After the first scene in Tale of Sand, it is 26 pages before another word of dialogue is uttered. The story unfolds mostly as a series of surreal action sequences, as the main character, Mac, flees through the desert on a journey that is part vision quest, part manhunt.
Although it was adapted perfectly for the comic book format by artist Ramón K. Pérez, Tale of Sand was intended to be a movie. The original script by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl had been kicked around since 1967, never finding a production company to take on the project. It emerged in graphic novel form in 2011, spearheaded by Archaia Entertainment and the Jim Henson Company.
Pérez has woven the tale’s origin as a screenplay into the visualization of the comic, adding a meta layer. Interwoven with the panels, we see layered scraps of Henson’s original script, including his hand-scribed corrections and notes. Even the lettering and font design by Deron Bennett was based off Henson’s handwriting. These details alter the story, almost turning Henson himself into a character: he becomes realized as the omniscient narrator. This story-within-a-story turns Mac’s quest into an exploration of creation, about how our personalities and lives are our own greatest works of fiction.
Ramón Pérez has an established career as an artist, with illustrative work in childrens’ books, role-playing games, character design, and other publications as well as comics. He also frequently updates his webcomics, Kukuburi and Butternutsquash, which exhibit a brighter and more whimsical style than Tale of Sand. Currently, Pérez produces the art for Marvel’s John Carter: The Gods of Mars miniseries, with Jordie Bellaire (also from Tale of Sand) on colors.
Tale of Sand makes several stylistic jumps with the shifting emotional tones, and trippy physics-defying settings. Pérez handles these changes in style deftly, switching from a stream-of-consciousness barrage of imagery, to a clean comic style, to a washy, painterly approach.
The art team as a whole enhances this shifting aesthetic. The team of colorists — Ian Herring with Ramón Pérez, Jordie Bellaire and Kalman Andrasofszky — used an eye-catching yet unified palette to give the book flare. The use of color also establishes the passing of time, with whites and blues for the morning, yellow and orange for blazing midday heat and pinks and purples at dusk. The colors are flat, lacking gradients or digital effects. Large swathes of white page balance out the solid, intense hues, and each scene is mostly restricted to only a handful of colors. The overall effect is clean and stylish, and suits the imaginative tone of the book.
Ramón Pérez’s figures vary in realism, with Mac drawn in a weighty and mostly accurate style. Villainous characters, such as the sheik and betraying old man, are drawn in a more cartoony style, with an immense double-chin and nose, respectively. This approach adds to the believability of Mac, while hamming up the absurdity of his pursuers. They are tied together with a liquid line quality that varies in thickness along the contours of objects, infusing loose motion in each panel. This figurative approach is seems influenced by classic artists in the vein of Will Eisner, with a modern stylistic update.
The panel layout of Tale of Sand is heavy on aspect-to-aspect transitions, showing multiple views of the same moment, to clarify the action in such a dialogue-sparse story. Pérez’s page layout also does not employ the traditional grid, with empty gutters in between each panel. Instead, most pages are a large splash image establishing setting, with smaller insert panels showing the action. Pages with more panels have the rectangular boxes butting right up to each other, with no gutters in-between, implying a quicker passage of time between depicted moments.
Ramón Pérez’s storytelling layout and approach to figures excellently captures the vibe of a surreal journey of self-discovery, with the coloring team adding an expressive flair that makes Tale of Sand’s art as excellent as Henson’s imaginative script deserved.
Michelle was born in the ’80s in a reasonably sized Midwestern town, which she never left. She teaches art and creative technology to kids, who keep her in the know about Top 40 music and the most annoyingly silly YouTube videos.
A big chunk of her free time is put towards drawing — in her fantasy world, she will be awesome enough to draw comics as sweet as those she reviews. You can see her artwork on Deviant Art or, if you are a Tumblr fan at michellesix.tumblr.com.
Michelle also likes video games, pets, pizza, music and ranting.