Review: Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand

Hi there everyone, and thanks for checking out my first column here on Mighty Ink! Since most of you probably have no idea who I am, I figured I’d start this first post by introducing myself. My name’s Ray Wegner. I’m 32, married to the most incredible wife in the world, and I have 2 amazing kids and another one on the way! I’ve lived in the south suburbs of Chicago my entire life, and I’ve been a fan of comic books as long as I can remember. I’m also an artist and an aspiring comic creator, and I’m currently in the early stages of writing and drawing a self-published graphic novel.

About a year and a half ago, I gave up reading mainstream monthly comics. I just got tired of reading the same story over & over again and having to buy five different books a month just to know what was happening with one character. I decided to broaden my horizons and put my focus more on creator-owned and independent comics. Doing this has opened my eyes to so many great creators and books that I was missing before. So I’ve spent the majority of the last year or so catching up on some amazing series while constantly looking for new books and creators to support.

What I’m hoping to do here is shed some light on some books you might otherwise overlook at your local comic shop or book store. There is an endless amount of comics out there by amazing creators that some fans of “THE BIG 2” may not even be aware of, so hopefully I can help raise awareness of some of these incredible works.

Well I think that’s enough about me. Let’s get to the first book!

Story- Jim Henson & Jerry Juhl
Art- Ramon K Perez
Colors- Ian Herring with Ramon K Perez
Lettering- Deron Bennett
Cover Price- $29.95
Notes- 152 pages, oversized hardcover format

Like most people my age, I grew up enjoying the works of the great Jim Henson. Between THE MUPPETS, SESAME STREET and FRAGGLE ROCK, chances are there was some type of Henson influenced programming on TV on a daily basis. I fell in love with THE DARK CRYSTAL the first time I saw it, and LABYRINTH remains one of my all-time favorite films to this day.

I was really excited to see that Archaia Entertainment was starting to publish comics and graphic novels in cooperation with The Henson Company based on these properties. They’ve already published books based on FRAGGLE ROCK, an anthology based on THE STORYTELLER television series and also a book that serves as a prequel to THE DARK CRYSTAL.

TALE OF SAND is something completely different. Before his puppetry works really took off, Henson was much more experimental with his filmmaking, showcased in the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film TIME PIECE and the 1969 NBC feature THE CUBE (note: both of these films are available on iTunes !). Between 1967 and 1974, Henson and long time collaborator Jerry Juhl worked on several drafts of a script that would really push the limits of then-modern filmmaking. Unfortunately, the screenplay was never made into a film, but last year, with the help of The Henson Company Archives Director, Karen Falk, as well as Jim’s daughter Lisa, Archaia Editor-in-Chief Stephen Christy unearthed the lost script with the intention of producing as a graphic novel. The result is nothing short of astonishing.

First things first, Archaia really knows how to package their product. TALE OF SAND is a gorgeous, oversized hardcover book. The cover is an eye-popping yellow, which really makes it stand out on a shelf, and also has an elastic band built in which makes it very reminiscent of a Moleskine notebook.

Although the outside of the book is spectacular, the real magic happens when you open it. The first thing you see is an unbelievable image combining a photo of a young, slick-haired Henson behind a movie camera, seemingly directing the illustrated characters of the story across the page from him. After an extremely interesting and informative foreword by the aforementioned Karen Falk, the long lost tale finally begins.

The story follows a character named Mac (although his name is never actually mentioned in the book) as he is unwittingly sent on a mission by a group of townsfolk who couldn’t be happier to send him on this improbable journey. Mac is subsequently chased across the southwestern desert by a character named Patch (also not mentioned in the actual book), and encounters some of the most incredible obstacles you can imagine along the way. I’m not going to spoil the story for you, because some of the things he runs into are tough to put into words, and truly need to be seen to be believed. There is very little dialog throughout the book, but the conversations that take place are unique in that the lettering on the book is done in a custom created font based on Henson’s own handwriting, taken from storyboards of some of the earliest episodes of SESAME STREET.

As amazing as all those things are, the real story here is the artwork of Ramon Perez, along with the color art of Ian Herring. Some of the images that Perez creates in this book are truly spectacular, and there are colors on these pages that I didn’t even know existed. The most impressive thing to me is that Perez brought this story to life directly from the various drafts of Henson & Juhl’s script. He was given the option of having a writer adapt the screenplay into a comic script, but chose to work directly from the source material. The result of this is an absolute marvel in storytelling, as Perez chronicles Mac’s race across the desert in a ridiculous range of styles and a flow that is truly unique. Many of the panels even have reproductions of the actual typed script showing in the background, adding yet another layer to the brilliant visuals of this book.

Once Mac’s story comes to a close (or doesn’t), we’re treated to a touching afterword from Lisa Henson, short bios of the creative geniuses involved and even a few early sketches of some of the main characters by Perez. And just like that, it’s over.

I can’t honestly imagine what this story would have looked like if it had been made into a film in the 1970’s as originally intended, but I have a feeling that Ramon’s interpretation would be pretty close. Archaia will be publishing a script book later this year, so it will be really interesting to see the actual material he had to work from.

I purposely stopped reading the book about five times along the way, because I really didn’t want it to end. It truly is an incredible piece of art, and with all of the other factors involved, it’s a small piece of history. I honestly don’t expect everyone to have the same reaction to TALE OF SAND that I did, and it certainly may not be for everyone, but if you like comics that push the envelope with experimental storytelling, this is a must read. And if you’re a fan of the incredible genius that was Jim Henson, this is an absolute must have. Let’s hope for our sake that there’s more incredible material in that Henson vault, and that Archaia can continue this trend and bring us more genius works like TALE OF SAND.

Thanks for reading!

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