Jim Henson created some of the most memorable characters in the world – from Kermit the Frog to the cast of “Sesame Street” to the Goblin King in “Labyrinth.” The puppeteer told countless stories that to this day remain ingrained in pop culture before his tragic death in 1990. But in Fall 2011, with the help of Archaia Comics and the Jim Henson Company, he tells one last tale – “A Tale of Sand.”
As announced at the Archaia: Jim Henson Company panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, fans of the studio behind such classics as “The Dark Crystal” and “The Muppet Movie” receive a special treat next year when Archaia releases the original graphic novel “A Tale of Sand,” which adapts a never-before-seen story by the legendary Muppet creator himself. Locked away in the Henson Company archives for the past 40 years, the tale represents the last unmade screenplay left written by Jim Henson – a strange, dark story that follows a young man named Jim as he goes on an oddball journey through a seemingly endless desert. CBR News spoke with Henson Company Co-CEO Lisa Henson and Archaia Editor-in-Chief Stephen Christy about the announcement, adapting the groundbreaking story and about what the future holds for the two company’s partnership.
“[‘A Tale of Sand’] is actually a feature film concept that my father worked on for years and years with Jerry Juhl, who was his main writing partner and who became the main Muppet head writer and who co-created ‘Fraggle Rock.’ They worked together on this project for many years that was conceived as a feature film, but it probably would never be produced as a feature film, so we’re excited to see that this realization of it will be the ultimate realization,” Henson told CBR News. “It’s actually one of the very, very earliest projects in our archives, yet it also dates from the mid-period as well because they kept working on it and kept evolving it until the mid ’70s. Jerry Juhl and my father became friends in the late ’50s, early ’60s, and the germ of this is something they’ve been working on since they first met.”
Christy added that the chance to adapt this long lost screenplay embodies one of the wonderful things about working with the Henson Company – something the E-i-C compared to more of a partnership than just a simple licensing agreement. “We’re able to collaborate with everyone at Henson on new properties and new ideas, some of which might be properties that Henson already has in development in some form or another, or some might be new ideas for comics,” he said. “When we made this deal, one of the big things that was in the back of my mind was hoping that there might be something really, really cool in the Henson archives that hadn’t really been shown to the public before. We were overjoyed when the whole team dived into the archives and Lisa brought up the ‘A Tale of Sand’ screenplay. I read it, and it’s huge on so many different levels. Not only was it something that was co-written by Jim that no one has ever seen before, but for me, just being a fan of Jim’s and growing up with everything that the Henson Company did having such a huge affect on my creative life, it’s a really interesting look at where Jim’s headspace was as a younger man.”
The Archaia editor continued, saying that his company is working in close conjunction with the entire Henson family to make sure the final product reflects Jim Henson’s original vision with Juhl as much as possible. That vision began years ago, shortly after the production of one of Henson’s father’s earliest works, the Academy Award-nominated short film “Time Piece.”
“It was exciting for him because he was primarily in the puppetry business, doing Muppets for advertising and for variety shows, but he also wanted to be a serious filmmaker,” recalled Henson. “So, ‘Time Piece’ was his attempt to do a completely non-puppetry project and it was received pretty well. ‘A Tale of Sand’ as well is not a puppetry project.”
Although “A Tale of Sand” grew out of her father’s experience with “Time Piece,” Henson said that the story of the graphic novel flows much smoother than the short film. She said the format isn’t nearly as “choppy and syncopated,” something she said would be extremely difficult to do in graphic novel style regardless.
“A good comparison to for me that Henson fans might recognize is that it’s kind of similar to ‘The Cube,’ which is another one of Jim’s early films, in terms of the existentialism of it,” added Christy. “Imagine ‘The Cube’ with a desert landscape as a setting, a massive landscape for these characters to play in and explore the story in.”
Personally, for Henson and her company, one of the best parts of this project is being able to finally present her father’s story as something fans can truly enjoy. “We’re all really excited about this project at the company because it’s rare that we have an opportunity to actually dig into the archives and find something exciting and then fall in love with it all over again and then see it be realized in a medium where the public can enjoy it – as opposed to just in a museum exhibit or something,” she explained. “We’re finding something that was archived but realizing it’s very vibrant and entertaining and relevant to today. So, it’s really great because we can make it. We don’t just have to study it, we can make it.”
The CEO also wanted to assure readers that the upcoming graphic novel isn’t just a means of getting a film produced.”No, it’s not intended to be a treatment for a movie,” she affirmed. “We do see a lot of that going on with graphic novels, but this is something we see the publishing as being the art piece itself.”
“That’s the nice thing about approaching this project. Lisa and I were on the same page about that from day one. This is truly just a graphic novel,” said Christy. “To me, what I hope people get out of it, what I hope people see out of it, is just a peek into a piece of the creative lexicon of someone like Jim that people haven’t seen before, and to do it in an interesting way that not only makes them excited about the story itself, but also invites them into the world of comics. That’s my hope.
“I know there’s a lot of fans of Jim’s work out there who maybe haven’t read comics before. If they read this and love this kind of last script from the man himself, they might want to start branching out, exploring the art form of comics a little bit more,” he continued. “That’s the greater reason why we have a whole deal with Henson. If [the reader] wants good jumping off points, there’s ‘Fraggle Rock,’ there’s the forthcoming ‘Dark Crystal,’ there’s more original properties that we’re developing. I’m hoping it will help bring people into the medium and I hope it will give people a taste of a side of Jim that they never really got the opportunity to see.”
As hinted at by Christy, readers can certainly expect more from the partnership between Archaia and the Jim Henson Company in the future. Henson said that she looks forward to not only producing more original content but also content expanding on previously existing properties as well. “Without taking anything away from this announcement, we hope that in the future we’ll be able to announce some other properties pretty soon,” she said. “Stephen and I have been talking for quite a while about some of the stories that we have. One of the things we’re really enjoying doing is going back to something like ‘The Dark Crystal.’ We’re enjoying having the graphic novel go to places in the mythology and chronology and show us something not likely to be seen in another film or anything other version. So, we are looking to see what we can tell and show people that is unique for this medium.”