Original screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Adaptation and art by Ramon K. Perez
Additional inks by Terry Pallot, Andy Belanger, Nick Craine, Walden Wong, and Cameron Stewart
144 pages, color
Published by Archaia
Archaia’s been publishing some comics based off of some of the smaller Jim Henson properties in recent years; books like The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock come to mind. But perhaps the most interesting one to date isn’t a prequel or sequel to a Henson creation, but rather an adaptation of one that was never made. Henson and Jerry Juhl had written a screenplay titled Tale of Sand early in their careers which was never made, one that artist Ramon K. Perez has adapted into a graphic novel. And the end result? It’ll probably make you wish someone had filmed this script.
It’s hard to describe the story of Tale of Sand beyond the absolute basics. A man comes to a small town, his presence is suddenly celebrated, and then he’s given a map and a bag and told he’s got a ten minute head start. Also, not to trust the map. From there, his life transforms into a desperate chase across the desert, both from a group of people trying to hunt him down as well as a mysterious man with an eye patch who keeps turning up when least expected.
So much of Henson and Juhl’s Tale of Sand switches between thrilling and surreal; it initially feels like a normal chase story, but quickly changes tactics when a limo that pulls up has a lion step out and attack. It’s at that point where you begin to realize that anything and everything can happen in Tale of Sand, and the story transforms into a dizzying spiral of unpredictability. An outhouse that contains a massive fine dining hall. A swimming pool with a man-eating shark. A gramophone playing sound-effects records that change reality. And throughout it all, the man with the eye patch forever dogging our hero’s heels.
In lesser hands I think Tale of Sand could have been a disaster. Why should you care about this nameless man’s plight as he struggles to reach Eagle Mountain and its purported safety? Why aren’t we cheering on the man with the eye patch? I think it helps in part that Henson and Juhl kept the story moving at such a brisk pace that you don’t get a chance to truly stop and think. Instead it’s a scramble to make it forward, to survive the latest moment of oddity. With small running through-lines like the eye patch man, or the hero’s inability to ever get his cigarette lit, there’s an overall narrative just strong enough that this doesn’t feel like a random set of unconnected events.
That said, the heavy lifting in Tale of Sand is by Perez, whose art is a revelation to me. He’s had some comic credits to his name before this, but I can’t help but feel like this is going to make his comic career skyrocket. His art is beautiful, able to handle both the most normal and the craziest parts of the script with equal aplomb. He’s good at tight focused panels, zooming in tightly on specific moments and ideas to bring the story to life, and doing so with life and vibrancy in his characters. His montage scenes are just as great; a sequence of panels (or sometimes with no panel borders at all) which guide the reader through the sequence to give a number of images and ideas that form a greater whole. His sense of motion—critical for a book about a chase—is exquisite. From the hero’s initial run across the desert floor, to getting attacked by and punching a shark, I feel like every moment has come to life just as strongly as it would have, if Tale of Sand had been made into a movie.
Henson and Juhl came up with a great script for Tale of Sand, but it’s Perez’s art which makes this graphic novel sing. Beautifully drawn and dreamlike, it makes its story structure work in a way that draws the reader in; in a lesser hand I think it would have frustrated rather than captured its audience. If you haven’t already, do check this book out. And when you’re done, I suspect you’ll want to read it again. From its everything-seems-normal to its dizzying conclusion, it’s hard to put Tale of Sand down.