There are two titles this week, “The Storyteller” and “Tale of Sand.” Next week will see a “Dark Crystal” prequel.
The crown jewel and most hyped is “Tale of Sand,” a graphic novel based on an unproduced screenplay by Henson and longtime collaborator Jerry Juhl. As Archaia puts it, the book “follows scruffy everyman Mac, who wakes up in an unfamiliar town, and is chased across the desert of the American Southwest by all manners of man and beast of unimaginable proportions.”
And that really nails this stream-of-consciousness effort. The first draft was written in the 1960s, pre-Muppets (mostly) and before “Sesame Street” forged a new direction for Henson and company. It follows in the footsteps of some of his experimental work, including the Oscar-nominated short “Time Piece.” And, believe me, there’s no more plot to it than what’s above.
And that’s OK, because “Tale of Sand” isn’t meant to be viewed as conventional storytelling. Like a lot of modern art, it just … is. And art snobs can sit around arguing about what it means — the futility of the modern rat race, oppression by “the man,” whatever high-minded thoughts you want to ascribe to it. Look up “abstract” in the dictionary, and there’s a panel from “Tale of Sand.”
Or, you can just look at it and enjoy the audacity and absurdity of it. I mean, as the guy’s running around the desert on a race he didn’t know he was entering, he runs into komodo dragons, girls in poodle skirts, hula dancers, hippopotami, golfing senior citizens, lions in limousines, Arab tribes and football players.
Really? Yes, and it’s all brought to life by the amazing art of Ramon K. Perez. He’s got the attention to detail of another Perez, George, but his style is his own. His vistas are stunning, and his characters are distinct and special. His use of color, style and shading shifts with the story. This could easily have appeared as just a glorified storyboard for the film that never was, but Perez really took the assignment to heart and turned in some beautiful work.
“Tale of Sand” certainly isn’t for everyone. If it didn’t have Henson’s name on it, the concept probably would have kept me from giving it much more than a glance. But I’m glad I did get to see it. It’s a side of Henson we didn’t get to see very often, and the comics world is a richer place for it.
But as cool as “Tale of Sand” is, I must admit the more conventional comic reader in my enjoyed “The Storyteller” and “The Dark Crystal” a bit more.
Like any anthology “The Storyteller” is a bit hit or miss, mostly on the hit side. It’s a collection of stories from around the world by various artists, all framed by Henson’s Storyteller and his dog.
Highlights for me included a new take on “Puss in Boots” by Marjorie Liu and Jennifer L. Meyer. It’s lovely to look at and not what I was expecting. It’s one of the new ones that feels most like the original TV series to me. Another is Metro Detroiter Katie Cook’s “The Crane Wife,” in which she does some beautiful watercolor work and very simply tells her story.
The best, no surprise, is based on a screenplay unfilmed before the end of the TV series, by Anthony Minghella, who would later go on to win an Oscar for “The English Patient.” It’s called “The Witch Baby” and gave me goosebumps. As I was reading it, I could see the live action version in my head.
There are a couple that stray too far in tone or cohesion, but don’t let that keep you from getting this. And I hope it’s just the first of many volumes to come.
If you loved “The Dark Crystal” movie, you won’t want to miss “Creation Myths,” which does just what the title says. It’s the story of the world of Thra, from its creation to the birth of Aughra to the coming of the Light Bringers (the Urskek) before the Crystal cracked.
Aughra is older than I ever imagined, and she has a son, Raunip, who sees things differently than she does, literally and figuratively.
But it’s not just their story. In between, there’s a nice interlude about an adventurous gelfling named Gyr, who’s searching for an elusive song in the world.
It’s all wrapped up in some gorgeous painted artwork based on new designs by fantasy art legend Brian Froud, who also plotted the story. The rest of the team is Brian Holguin, Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John. Froud’s creature work doesn’t disappoint. It makes me long for the long-in-development “Dark Crystal” sequel even more.