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Henson and Langridge’s ‘Musical Monsters’ are delightful

by  in Comic News Comment
Henson and Langridge’s ‘Musical Monsters’ are delightful

[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow is a charming children’s story with clearly defined heroes and villains, plus music-making Muppet monsters from outer space, all lovingly adapted into comics form by Roger Langridge. It has a classic feel that will please adults but is fresh enough for children to enjoy, and Langridge does a particularly nice job of rendering music into visual form, something that is often a challenge for creators.

The book is adapted from a script that Jim Henson and collaborator Jerry Juhl wrote for a children’s television special, and the story is pretty straightforward. The protagonist, Timmy, lives with his Aunt Clytemnestra, who has an other-worldly feel to her, and his older sister Ann, who is more of a hippie type (the story is set in 1968). Ann and Timmy like to go out to an isolated area of their property to practice playing guitar, but they get chased off by their mean neighbor Mister Sump, who wants the land for himself.

Timmy is out practicing one day when the monsters arrive and accompany him with strange musical sounds of their own. Soon Timmy is friends with the monsters, but you know in a story like this that the bad guy is going to cause trouble, and that’s exactly what happens. Turkey Hollow has more turkeys than people, and suddenly the turkeys are all gone and the monsters are found sleeping in a heap with bones scattered all around. The sheriff reluctantly rounds the monsters up and puts them in jail, but Timmy is pretty sure they are being framed, and he sets off to prove it.

The story is a straightforward caper tale with plenty of celebrations of being nice and open-minded rather than mean and selfish. Both Henson and Juhl’s writing and Langridge’s art bring plenty of texture, though, so it becomes more than a simplistic fable. There’s some nice byplay between the sheriff (who also owns the general store) and Aunt Clytemnestra, but the really captivating scenes are the ones with music—precisely those that are hardest to render on a static page. Each of the monsters makes one strange sound, which Langridge expresses visually as sound effects with different colors and shapes. When the monsters are jamming, the sound effects overlap or swirl around the page, creating a picture of the music. Because the script was written as a television special, there are several musical interludes, which Langridge gracefully incorporates into the story as splash pages. Kudos must also be given to colorist Ian Herring, because this is one of those books where you really notice the colors; Herring uses different palettes for different types of scenes, and the musical scenes are particularly vibrant, recalling the tie-dyed 1960s milieu in which this story was created.

The book includes an introduction by Karen Falk of the Jim Henson Company Archives that provides some historical context. Supplementary material includes photos of the original puppets (posing in one 1968 photo with Henson’s daughters Lisa and Cheryl), as well as several pages of the original script, accompanied by Langridge’s sketches for the comics adaptation.

Any Henson or Langridge fan will want this book for their collection, of course, but it stands alone very well on its own. With the combination of Henson’s quirky storytelling and Langridge’s simple yet sophisticated style, it’s an outstanding graphic novel and one that belongs in everyone’s library, no matter what their age.

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