Reflecting upon the varied yet consistent work of Jim Henson, culminating in his Tale of Sand, I’ve come to realize I’ve never been disappointed in any of his productions. That’s really astounding, given the breadth of his creativity and talent for dreamy and adventurous escapism.
Like any of his works, we are fortunate to have Tale of Sand. This newly unearthed manuscript developed with collaborator Jerry Juhl could have been easily lost in the production company archives and remained undiscovered or simply disregarded. Thankfully it wasn’t, as it is quintessential Henson, and perfectly adapted for a graphic novel. I’ll say no more than it tells the story of Mac, an everyman who inexplicably finds himself in the American southwest, unusually equipped and on-the-run through a series of surreality and improbable adventure. Henson provides little detail as to the motive of his chase or the background of supporting characters, but these details are ultimately unimportant. Like many great tales, this one is about Mac and his journey rather than the destination or circumstances. As such with Henson’s unique vision, his characters are designed to personally identify with the reader, and particularly so in Tale of Sand. Whether it be strange, frightening, or even humorous, there is always another door to walk through, some new wonder to behold.
That this screenplay, rejected by numerous film studios, has been adapted for a graphic novel can only be fortuitous. It is a most natural medium for the story, told through the lens of Ramón Pérez whose artwork provides a stunning southwestern ambience; his inspired, bold sketches are aglow with blistering, white-hot desert-scapes contrasted against an ever present golden-hued horizon, somewhere in time of the early twentieth century. Pérez excels in his paneling, for as frantic as Mac’s journey is, so is the reader’s journey across the page. The layout often reverts between extended linear, entwining and blending of panels, wherein the reader can become deliberately lost in the progression of the page. Calm desert scenes with nothing more than observant iguanas give way to raucous chase, heavy-duty explosions and action sequences involving Ray Nitschke and Bedouin sultans of all things, requiring the reader to give careful pause before moving on. Perfect sequencing to realize Henson’s imaginative and joyous sense of the bizarre. The only issue I see is whether Perez’s oversized visualization will be effectively adapted for digital readers within a standard screen to fully accommodate the entirety of the page.
A brief imaginary excursion, Tale of Sand is perfect for those just becoming acquainted with Jim Henson’s passion for storytelling. At the same time, the tale is a fitting, bittersweet farewell, his genius of creativity on full display.