As a student in the life-school of Kermit the Frog and long time admirer of Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, one tiny grain of news out of Comic-Con had my interest piqued than any other: Archaia comics are working on A Tale of Sand, a graphic novel realisation of a never filmed feature-screenplay from deep in the Henson vaults. Conceived by Jim Henson, the script was written by both him and regular collaborator Jerry Juhl.
I wanted to know more, so I got in touch with Stephen Christy at Archaia and we had a chat. What follows is my transcript of some of that conversation, giving away as much as I could discover about what this project really is, what we should expect from it and who is responsible for it.
This is the lost piece of the puzzle for fans of Jim Henson. This is an idea he came up with in the mid to late 50s and worked with Jerry Juhl in scripting a feature length screenplay throughout the late 60s and early 70s.
What’s fascinating about it is that it really gives you a peek into the creative process and the things that Jim was thinking about at that time, before the Muppets blew up like crazy… this was a really young Jim, doing a very kind of existential feature length film, very much along the lines of The Cube, another of his early things, and Time Piece, the film he won the Academy Award for.
This is something that he and Jerry were working on together for quite some time. Because of the scope and strangeness of the movie, it’s very much unlike any other Jim Henson project out there, Jim was never able to actually make the film version of this.
We’re working very closely with Lisa and Brian Henson, his children, who are supervising this. They are very adamant about this not ever being made into a movie, or not being made into anything else, they only want to do this as a comic to almost give a storyboarded look at what this lost Jim Henson could have been like.
We have a few different drafts and it’s interesting to read between all of them and see where Jim and Jerry were going in the development process and the great thing about what we have is that we have the original documents so we have Jim’s handwritten notes scrawled in the corners… under the guidance of Lisa and Brian we’re really trying to do something that will hopefully come as close to the original vision that Jim had as we can get.
If there’s one person to direct the movie version of A Tale of Sand, it’s Jim Henson and unfortunately he’s not around to do that anymore. But, what has been great about working with Lisa especially is that she understands the impact her father has had on generations. Lisa and Brian… have been working with that legacy for years… they’ve seen what Archaia has done with Fraggle Rock, what we’re doing with Dark Crystal… so when we were talking about what book could we launch that would be an original Henson title I said “Is there anything left that you have that Jim did that nobody has ever seen before?”
This is going to be the first thing written by Jim to come out since his death and it’s going to be something that no one’s ever seen before. It’s literally a treasure, it’s a gem… to be able to do it in comic book form is a great honour. The screenplay itself is extremely visual.
The way Jim and Jerry wrote it, it’s almost like reading a comic book script… they’re describing in very specific detail what the shots look like, what’s going on with the characters, what the costumes are, what the setting is. What’s great about that is it’s perfect for visualising it in comic book form because everything’s there on the page that you need. So we’re doing something very interesting, we’re not actually hiring a writer to adapt it or anything like that, we’re literally just drawing from the screenplay.
We might be cutting here and there for space, because it’s a pretty dense thing, but other than any very minor things, you’re getting the direct words of Jim on the page… we wanted to make sure we were getting as close as possible to the original vision. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter so much if people like the book or not, what matters for me is being able to say “That’s Jim on the page right there”. There’s no adaptation, there’s no interference.
What it’s going to be when it comes out is a decently thick original graphic novel. There’s no prequels, there’s no sequels, there’s no movie adaptation – this is it, basically. But the one thing I’d very much like to do is a companion hardcover which actually has the original screenplay in it, with Jim’s notes in the margins. What I’m hoping is that we can do a slipcase of this and you get the hardcover graphic novel and the screenplay and you can lay them side by side and see what we’ve done.
The book isn’t coming out for about fifteen months, so we have a long way to go on it. We want to let people know this out there and build the buzz, but we want to hold back on who’s working on it… we have art done, we have pages done… I want to be very careful about how we show it. We’re lucky enough that with Fraggle Rock we can do as many volumes as we like, but we’re being very careful about how this is being rolled out because we only have one shot.
There are a few other little things here and there in the Henson archive, but in terms of a full story, beginning, middle to end, a full world… this is the last world we have that Jim Henson built and created that we can bring to life, so this is really it.
When you’re dealing with a creator like Jim Henson, the number one most important thing is world building because that’s what Henson did, he built worlds… so when we looked for an artist, that’s what we looked for, we looked for someone who can do world building, someone who’s a true artist and someone who can help this shine through… Over the next year, starting at New York Comic-Con, we’ll start to be able to share bits and pieces of this world.
Obviously we want to give this book a lot of exposure because it’s something that is not only important to both companies but it’s very important to Lisa and Brian. So we want to make sure this gets enough exposure, but we want to make sure that the work is speaking for itself. This is not a work like… Dark Crystal or Labyrinth where there’s toys being made, there’s spin-offs, comics, manga… we really want this to be a standalone thing.
There’s no puppets or Muppets involved, it’s very much like his earlier existential work like The Cube and the other movies he did when he was younger. If you want to see a glimpse into one of the lost projects of one of the greatest creative minds of our time, and you want to see a very different kind of project and a much darker project, in a way, than you’re used to seeing from this person, this is where you’re going to see it.
We are being very careful about it. Every step of the way we’re trying to think “How would Jim do this? Is this right? Is this coming from the right place? Are we doing this the right way?”
The whole reason that we as Archaia wanted to do a deal with the Jim Henson Company is because we all look to Jim as a huge creative influence on everything we wanted to do… all of us involved in the company have the highest honour and respect for Jim… this is the biggest project that Archaia has ever undertaken.
The story takes place in the American Southwest. It’s a very surreal, very trippy, very weird… Jim’s version of the American Southwest, basically… the setting is almost a character in the story itself. Lisa Henson has a told a great story of when she was young and the whole family going to a dude ranch on a vacation, Jim just falling in love with the Western landscapes and wanting to shoot that and showcase that and do something really spectacular. The dessert is very much a character in this piece and that’s the setting. So there is a whole load of sand in it.
It’s a very dark fairy tale parable. It’s a story about a journey, a journey through the American Southwest, so you’re seeing a lot of different landscapes, you’re encountering a lot of different characters. It’s expansive but at the same time what’s interesting is that it has a lot of the same feelings of loneliness that The Cube has.
It’s a much different landscape, much bigger and wider landscape, something that was very important to Jim when he was developing it, that he really pay tribute ot this landscape, but it does have a sense of loneliness, of paranoia, of isolation.
Even when we start showing art and showing more of it, the book itself is going to be very different from what people thing it might be. I think it’s a real treat for comic book fans and for fans of Jim to get it in this format… we’re getting it very close to what Jim was seeing in his head because Jim and Jerry were putting everything they were seeing in their heads in that script.
I can’t wait to find out more. If you want to see Henson’s one hour TV-film The Cube, it has been posted to the internet so accessibly that all you’ll need to find it is Google.