Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand GN Review

A lost screenplay written by the magnificent Jim Henson and his writing partner Jerry Juhl comes to life through the artwork of Ramón Péreze.

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand

In what might be one of the most interesting books that will be released this year, Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand evokes the true genius that was Henson.  It’s not so much of a narrative story, but a bizarre counter-culture tale mixing fear, horror, comedy, sexuality, imagery that will undoubtedly stand as one of the most beautiful comics readers have seen in some time.

The story is relatively simple in basis.  A man in the middle of a celebration in a town bordering a vast desert is plucked aside and given a sack full of tools, a map, and a lone cigarette.  He’s told to make it across the desert and use the map to get to safety.  He’s told two more important details…  Don’t trust the map and he’ll have a ten minute head start.  He’s escorted to the edge of town and sent out with the cheers of the townsfolk behind him.

His journey isn’t an easy one.  After ten minutes, he notices he’s being followed by a man with an eye patch and a gun.  He comes across bear traps, a busy highway, a lion, a nightclub that on the outside looks like a tiny outhouse, two older, proper ladies playing a game of golf in what they call “the biggest sand trap they’ve ever seen”, a rampaging group of Arabian soldiers, an American cavalry, the Green Bay Packers, a talkative (and traitorous) grizzled prospector, a saloon out of the old West, a promiscuous beauty, and a car lot that leads to a chase straight out of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  He faces his demons and his desires, but all the while is never quite able to smoke that lone cigarette he was given.  That is until he gets to the destination that isn’t quite as safe and happy as he may have hoped.

There are so many things that I took away from reading this beautifully illustrated book.  The first is that classic Henson comedy.  His characters are dry but witty.  Every single person seen in this book has their own acute personality and flair.  Our hero, who only speaks a few words, seems to almost be more of a passenger or witness on this crazy, near psychedelic journey.  At times, he’s incredibly lucky.  Other times, he’s just good at getting out of danger.  Most of all, he’s just as confused and curious as the rest of us.  Every single building or item he comes across is a chance for a new, even stranger than the last building or item, study of the world he was literally thrust into.

This is exactly what Jim Henson always wanted to be as a storyteller.  If you’ve ever seen the shorts he made prior to doing his Muppet work, you see a man who really challenges the mainstream.  He’s not exactly doing anything that would necessarily lead anyone to believe that he’s a drug addict, though his characters are often detached from regular society, he just bucks the traditional way of telling a story.  In many ways, he did do this with the Muppets.  Many of their skits on The Muppet Show, and the characters that filled the show, were bizarre and off kilter than what normal children’s entertainment was.  He had such a massive ability to entertain anyone and everyone.  The same goes for Tale of Sand.

Forget about a linear narrative.  There isn’t one.  It’s just a world full of strange sights and even stranger people.  It’s not meant to start at point A and lead all the way to point Z.  There is a start and some sort of finish, but that isn’t what this story is about.  It’s about the zig zag of the middle.  It’s the journey that is more important.

It’s this journey that really brings out the absolutely gorgeous Ramón Pérez art.  There are pages upon pages of breathtaking imagery.  Color palettes are swapped and traded in and out and, with each one, every few pages brings about something brand new to gaze upon and enjoy.  I look forward to going through the book a second time to just look at the art and see all the little things that I didn’t see before.

That’s one of the very best things about this book…  You can read it for Henson and Juhl’s words, or you can simply look at Pérez’s art.  Either way, you’re going to get something truly spectacular.

Growing up listening to, and watching, The Monkees, and later in life discovering the twisted folk poetry of Bob Dylan, I immediately found so much to identify with in this book.  The Monkees starred in a strange little film called Head that has a very similar style of storytelling as Tale of Sand.  Each different scene in Head was a strange new thing.  Characters floated in and left an impact on the story through their uniqueness and strangeness.  One moment looks like Lawrence of Arabia and the next, a tank is rolling through the desert to blow up a malfunctioning Coca-Cola machine.  This is the sort of imagery in Tale of Sand that could happen.  Our hero is walking along the desert and suddenly a crazy Arab and a dumb football player is storming up behind him to kill him, leading him to an uncomfortable encounter with a woman who was willing to trade his safety for money, and possibly more.

If you listen to enough of Bob Dylan’s late 60s music, you’d know his way of tangling words and creating characters out of that tangled mess.  The entire time I read this book, all I could hear is Dylan crooning “Stick Inside Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”.  So many characters were doing so many strange and different things that wasn’t so much weird as it just wasn’t normal.  It was certainly these things that made me feel all that more comfortable and at ease inside the pages of Tale of Sand.

Without a doubt, you will understand why, beyond entertaining people for years with his Muppets, Jim Henson was considered a true artist in entertainment.  This is the type of book that perfectly bridges his creative talents of his counter-culture early days and his more mainstream comedic sensibilities of the later years.  Couple that with this breathtaking art from Ramón Pérez, and Tale of Sand will certainly be a classic in comic books.

A COMIC BOOK BLOG RATING

Pros Cons
A book that has everything from comedy to intensity to wonder from one of the true geniuses of entertainment with art that will prove in every way that this medium should be taken very seriously. Some may have problems with the lack of true narrative, but not me. This is one spectacular book.
Rating
100%

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1 Comment

  1. Phillip Carson says:

    I may have to hunt this down. I just recently saw Time Piece and The Cube, so I’m really into Jim Henson’s more “out there” stuff. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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I'm a lifelong geek. I don't hide it. I don't deny it. My true geek love is comics. I love reading them and discussing them. I am definitely much more a Marvel guy than DC, especially when it comes to my favorite, The Avengers. Questions? Comments? Email me at geoff@acomicbookblog.com