Jim Henson’s The Storyteller
Edited by Nate Cosby
Written by Katie Cook, Colleen Coover, Nate Cosby, Chris Eliopoulos, Roger Langridge, Marjorie Liu, Ron Marz, Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin
Illustrated by Ronan Cliquet, Katie Cook, Colleen Coover, Tom Fowler, Roger Langridge, Mike Maihack, Jennifer L. Meyer, Craig Rousseau and Evan Shaner
Cover by Patrick Scherberger and Mike Maihack
120 pages/Full Color/Hardcover/$19.95 U.S.
Published by Archaia
There is nothing so powerful as a good story. Fantasy But the potency isn’t in the plot. It’s in the telling. It’s in the sharing.
This week, Archaia revitalizes a woefully overlooked Jim Henson property called The Storyteller. If you were lucky enough to have an HBO subscription in the late 80s, you may recall this wondrous showcase of stories, blended in live action and puppetry. Each fairy tale adaptation was bookended by scenes of John Hurt as a wizened old Storyteller puttering about his parlor with his inquisitive dog, a lifelike puppet voiced by Brian Henson. The presentation emphasized the joy of sharing stories and the lessons highlighted therein. Darker than the more popular Muppet and Fraggle franchises, The Storyteller remains a favorite depiction of some fairly obscure folk tales like “The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body” and “Hans the Hedgehog”, all told with tremendous practical effects and true visual wizardry. The series lasted two seasons, with the second batch devoted to Greek myths as presented by Michael Gambon in a toga. As of this writing you can revisit it all on Netflix Watch Instantly.
But if you’re unfamiliar with this winning ode to western oral tradition, Archaia’s collection of nine tales from some of the industry’s most talented creators proves an excellent introduction. It also expands the scope of the series by including three tales derived from Asian traditions, one Chinese and two from Japan. The rest are culled from the usual suspects like France, Scandinavia, Romania, Greece and Appalachia. Though it’s a fitting cross-section of the Storyteller’s usual jurisdiction, it leaves plenty of opportunity for future volumes to delve into the rich narrative traditions of other cultures like the Anansi tales popular from West Africa to the Caribbean.
Overall it’s a lovely package and an ideal gift for anyone looking for the right bedtime story. Each story is brief enough to be told in one sitting, and features its own visual style. Appropriately, they also open and close with at least a panel–sometimes more–of the Storyteller and his dog bickering or bargaining over some matter that segues into a story recalled. If I have any primary qualm with the book, it’s the scale and format. Archaia offers The Storyteller in a standard hardcover with pages in the standard comic book size. These stories almost demand a wider format, whether it’s the square hardcovers the publisher employed for their Fraggle and Mouse Guard books or something a little bigger that can be shared between readers side-by-side or held aloft from a group of captive listeners. That said, colors are still lush and nothing is ever lost in the margins as the book opens wide and flat.
Let’s get into those stories. Favorites include the opening story, a piece by Roger Langridge with color by Jordie Bellaire. It’s a classic deal-with-the-devil story told with Langridge’s signature skill and masterful comedy construction. The next story is also by one cartoonist and just as splendid. Colleen Coover adapts one of Aesop’s fables and enhances it with a human touch. A humble milkmaid boasts of a grand and adventurous life on the high seas, only to…well, you’ll see. Later, Paul Tobin collaborates with Doc Shaner on a playful Chinese yarn about a young frog born of peasants who goes on to save the empire from invading hordes. One of the most beautifully rendered stories–a romantic spin on “Puss in Boots”–comes courtesy of Marjorie Liu and Jennifer L. Meyer. But my favorite might be Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler’s “Old Fire Dragaman” story. It’s that Appalachian tale I mentioned, and it centers on the ubiquitous Jack. Fowler best captures the deep shadows and golden glow of the original television series, and his toothy dragon would’ve made for a sensational puppet. The anthology hits far more often than it misses, and it all culminates in editor Nate Cosby’s wonderful adaptation of a hitherto unproduced Storyteller script from the late Anthony Minghella. It’s the longest piece and one of the more peculiar stories in the bunch, involving an iron-jawed baby and a mystical sanctuary kingdom at the edge of the world. It also has the best ending, serving as a satisfying conclusion to a lovely collection.
I highly recommend you pick this one up. But don’t expect it to find a place on your shelf. This one goes on nightstands. And when it’s spent some time there, it travels. Great stories are meant to be shared.
Story: 4.5 / Art. 4.5 / Overall 4.5
(Out of 5 stars)