With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Based on the screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Adapted and drawn by Ramón Pérez
Published by Archaia Entertainment
Those like me who were fortunate to grow up with The Muppets and Sesame Street remember Jim Henson as a brilliant puppeteer, writer, and head of one of the biggest enterprises in family entertainment until it was finally gobbled up by Disney, but further investigation in this great artist’s short but remarkable life reveals that his talents and interests spread even farther than children’s entertainment. While he mostly worked in the medium of television, Henson’s ultimate goal was to be a filmmaker. His dream was realized late in his life when he directed three feature films, all of which showcased his puppetry skills. It wasn’t until recently where an unfilmed script was discovered for a live-action film entitled Tale of Sand, written by Henson and his longtime collaborator and friend Jerry Juhl during the late sixties. In 2011, with the blessing of Jim’s daughter Lisa, Archaia Entertainment adapted the screenplay as a hardcover graphic novel featuring the artwork of Ramón Pérez. This book spotlights a side of Henson’s talent that was rarely shown to the world while at the same time maintaining the sense of anarchy and whimsy that marked the very best of his work.
The surreal and inventive script of Tale of Sand follows a lone drifer named Mac as he is chosen by the local officials of a small desert town to embark on a strange journey across the desert to an unknown destination. His journey is marked by several dangerous obstacles which get more comically bizarre the farther he goes. Mac encounters such unlikely characters and beings such as a Civil-War-era cavalry, a band of Arabian soldiers, a lion hiding in a limousine, the Green Bay Packers, and a “sand shark,” all of whom try to impede his progress and cause him great bodily harm. Mac is followed during his journey by a mysterious well-dressed man with an eyepatch, who is revealed early on to be the man who is making all these strange things happen to him. Despite the man’s best efforts, Mac continues to push through the desert, though he grows more and more nervous with every step, unsure of what he’s about to encounter.
There is very little dialogue in Tale of Sand, which much have posed quite a challenge for Pérez in suitably adapting Henson’s descriptions of each scene. Luckily, he proves more than capable of meeting this challenge. His artwork is both lovely to look at and incredibly easy to follow from one panel to another, even as Mac’s predicament gets increasingly more surreal and unbelievable. His desert landscapes are large and immersive, and his colors are light and sparse, perfectly capturing the feel of being alone in such a setting. Occasionally, some of the actual text from Henson’s original script appears in the background, giving just enough information to the reader so that he or she doesn’t get too confused. During the busier and more chaotic portions of the story, Pérez fills the page with a great deal of visual information, but it never completely overwhelms the reader. His placement of Mac and other important figures within these spaces draw the reader’s eye exactly where it needs to go, and the sheer amount of visual information on these pages invites rereading in order to catch something that the reader may have missed at first glance.
One of the biggest joys that comes from reading Tale of Sand can be found in the sheer opaqueness of the story. Henson never really makes it clear what this whole weird story is supposed to mean, which of course leaves it up to the reader to figure out how he or she is supposed to read it. It can be enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level similar to an animated cartoon, but it can also be seen as a statement by the young Henson on his own status as an artist, which is posited by Lisa Henson in the afterward she wrote for this release. Whether one can find deep meaning in Tale of Sand or not, there’s no denying that it contains many of the elements that can be found in his best-known work with the Muppets, such as the befuddled hero reacting to all the crazy goings-on around him, much of which includes huge explosions and eccentric characters. Replace Mac with a talking frog, and you see where I’m going here.
Archaia’s presentation of Tale of Sand is simply one of the best-looking hardcover graphic novels I have ever seen. Not only is the interior content and supplementary material of the highest quality, but the binding, cover art and overall presentation is gorgeous in every way. Given the top-notch treatment Archaia gave to this edition, it’s hard to believe that the cover price is only $29.95 (though it can be found for around $20 on Amazon for a new copy). Tale of Sand is a must-read for all Henson fans as well as for anyone interested in how the medium of comics can tell stories in a purely visual fashion. It’s one of the best and most visually pleasing graphic novels I have ever laid eyes on and gets 5 out of 5 Hidden Nightclubs.