Among all the news generated by comics publishers this weekend, one announcement opened a door to the fantastical worlds produced by the mind of Jim Henson -- as well as the potential for new properties carrying his name.
Beginning with a new Fraggle Rock comic starting later this year, readers will see new stories from properties like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Mirrormask and The Storyteller thanks to a partnership between Archaia comics and The Jim Henson Company, now run by Henson's children.
"For us, it takes away a lot of restrictions both creative and budgetary on storytelling and allows us to tell these stories right," said Joe LeFavi, Director of Publishing and Development at The Jim Henson Company, who emphasized the stories will not be adaptations, but will instead tell new stories. "In features and on TV, you only have a set amount of time and a limited budget to explore that world. And if you think about worlds like that -- Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Mirrormask -- those are huge, vast worlds. So here, with a comic book, you can spend months there. If you wanted to see a $500 million Henson film, this is how you can do it. Do it through a graphic novel."
The choice of Archaia was a surprise to some comic fans because the Henson property Farscape is already being published by Boom! Studios. The Muppets, which were created by Henson, but have since been acquired by Disney, are also published by Boom.
Fans also remember that Archaia went through some growing pains last year and had to restructure as its readership and development grew beyond its previous capabilities. But as part of the restructuring process, Archaia hired Stephen Christy as its new director of development, hoping to expand its presence in Hollywood -- and that paved the way for the Henson partnership.
Christy, who had previously developed intellectual properties for Devil's Due, had met LeFavi before and decided to introduce him to the titles published by Archaia.
"I showed Joe a bunch of the Archaia books we publish, such as Mouse Guard and The Killer and stuff like that," Christy told Newsarama. "And he really liked them, and obviously, being a comic fan, he was already familiar with them. And the discussions just kind of went from there. At the end of the day, I think we all felt the quality of the Archaia brand made us a really good publishing partner for the kind of quality comic books Henson wants to produced."
"When Henson decided to take a more aggressive stance on publishing and use it as a platform to release new stories to the world," LeFavi added, "we wanted to find a partner that had that artistic integrity that will produce the level of quality that Henson fans expect from us. When we were going through Archaia's library, we saw their unwavering commitment to both story and the illustrations. They just had a very strong understanding of what it meant to be a visual storyteller. They just seemed like a really great partner for us."
The first comic being released this year will be Fraggle Rock, with a roll-out of comics based on other properties planned to ramp up through next year. The choice of "Fraggle" as the first comic accompanies what LeFavi calls a "new rejuvenation" of the property.
"There's a Fraggle Rock picture coming out in the near future, and there's going to be a whole new line of consumer products coming out -- everything from shoes and apparel to storybooks. Fraggle Rock is becoming a very big part of who Henson is and the stories we're going to put out there," said LeFavi, who will serve as story editor on all the Henson-Archaia comics. "So this is going to play a very big role in re-introducing Fraggle Rock to that new generation."
However, LeFavi emphasized that the Henson Company is not making comic books just so that they can be developed into other media.
"When we decided to go into publishing, it wasn't to use it as some back door to launch a film or TV show as a lot of people are using comics nowadays," he said. "For us, it's really just about opening up another creative outlet to tell the stories we've always wanted to tell."
Christy said more details on the roll-out of Henson properties will be announced at San Diego Comic-Con in July, when the two companies will hold a joint panel.
"We're definitely deep into discussions about all the different premises for the properties we're going to do," Christy said. "We're really going to be exploring those worlds in a new and fun way that we're hoping the fans of the originals will love, but also in a way that introduces new fans to the properties."