Imagine you’re dreaming, dreaming vividly. Think of cultures clashing, and animals and townsfolk cheering. Jazz music is lively on a hot desert day, and you realize you're at a party. Surprisingly, this party is celebrating you. It’s a going away party, and you're leaving. Oh, you didn’t know that? Here are some supplies. It is time to go. An adventure is waiting.
Archaia’s brand new book, “Tale of Sand,” begins in this very fashion by throwing the reader and the story's protagonist into a whirlwind of confusion. We follow our unnamed and bewildered hero on the most surreal of adventures that only the mind of Jim Henson could create. According the book cover, Henson and his writing partner, Jerry Juhl, developed three drafts of a feature length film called “Tale of Sand” between 1967 and 1974. "Tale of Sand" is the only feature-length screenplay that Henson was never able to produce in his lifetime. Henson and Juhl’s vision has finally come to light as realized in comic book form by Ramon K. Perez.
This book is special, and not just because it was a script left unpublished by one of the most imaginative storytellers of all-time. It’s because save for minor story advancing portions that remind you that this setting is very alienating and dream-like, this comic is mostly wordless. In most comics, as you may be aware, words and the art work together in to move the story along. The wordless solitude in “Tale of Sand” emphasizes Perez’s art, which lets beautiful water-colored backgrounds do the talking. Imagining the storyline is left up to the readers during those lonely long scenes. This works really well, because one of main themes of the book is a dream-like confusion. The protagonist knows what he’s supposed to be doing, but he doesn’t know why and doesn’t really think to ask questions.
The story takes place in a setting similar to a desert in the American Southwest. The previously mentioned solitude of walking through the desert alone is another strong theme throughout the book. This isolation from both people and reason drives home how mysterious and strange the desert can be. It’s a perfect setting for the story.
Adding to the surreal qualities of the book, the art style changes many times. One page may be wispy multi-colored water paint scene-setter and the next may be an intricately detailed portrait of our exasperated protagonist in pencils and inks. Perez employs another technique that reminds the reader of the history of this tale and its previously unpublishedness, by incorporating parts of the script into the backgrounds and as filler between panels. These panel changes and script revealing characteristics of “Tale of Sand” easily lend themselves to the dreamy qualities of the book.
Readers may relate the abstract qualities and seemingly random events to another dream-like book by Daniel Clowes called “Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron.” Although “Tale of Sand” is far less nightmarish and creepy, the fashion in which events unfold are very similar.
“Tale of Sand” is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. It shows that gorgeous artwork can be as powerful as words, and some things are better without dialogue.
I believe that telling this story in the graphic novel format is the best thing that could have happened to it. Perez slams this book out of the park. I can’t imagine Henson and Juhl’s would be anything but proud.