Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand Is Mind-Bending Surrealist Perfection

Geek Culture

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Tale of Sand preview pages provided by Archaia

Back in September I mentioned an upcoming graphic novel, Tale of Sand, based on an unproduced screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl. It’s surreal and bizarre, gorgeously illustrated by Ramon Perez. Archaia had released the first 20 pages as a preview on their website (go read it if you haven’t already). The book itself is now available in comic book stores in very limited supply, with a wider release on January 17.

I’ve had the chance to read a PDF review copy, and it’s an astonishing book, a side of Henson that I wasn’t really familiar with before. He did some interesting experimental films in his day (not all of them appropriate for kids) and this has that sort of feel to it. The book opens with a heroic-looking man, surrounded by people celebrating and throwing a big party … apparently for him, although he doesn’t know why. And then he’s taken to the edge of town and told that he gets a 10-minute head start so he’d better start running.

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Tale of Sand preview pages provided by Archaia

Before long, he’s being pursued by a mysterious assailant, and running into all sorts of weird situations in the middle of the desert: an outhouse that seems to contain an entire nightclub, TARDIS-style; a big game hunter in safari gear, hunting lions from his perch on a convertible; football players in the middle of a game. The absurdity of the situations he encounters is heightened by the fact that he still doesn’t know what he’s doing or why any of this is happening; also, Perez’s artwork really captures Henson’s sense of comic timing, which is impeccable.

One neat feature is the way that the script itself is incorporated into the artwork, sometimes as background images and sometimes even in some of the dialogue bubbles. The story, I should mention, is not really for kids — little ones, anyway. There’s some swearing, a lot of violence, and some nudity toward the end of the book. Plus it’s just a bit on the creepy side. It is funny, though, in a very dark sort of way. (Archaia has the book rated as T+, or thirteen and up.)

I don’t want to give you much more than that, because the discovery is a wonderful part of reading the book for the first time. However, it’s also one that I will want to read again, because there’s so much packed into the details of the artwork, and little touches that carry throughout the whole book.

Oh, there’s also an essay at the beginning of the book about Henson and Juhl, about their work together and the sorts of themes that Henson was exploring in this screenplay and some other short experimental films, like Time Piece.

All in all, it’s a wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated graphic novel and there’s so much going on in it. For older comics readers and adults, I highly recommend checking at your local comic book store, or putting in a pre-order!

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