Check Archaia's L.A. office in Shannon Cottrell's slideshow, “Archaia Studio Tour.”
Archaia has something big in store for this fall. On November 16, one week before Thanksgiving and the release of The Muppets, the Los Angeles-based comic book company will unleash A Tale of Sand, a new graphic novel based on a “lost” screenplay written by Jim Henson and writing partner Jerry Juhl.
“It's the last and only screenplay that Henson never got to produce in his lifetime,” says Archaia Editor-in-Chief, Stephen Christy, “so we're bringing it to life as a graphic novel.”
Archaia has been working on the project now for a year-and-a-half with both Henson's daughter Lisa and The Jim Henson Company' archivist.
“We spent a long time on adapting the screenplay to a visual medium, basically,” says Christy.
Ramón Pérez (ButterNutSquash, Deadpool Team-Up, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) is handling the art for the book, which will follow the already existing screenplay.
“They're doing some really nice stuff where they're using color almost like a soundtrack,” says Archaia publisher Mike Kennedy, “The style, the vibrancy, of the color will change.”
Kennedy adds that the artwork will complement Henson's short films from the 1960s.
“It's very perceptual, very kind of stream of conscious,” says Kennedy of Henson's early work, “so we're kind of factoring that into the art direction of the book as well.”
As an added bonus, Archaia is working on a new font for A Tale of Sand, one that is based on Henson's handwriting.
“It's going to look like Henson hand-lettered the book himself,” says Christy.
Archaia, which was founded about seven years ago by Mark Smylie, creator of the book Artesia, has had a relationship The Jim Henson Company since shortly after the comic company opened its L.A. office in early 2009. Their approach to these licensed titles is similar to the one they take for original books, like this year's Eisner Award winners Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard (Best Anthology) and Return of the Dapper Men (Best Graphic Album– New). They've eschewed the quick production and market saturation of licensed properties in favor of carefully crafted, hardcover volumes with high production values.
“What we want to do is one hardcover, blockbuster title per year of Dark Crystal, of Labyrinth of Fraggle Rock and really build momentum around it, almost treat it like a movie, the way you market it and put it together, so that you can build a fanbase that's going to follow these books for ten years,” says Christy.
Archaia's first collaboration with The Jim Henson Company was Fraggle Rock, an anthology-style comic series based on the characters of Henson's popular children's show that aired on HBO in the mid-1980s. The collection of short tales brings together a variety of artists and writers, showcasing subtle stylistic shifts throughout the book. What's interesting about Fraggle Rock is that it highlights the range of influence the franchise has had over the years.
“I think originally, a lot of the intention of the book was for the nostalgia fans, people who grew up with it and are now young adults,” says Kennedy.
Something interesting happened recently, though, in the world of the Fraggles. As Christy and Kennedy indicated, Fraggle Rock began streaming on Netflix and reruns are airing on cable channel The Hub (perhaps best known right now as the station that airs My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic). That has helped attract a new audience to the comic series.
“Now, it's being introduced to a whole new generation of kids, so that's kind of exciting,” adds Kennedy.
A handful of other Henson properties are receiving the Archaia treatment. Jim Henson's Storyteller, based on the short-lived, but acclaimed, television show, will be released in September. Later in the fall, they will be releasing The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, art directed by the film's conceptual designer Brian Froud. If you were at Meltdown Comics for Free Comic Book Day this year, you probably got to check out Henson's Skeksis statues as part of Archaia's promotion.
Next year, Archaia will be taking on cult hit Labyrinth.
“It's the story of how Jareth became the Goblin King,” says Christy, “so it's a David Bowie extravaganza.”
Archaia has yet to announce who will be working on the new Labyrinth volume, but Christy noted that fans will have a chance to get a first look on Free Comic Book Day next year.
In the meantime, though, fans have A Tale of Sand to anticipate. Kennedy states that it's not necessarily the sort of book Henson fans might expect to see.
“I think the exciting thing is that it's clearly not a Muppets book. It's not Fraggle Rock. It's not one of his fictional stories,” he says. “This is the one book that really is a Jim Henson story. It's not tied into one of the colorful things that people know. It's probably the clearest window into who Jim Henson was as a creator, particularly before Sesame Street.”
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