Previous issues of “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches” have taken the second part of that title to heart, but issue #3 focuses on the first. Matthew Dow Smith retells an Irish folktale about stories and their power, with the Storyteller himself bookending the issue. (Don’t worry, there are still witches involved.) It’s thematically pitch-perfect and invitingly written, but it needed smoother pacing and bolder artwork. I enjoyed this issue, but it didn’t have the extra edge to make it a must-read.
Smith has chosen a perfect folktale for this series, and he does a fine job adapting it. The issue follows a sailor-storyteller who’s shipwrecked on a mysterious island where his imagination holds concrete, physical power. The dialogue is scarce, with most of the story told in captioned narration. As a result, it reads very much like a fireside story, with plenty of foreshadowing and editorializing. This approach also allows Smith to speak in broader strokes. Having a character say, “I needed to live again” would feel much falser and more hyperbolic than having a narrator say, “For the sailor needed to live again.” Altogether, it gives the story greater weight and a stronger tone.
However, the story is somewhat strangely paced. It drags in some parts and rushes in others, and Smith doesn’t always prioritize the most affecting scenes or ideas. Many of the strongest lines were dropped in the smallest panels, while plot points would stretch for half a page. Perhaps Smith was trying to even the book out, but it ended up reading a bit jerkily.
The artwork is quite lovely and effective at points, but Smith’s lack of range becomes a problem as the issue progresses. One almost wishes that he had an artistic collaborator, because his art works quite well on the shore and in the tavern. The darker colors feel period- and setting-appropriate, all oak browns and frowning greys. The ocean looks cold and forbidding, and the tavern looks storied and full of secrets – the whole atmosphere is really well done. (That said, I do have a continuity gripe: even when the narration claims that “hundreds of years” have passed, the other customers in the tavern are dressed like the sailor’s contemporaries.)
On the magical island, however, Smith’s art doesn’t rise to the challenge of his script. The text describes a “grand” city, built from “the well of pure imagination,” and so lovely that the witches are “delighted, hardly believing their luck.” Yet Smith’s art is surprisingly bland. The rising city is pretty, yes, with imperial arches that evoke sci-fi capital cities, but given the descriptions, I wanted to see something wondrous and creative. Perhaps I’m being an optimist, but I imagine a city built without the constraints of physics or budgets to be creative and eye-catching.
“Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Witches” #3 is an enjoyable, thoughtful issue with plenty going for it, but unless you have a particular interest in the series or the folktale at hand, it’s not an essential add to your pull list.