Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: Tale of Sand

Of all the hurdles facing original graphic novels in terms of putting them before people's faces, I suppose familiarity is paramount. A familiar character will draw in an audience; so will a familiar creator. However, if audiences aren't interested in your characters, how will they survive long enough to become familiar? Subsequently, how will they become familiar with your work?

This is what occurred to me after reading Archaia's Tale of Sand, rendered by artist Ramon K. Perez. Perez has been published by the major super hero comic book makers, yet I can't say I'd previously taken notice of his work. Regardless, Tale of Sand is being recognized by the comics community because of who Perez collaborated with: Jim Henson.

What we have here is not exactly necromancy; in the 1960s, Henson and his lifelong collaborator Jerry Juhl wrote Tale of Sand as a prospective screenplay. They revised it a few times, as late as the early 1970s, but Henson & Juhl's success with the Muppets set Tale of Sand on the back burner, leaving it forgotten... until now. With the blessings of the Henson company (and Henson's daughter, who penned an afterward to the volume), Perez designed this graphic novel using the screenplay as his guide.

Tale of Sand is a dizzying series of outrageous sequences leading to further outrageous sequences. A usually-silent protagonist wanders through the desert, encountering various oddballs, most of whom are trying to kill him. He can't trust anyone, from Arab raiders to football players; all he'd really like is a little bit of peace... and a light for his cigarette.

Knowing this was originally intended as a short film, I can see how the surreal set pieces would have been appealing to a young filmmaker (though Henson never worked surreal out of his system). What makes this book stand out is, of course, Perez's artwork. Henson evidently wrote barely any dialogue in his script, leaving it to Perez to work most of the storytelling through visuals - he's well up to the challenge! Further, Perez seizes on advantages in storytelling which wouldn't have been available to a filmmaker. For instance, the story opens on Henson's script, which gradually fades into the background as Perez's pencils take over, visually representing the transfer of the story from Henson/Juhl to Perez. In one sequence with a talkative old man, to emphasize how loquacious the man is while the protagonist doesn't pay attention to him, Perez uses portions of the man's dialogue cut directly from the script, ably demonstrating how the man's dialogue drones on. My favourite piece of visual storytelling are the speech balloons used by the Arabs (who speak in an Arabic font) and the football players (who speak in football diagrams). Also, letterer Deron Bennett designed the font to resemble Henson's personal handwriting, which is a neat touch.

I actually laughed out loud at a few points during this book; it's a very quick read, owing to the sparse dialogue, but the beautiful, playful visuals are worth spending a bit of time to appreciate. I hope the attention this book has received will translate into a stronger following for Perez - I'm certainly going to pay more attention to his name in the future!

No comments: