by Brandon Beck
The Storyteller, both the Jim Henson television series and this collection based on its format, is an interesting experiment that doesn’t always work. When it works it works, but when it doesn’t it’s still charming enough to hold your interest.
Borrowing the structure from the series, each tale, a folk or fairytale from another culture, is introduced by The Storyteller and his dog. Their interactions segue into the stories themselves, which range in style from impressionistic flights of fancy to straight ahead retellings. The artwork is across the board fantastic, the highlights being Jennifer L. Meyer’s whimsical, cloud-like “Puss in Boots” and Craig Rousseau’s “Momotoro The Peach Boy,” drawn as a series of ancient, illustrated scrolls. The different interpretations of The Storyteller himself are fascinating and diverse, sometimes portraying him as an impish, young-on-the-inside raconteur and other times as a grotesque, dwarf-like old man. The way he is drawn never quite matches up with the story he’s telling, which is a risky move that pays off. It visually gives the sense that these are his interpretations of the stories, rather than the stories themselves. Regardless of the story, his dog is always adorable, ranging from a scruffy little scamp to a somewhat vicious looking attack hound.
The writing, on the other hand, isn’t as consistent. This may have to do with the fact that most of these stories, by nature, are less about characters and more about ideas and morals. There are a couple cases, such as the Japanese folktale “Momotoro The Peach Boy” where it seems like, as much as writer Ron Marz tries, there is something culturally about the story that just doesn’t translate. The story is interesting and well written, but, as someone unfamiliar with the culture, there’s something about a boy born from a peach who goes and fights some monsters that doesn’t quite add up. This doesn’t make any of the stories bad, mind you, and most of them work, but there are a few cases where just a tad more context might have helped. When the stories work, however, they work incredibly well. Colleen Coover’s “The Milkmaid & Her Pail” is adorable and charming, and “The Frog Who Became an Emperor,” written in a somewhat modern parlance by Paul Tobin has the most crackling dialog in the entire book. The bookends between The Storyteller and his dog are all charming and funny, and their interactions, especially in Marjorie Liu’s take on “Puss in Boots” (The pup can’t understand why anyone would ever want to marry a cat!) serve the stories in a great way. Honestly, I would have been okay if the entire book was just the two of them talking with each other.
Special attention must be paid to the book’s final story, “The Witch Baby,” adapted by Nate Cosby (script) and Ronan Cliquet (art) from an unproduced Storyteller teleplay by Academy Award winning writer/director Anthony Minghella. Maybe it’s because it was structured in the same two-act format the television series was, or perhaps because it was the longest story (by a significant margin) but it was easily the most effective tale in the book. The characters were more fleshed out, the artwork, especially the opening scenes with The Storyteller walking through a series of Tarot cards, was gorgeous and the dialog was great. The story itself is somewhat grotesque, and more than any of the others I could envision exactly how this would have looked on screen had Henson and company gotten around to making it. It tonally doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the stories, but given the anthology nature of the book that’s to be expected.
Like much of Henson’s fantasy work, The Storyteller is ambitious and beautiful to look at despite the fact that it doesn’t always work. It captures the spirit of The Storyteller perfectly, and in a book like this that’s all I could ask for.
TL;DR: Jim Henson's The Storyteller is ambitious, though sometimes the stories don’t entirely land. The artwork is across the board phenomenal, and most of the stories, while not dramatically compelling, are interesting peeks into the mythology of other cultures. Like in the TV show, the dog is the best part.
Click each of the images below for a preview of Jim Henson's The Storyteller.
Jim Henson's The Storyteller is written and illustrated by various authors and artists* and published by Archaia. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop, or, support Spandexless and buy it in our web store.
A review PDF of Jim Henson's The Storyteller was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
Brandon Beck is a writer/director/improviser living in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently working towards an MFA in TV Writing/Producing at the TV Writer’s Studio at Long Island University with the hopes of one day bending the entertainment industry to his nefarious will. He is more than happy to talk to you about Phish. You can see inside his mind by finding him on Tumblr or following him at @hellyesbrandon.
*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