Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Illustrator Ramon Perez Talks To Us About Turning Jim Henson's 'A Tale of Sand' In To A Graphic Novel

What would you do if you came across a completed script from the late Jim Henson that was never produced?  If you're Archaia Entertainment you turn it in to a graphic novel.  A while back we had the chance to talk with Editor-In-Chief Stephen Christy about this project.  (Read the interview here.)  Today we had the chance to talk about the project a little more with the books illustrator Ramon Perez.

Our conversation started off with us geeking out about him getting to visit Henson Studios.  "It's one of the great perks that comes from this job."

Where you a Jim Henson fan growing up?

Growing up I was a huge Muppets fan.  I had a Muppet script book and would draw Kermit and Fozzie.  Later in my teen years I came across Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, but for me the core was The Muppet Show.

So what was it like to find out that Archaia wanted you to illustrate a graphic novel based on a screenplay of his that was never produced?

Pretty exciting.  The initial email from Chris just kind of appeared non-descript in my email inbox.  I was like, "Okay, let's see what this is about."  Then the email mentions a lost script by Jim Henson, and then I was like, "Whaaaaaaat?"  They sent over a snippet of the first five pages that I read and was immediately sucked in to.  I said, "I have to work on this!"  It's a facet of Jim Henson's career that I was completely unaware of.  Now I get to introduce people to it who are probably just as unaware.  Because of the success of The Muppets, Sesame Street and his movies, it kind of over shadowed the other stuff because of the success and obligations to the other creations.

Was there any sort of help in the script for you to create the look of the graphic novel?

No.  I was given free reign.  They originally asked if I wanted a writer to help adapt the script, but I said, "No thank you."  I wanted to do this myself.  Everything was there that I needed.  The script is so well realized.  I think a writer would have interfered with the process of bringing this to life.  His descriptions of things are so rich and so well articulated that all I really had to do was make sure that the pacing and story telling was strong and conveying his thoughts, emotions and moods.  

Archaia was really awesome.  They let me do the full adaptation freely, pushing full sequences.  There were some editorial comments about cutting things back by a couple of pages for space and that sort of thing.  There are a couple of sequences that had to be re-worked, but over all it was fantastic to be able to work on a project where creatively as a storyteller I was allowed the freedom to really do the story justice.  In most main stream comics you're only going to get 22 pages and things are crammed as tight as possible.  With this there are parts that you want to give five pages, you want to give it that justice.

Other than the script, did you find yourself getting influenced by any of Jim's work for the look you created?

After I was given the script and gave it a read, the Henson Company was kind enough to send over some screeners of Jim's independent work.  His earlier shorts like A Tale of Sand among others.  Seeing those for the first time and seeing the correlation between these art houst/independent projects that he did.  I did use Time Piece, a short he did in the 60's, as a catalyst for A Tale of Sands visually.  It really had an influence.  How he used color, sound, his editing of images, his staccato of storytelling.  I wanted to make sure that was conveyed as well in the graphic novel as best as I could being a silent medium.

Not a whole lot about the story of A Tale of Sand has come out.  What can you share with us?

I don't want to reveal too much because the story itself is so intriguing and if you reveal too much it kind of ruins a few moments.  People have been calling it existential, but I like to think of it as a journey through a man's mind.  It's a man on a journey to get somewhere, but he's not really sure where that is and why he's going there.  But he's been told that that's his destination and he's kind of accepted that.  Through the course of that journey he encounters various situations orchestrated by the villain in the book who is also, in a weird way, his ally.  It's hard to explain with out ruining too many aspects because the story itself has many different layers.  

When I read it the first time I thought it was a very quirky, bizare story.  As I was adapting it and reading it, the layers began to present themselves.  As I learned more about the man himself  from the era even more layers presented themselves.  It's a book that can be re-read and re-read and something new can be discovered each time you read it.  It also depends on the individual or the mindset.  Maybe creative people, or artists, will get something than a general audience because they'll be able to pick on different nuances that are particular to them as well.  It's a very expansive kind of story that can be interpreted a variety of ways depending on the reader, which I think will be part of its enjoyment.  

Getting this un-produced script from Henson is an amazing find.  At WonderCon Stephen Christy (Archaia Editor-In-Chief) said, "It's like discovering a fully produced album by Michael Jackson."

(Laughing) That's true!  It's a great gem.  Especially that it's such a completed form.  The story is so fully realized.  It's like a little treasure we found and are able to bring it and share it with people.  Especially in this medium.  They could have easily just published it as a script book.  But to take it further and really bring it to life in this manner, to as close as Jim would have been able to film it.  I think it's pretty amazing.  

They could have easily said, "Here's a script that Jim wrote.  How do we turn this in to a kids movie?"

Totally.  It would have been a different feel.  Especially with todays audiences.  It's not the kind of movie that would be made today.  It's too bizare almost (laughs).

After the graphic novel comes out, could you see a studio wanting to turn it in to a movie?

I think if it did happen it would have to be interpreted for today's audiences in a different way.  The screenplay itself is very much of the era in terms of the pacing and the kind of storytelling.  It's not what you see a lot of in movies anymore.  I think that audiences today are used to a certain kind of film, sadly.  I think the larger demographic is not open to the more art house-y, zany, crazy kind of movie that maybe would have flown a little better back in the 70's and late 60's.  If it did happen it would have to become a new beast.

It's nice to hear that you have a grasp for the tone that Henson was going for, and that you understand different styles of movies.

I hope I do it justice.  I've been at it for a while and I hope I'm well versed enough to give it the delivery it deserves.  

Do you have any work in it that you're still doing before the September release?

I'm still wrapping it up.  There's still about a month or two worth of work on it to get ready for the fall release.  It's ballooned up in size so that's why it's taking a little longer.

Well I can't thank you enough for taking the time to chat with us today about A Tale of Sand.

No problem.

Look for A Tale of Sand to be released this September by Archaia Entertainment.  

Be sure to check everything that Ramon Perez is up to by visiting his web site.

What say you?

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Jungle Jesse

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