Archaia has been afforded some rather spectacular opportunities because of their relationship with The Jim Henson Company, and they've knocked every one of them out of the park. Anthologies like Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller have captured the essence of each franchise while also adding to them. Tale of Sand is a different beast though. Rather than collected stories from a variety of writers and artists, it's a graphic novel translation of a lost screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl (head writer on The Muppets). The feature length screenplay was written before Sesame Street and Muppets and represents other facets of Henson's creative talents.
The screenplay isn't interpreted in the way you'd expect. In fact, it's best if you don't open the book with any expectations. If you flip through the book first (which I did because I was hungry to see the art), you'll notice the lack of word balloons. This a story that unfolds in images more so than words and oh, what images. Artist Ramón Pérez has brought Henson and Juhl's work to vivid life. He tells the story of a man who is sent off to the desert on an apparent race. He doesn't know why he's there, only that he has a ten minute head start. He dashes off into the desert and soon he finds himself being pursued. He walks from empty, parched vistas into wacky situations like a football game. Part of the joy of this book is experiencing the race, and it's most effective if the bizarre twists hit you by surprise page after page. I won't tell you what happens or what he runs into or much else at all about the actual story because I don't want to rob you of potential reactions.
Pérez makes the sandy landscape leap off the page. You feel immersed. You feel there. Though the screenplay is incorporated into the tale in the background and in actual in-panel words (in a font based on Henson's handwriting), the interpretation landed squarely on Pérez's shoulders. He made it work, and he did so with such style. Given the nature of the screenplay and the fact that it wasn't a standard narrative, it could have easily turned into a jumbled wreck. It walks the tight rope. The character design, the palette, the layout, the way the story flows smoothly from one panel to the next - not a beat is missed. Just please don't open this book expecting cute puppets. Go in with an open mind and drink up the art. Tale of Sand is ambitious, surreal, and glorious.
I think it's also important to note how the book looks. Archaia always publishes high quality books, but this one raises the bar. It's apparent every decision was made with care. The cover, the type of paper, the print quality - all top notch. It even comes with an elastic band (moleskine notebook style) to mark your place. Sure, they're small touches but together they make a statement. Presentation is important, and in this case it would make me pick up this book even if I knew nothing about Archaia or Jim Henson.
In sum, Tale of Sand is the sexiest graphic novel of 2011. If you aren't familiar with Henson's work outside of The Muppets (like Time Piece), you owe it to yourself to see a different side of his genius - this graphic novel exhibits it perfectly.