By Kevin Hodgson
Surreal is the only way to really describe TALE OF SAND, which is a graphic novel based on a lost screenplay by Jim Henson, of Muppet fame, and his writing partner, Jerry Hujl. The screenplay was found collecting dust in the Henson archives and was given over to the very talented graphic novelist Ramon K. Perez, whose vivid illustrations tell the tale of a stranger known only as “Mac” set in motion on an adventure in the American southwest. I can’t even begin to do the story tangents justice here, except to say that the narrative shifts from scene to scene, from danger to danger, just like particles of sand blowing in the wind of chance and imagination. (Think Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, and you will be in the right ballpark.)
There are hints of old westerns, and rampaging football players, Arabs in the desert, the continuing image of an unused cigarette, bombs and guns, elaborate champagne dinners, and so many oddball twists that it seems clear to me that only a graphic novel could capture that kind of energy of story. (And it is even clearer why Hollywood kept turning down the screenplay.) In fact, once you buy into the surreal nature of the story, TALE OF SAND becomes magical, unpredictable and thoroughly enjoyable.
Perez is a master of surreal imagery, and the oversized nature of TALE OF SAND provides him with a large canvas from which to work. There are overlapping images, colorful splashes contrasted with pencil sketches, multiple storylines unfolding in adjacent frames, and yet through all that craziness, Perez keeps the reader completely focused on the travails of Mac, with his square jaw that echoes of Clark Kent and eyes betraying confusion over his predicament of being caught up in something outside of his control.
Perez immerses the reader in the story with the visuals, and if you stay with it, the artwork becomes the main narrative device. (I particularly loved how the savage football players talked in x’s and o’s, like a football play handbook).
Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
IN THE CLASSROOM
This book might have value for upper high school students, or university students, around the ways surrealism can be used in narrative writing, and how art connects to story. Also, for those with an interest in Jim Henson, the introduction and ending of TALE OF SAND provides inside information about Henson’s work and the development of this story. Those small pieces of writing gives the book some historical weight, particularly now with the pop cultural resurgence of The Muppets.
MY RECOMMENDATION I was fascinated by TALE OF SAND and completely dove into the surrealistic nature of the story. I recommend this book for upper level high school students, but teachers should know there is one scene that shows the naked chest of a woman near the end of the story. I don’t think middle school readers would follow the narrative with any interest given its surreal format.