Tale of Sand by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, & Ramon K. Perez
I came to the story expecting something akin to Jim Henson classics like Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, but for an adult audience. Well, was I in for a surprise.
I’m not even sure where to begin. For one, the story is actually a collaboration between Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl. It’s based off of a script they wrote years before Sesame Street and The Muppet Show made Jim Henson a household name. It seems they had difficulty getting funding to turn the script into a film and so it was put aside so that Jim and Jerry could concentrate on other projects.
Fast-forward about forty years to when an archivist unearthed three drafts of the script for Tale of Sand. Knowing they had a potential goldmine on their hands, Henson’s people decided to turn the script into a graphic novel. Enter Ramon Perez, the artist selected to helm the project.
So, it’s a bit misleading to call the book Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand (as shown in the full title on the cover and spine). But Jerry and Ramon are placed prominently on the cover, so I guess it’s alright.
Okay, now on to the story. But… that’s where I got stuck. It wasn’t until I was about four pages into the novel that I realized the story had begun. I thought I was just looking at some conceptual art or a montage of images. So I went back a few pages and actually paid attention to what was on each page and was still a bit clueless about what was going on. I kept going anyway and by the time the first bit of dialogue appeared, I kinda figured out what happened. Kinda. Like, really, just kinda.
You see, this tale is shiftless as piles of sand. There is nothing concrete, nothing that makes sense, except that you’ll never know what is going to happen next. In fact, you’ll never know why any of it is happening at all. The main character, Mac, is on a mad dash through the desert with reasons unknown to him and the reader. In this desert, anyone can be anything. One moment a blonde bombshell is lounging by the pool, the next she is a top earner in an Old West brothel. A mysterious villain appears and he stays mysterious throughout the rest of the story. His motives are never stated, and the only motive we have for Mac is that someone told him to run so he did.
But what I like about the story is that the stuff that does make sense really has an absurd logic to it. Mac pulls out a stop sign in the middle of the desert and a car pulls up and stops right in front of him. When he plays a record of sound effects, he is suddenly surrounded by exploding bombs and the cavalry comes rushing in.
The scene that really let me know what the story was about was when Mac meets a batty drunkard who says one thing and then always does the opposite. He is unpredictable and untrustworthy, playing both sides for kicks, and having a good time while doing it. I think that’s what this story is aiming for: just having fun with the unexpected and going wherever it takes you.
I can’t imagine this story ever making it onto film. I think Henson’s people made the right choice by turning it into a graphic novel and Perez did an excellent job bringing this wacky tale to life. In the hands of a lesser skilled artist, this tale would have floundered and could have been an unintelligible mess. Dialogue is very minimal–half a dozen pages or more can go by at a time before a single word is spoken–so the narrative heavily relies Perez’s vivid and fluid artwork to do the bulk of the work. Perez molds the zaniness into one rollicking ride that never stops for a breath and made me glad I held on. I still don’t know what half of it’s about and you know, I don’t need to. Because this story isn’t about understanding every nuance, it’s about the experience.
The only thing that could have made this book better would be the inclusion of the final script used to make the novel. There are shots of it here and there, usually as the background of certain scenes and framing the forward and afterward. You can see handwritten notes and corrections on the script (I don’t know if those are by Jerry or Jim or perhaps both), so it would have been nice to read the entire script and see what they were planning in their own words.