As I’ve mentioned before, Archaia Entertainment continues to publish some of the most beautiful work in indie comics today. Produced under the direct supervision of The Jim Henson company, Tale of Sand illustrates some of Henson’s most surreal moments of imagination. It’s a gorgeous book, combining a lost screenplay (written by Henson and his long-time writing partner Jerry Juhl between 1967 and 1974) with the art of Ramón K. Pérez. The complex visuals and recursive chronology add layer after layer to the tale.
Pérez is no stranger to drawing the weird, since he’s illustrated RIFTS rpg books for Palladium (including RIFTS: Machinations of Doom, which he wrote too) as well as drawing for SJ Games and Wizards of the Coast. His comics work includes several Star Wars: The Clone Wars covers, plus drawing for Captain America and the First Thirteen, Deadpool Team-Up 885, and Dazzler. He retains his indie cred by writing and illustrating his own comics Butternut Squash and Kukuburi.
For Tale of Sand, Pérez could have been limited by the constraints of the screenplay but thankfully Henson and Juhl seemed to have focused more on the feeling of the scene instead of strictly regulate the story with dialogue. The interior cover opens onto a photo of Henson juxtaposed with a drawing of the script’s main characters. I particularly love Mac, our scruffy hero, reading crumpled pages, presumably trying to get into character:
It tells you right away that this is not going to be what you were expecting. The first few pages of the script, included at the beginning of the book, are mostly description. Lengthy paragraphs about the costumes, the movement of characters across a dance floor, and the look of the desert get overdrawn with a lizard, a boot, rocks … eventually fading away into nothingness behind the art.
There is no dialogue until Mac makes his way through the carnival-colored crowd and meets Sheriff Tate, the only character who introduces himself by name. (Our hero is only identified in the bits of script that pepper the book.) Tate hustles him into the sheriff’s office, hands him a variety of objects, before rushing Mac the out the door. There’s a cheering crowd, contradictory instructions, and the exhortation to “Run, boy. Run. Run!”
Time dilates and expands frequently with Pérez’s stacked-panel compositions, pulling back to give the whole of the scene and then focusing in tight on a character’s face, an object, or a piece of what’s coming next. There are multiple references to sound, from the opening party’s musicians (complete with floating notes) to the cartoonish fx noises scattered throughout the story. Mac’s nemesis, dapper but nameless, appears out of the dust to either romance a beautiful blond by killing Mac, or by driving him crazy. Possibly both.
And then it gets weird.
Mac can’t run fast enough or outsmart everyone (I mean everyone, since the only creatures in this story who aren’t out to get him are the plethora of lizards, and I can’t promise the lizards aren’t plotting something too). He’s doomed to strangeness after strangeness, circling the truth – or at least the end – as we watch helplessly. Even running out of pages in the book doesn’t save him, or us.
There’s no way that I can wrap up this review without pointing out the amazing color work of what turns out to be a whole team of people: Ian Herring, Ramón Pérez, Jordie Bellaire and Kalman Andrasofszky. (I’ve been a fan of Jordie Bellaire’s coloring for a few years now, check out her work anytime you see her name.) The color changes to suit the stylistic changes and brings a trippy, technicolor depth to Pérez’s art.
Tale of Sand has surprising depth brought on by dynamic visuals and the strange philosophy of an unmade surrealist film. Ultimately, there’s more to the book than simply a combination of story and art. It is an experience, and I strongly recommend you have it.
Next week: Ralph Azham 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?
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