Tale Of Sand Review

By | Monday, February 20, 2012 1 comment
Jim Henson is, of course, most well known for his creation of the Muppets. Whether you know them through Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock or any of the other TV shows and movies, his work with creating fantasy worlds of whimsy is fondly remembered.

Less well-known are his non-Muppet works. From the obscure short film Time Piece to the more well-known, but not-as-well-associated-with-the-Henson-name pieces like Dark Crystal. The Muppets' popularity does a fair job of subsuming the Henson name, as it indeed subsumed much of Jim Henson's life. I don't mean that in a negative way. He seemed to truly enjoy working on Muppet projects. But it meant that he wasn't able to focus his attentions as much on other types of work.

Enter Tale of Sand. It was a screenplay he and Jerry Juhl first wrote in the late 1960s prior to Sesame Street. It largely sat unused for decades. Although the pair did try a couple of re-writes, no one was willing to help produce it. The scripts came to light again recently, and Archaia enlisted Ramón Pérez to illustrate it as a graphic novel.

The story starts in a small south western town. Everyone is partying and having a great time. A stranger, Mac, gets dragged into the celebrations unknowingly and is taken to the sheriff, who hands him a few supplies and says he has a ten minute head start. Confused, Mac is pushed to the edge of town and finds himself running for his life from an assassin. Mac races through the desert on a somewhat surreal adventure encountering lions, sharks, tanks, Arabs, linebackers, and used car salesmen among others. All the while being pursued by the assassin.

I won't spoil how it ends, since that's a key component to the whole story, but let's just say that it's unconventional.

Pérez uses a variety of styles throughout the book. Much of it is an illustration style that is similar to, but less cartoony than, his online comics like kukuburi and butternut squash. Other portions are done in more of a wash technique, sometimes within the same panel. Also, scattered throughout the book and integrated into the art are typewritten pages from the original script. (Or, at least, what appear to be the original script.) Even more interestingly, Pérez changes up his storytelling throughout the piece. While he follows a straight grid panel structure, it gets more compressed and (deliberately) harder to follow around sequences that are more chaotic, like the opening party scene or the bar brawl later. I don't know how Henson and Juhl envisioned any of this playing out on camera, or what sort of directions might have been included in the screenplay, but I'm certain that these page and panel layouts would not have been delineated. So kudos to Pérez for executing so well on a script that was intended for an entirely different format.

It's a very good story, but one that I think must be a hard sell. It has a very different flavor than what Henson is known for, so it would be more for die-hard Henson fans and not necessarily Muppet fans. It's not even really similar to The Storyteller or Labyrinth. Stylistically, it's probably most similar to Time Piece if you're at all familiar with that. It's also not something that could be easily categorized and explained with a quick elevator speech. That synopsis I gave above is woefully inadequate to explain what happens; it's like summarizing the entire body of Salvador Dali's work by saying "melting clocks."

Honestly, I don't have a good way to tell you it's a story worth getting. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you're maybe at least kind of familiar with my tastes and style. I thought Tale of Sand was cool. Take that for whatever you think a recommendation from me is worth.
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Matt K said...

I put this on my want list because it sounded cool. Very good to know that it got your endorsement!