the transfer from screenplay to comic that might never have happened had Henson Company archivist Karen Falk not unearthed it. Along with art provided by Ramón K. Pérez and color by Ian Herring, Tale of Sand is a unique work from innovative minds that belongs on your shelf.
One of the best things about Tale of Sand is that it’s a complete package. When you open the pages you’re not going to get just a comic story, you get a history, biography, black and white photography and personal accounts as well. A lot of times I find myself skimming or skipping a forward entirely because I’m anxious to read the book and in this case, extra anxious, but don’t even think about it in this case. Now what about the story itself? The first words that came to mind while reading it where, “curiouser and curiouser.” Tale of Sand is unlike anything I’ve ever read and although after reading the extras in the book I know a lot of thought went into the original screenplay, to someone not in Henson’s head, it feels like one big stream of consciousness.
You’ll be able to relate to the protagonist, Mac, at least in one way. You’ll be just as confused and surprised as he is as events unfold. He’s an average man who we first see being congratulated and celebrated in a town full of excited people. They’re all celebrating him because he’s off to do something very brave apparently but even as he’s pushed out the proverbial door, he still has no idea what that is. In front of him lies an endless desert and thousands of possibilities. A nameless man, who we quickly learn has the worst intentions when it comes to our friend Mac, also shadows the journey ahead of him.
There is not a lot that can be said about the story after that as it seems, to my mind, it could be open to interpretation depending on the reader. Why is that? Well, this entire expedition is told almost entirely in silence. But then, what would you expect from a lone man traveling in a barren desert? It’s certainly a different concept than what most comic readers are used to but was one of the most appealing aspects of the book for me. I don’t know if I’m alone in this or not but unless a book’s art really sticks out, usually I won’t notice the details for sake of reading dialogue. Tale of Sand forces you to stop and look at the art. You can’t skim. You need to use your own mind and imagination to understand what’s happening. Now, that’s not to say the story is difficult to grasp, once you get the hang of what’s going on you’ll be in for a wild ride but the art is the real star here.
Pérez and Herring made a tremendously complimentary team on the book. Pérez gets a huge amount of credit in my mind for even taking on this project at all. A comic with almost no dialogue with a lost script from a famous creator? No pressure there, right? All I can say is bravo, Mr. Pérez, bravo. And Herring’s work makes the linework truly come to life in the most vibrant fashion imaginable. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever held in my hands. When it first arrived I posted about how it made me tear up not just because of how spectacular it looked but because you could almost feel the power of it and everything that went into making it.
There are actually lots of different art styles presented by Pérez throughout (plus a font based on Henson’s handwriting) and the book itself is almost a collage at times with sprinkles of the original screenplay peppering the background. You’d think a book set in a desert would be anything but compelling to look at but Mac’s journey turns into an almost Hunter S. Thompson, type of adventure where the most unexpected things turn up. There is one small frame in the middle of the third and fourth page before things even really start going. It’s a hedgehog leaning over a dead mouse. It’s just a tiny portion of the page and doesn’t play into anything else that’s going on but it’s incredibly heartbreaking. I could probably write an entire story about these two creatures and the friendship between them I’ve already made up in my mind. In fact, the same could be said for a great deal of the panels in these first few pages and it’s a true testament of the power of art and how it can be used to tell a story.
It’s not entirely a mystery why Henson and Juhl’s screenplay was passed over multiple times in the 60s and 70s, even as en experimental film, it’s on the far reaches of experimental. Something you’d expect to sit in a dark room at a modern art museum and watch. But I’m glad it remained undiscovered for so long because I feel like Tale of Sand was destined for comic form. This is a book you can sit down and read through very quickly or spend hours dissecting but I recommend the latter.
I also have another recommendation. Henson mentions music in the script often, which is obviously not something that translates very well to the comic page. Since the location is rather barren of noise, I’d suggest creating your own soundtrack for when you read Tale of Sand, whether it be an existing soundtrack or a playlist you put together just for the occasion. Have fun with it. It’s a discovery process, something that will excite the child inside you and intrigue the adult you’ve become (that’s still holding onto a bit of that childhood, probably in part thanks to Henson).
A lot of reviews (including this one) compare Tale of Sand to the work of other films, filmmakers, artists and even cartoons. Ignore all that. You will find your own meaning in this book. It will take you on a journey, as great stories always should and give you something new to discover each time you pick it up.
Read more of Jill’s columns at the <a href="http://www.newsarama.com/topic/hey-thats-my-cape">Hey, That’s My Cape!</a> topic page!