There’s more than enough room for human-dog partnerships across Jim Henson’s oeuvre, but it’s true. For a while there I was convinced the narrators of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Giants were Fraggle Rock’s Doc and Sprocket. Doc wore glasses and Sprocket didn’t talk the last time I watched an episode, but Storytellers being a TV show first was welcome news. Starring John Hurt as the storyteller, the show aired for one season in 1987, while a spin-off in 1990 focused on Greek myths and starred Michael Gambon.
The comic book line from Boom! applies the same anthology format used by the spin-off. Comic creators are given an issue to tell a story based on the theme of that run (with the exception of the first volume, which didn’t have a connecting subject matter). So far there’s been a series on witches, a series on dragons, and this month comes the release of their collected, four issue series on giants.
Besides tailoring their stories to evoke the spirit of Jim Henson, each participant is asked to look at older myths for inspiration, and the idea is to have the results be culturally diverse. The other common denominator is the narrators. Most of the time they are isolated from the rest of the story, sitting by a fireplace in the real world, but writer-artist Conor Nolan plays with convention by having the Storyteller and his dog narrate from inside the story. Floating by on a rowboat, or appearing in a crowd, Nolan’s is the first issue, so you don’t realize this isn’t the standard until finishing with the others, but there’s a lot of room for inventiveness that reveals itself as you become better acquainted with everyone’s choices.
Inspired by Japanese folklore, Nolan’s “The Peach’s Son” also stands out for having the giant be his main character. All the other giants flirt with antagonism, and many don’t stop there. Nolan’s is a sweetheart, whose neighbors choose to be scared of him anyway. For being a defender of giants issue, it’s noteworthy he’s the most human looking of the giants in this book. The return isn’t the same as a rough monster finding acceptance, but on the flip side, that’s all it takes for people to spew hate – being fearful of a person’s height. Knowing that feels wretched.
Nolan’s animals are the picture of Henson’s beloved creatures, with monkey registering like Labyrinth’s Sir Didymus. Style and grace emanate from Nolan’s heron, who puts nobility in a wing sweep, and having his story precede Brandon Dayton’s “The Tailor’s Daughter” is shrewd placement. Following a pro-giant issue, Dayton’s coyness about which iteration of the servant–for-a-monster narrative he’s following ramps up the suspense for if his giant will be redeemed.
The most frightening of the giants are Jared Cullum’s Fomoire in “Pru and the Fomorian Giants.” Seeing his process work in a special section at the end of the book is something else (the openness of every creator to sharing their thinking makes the experience more gratifying). Seeped in Irish mythology, Cullum’s giants are faintly colored, using water colors that blend with the sky, but there’s a heft to them, where the fact that they meld with mountains doesn’t serve to comfort. They are also the giants with the least developed internal lives, so you’re allowed to have a visceral reaction. Pru’s a scrappy opponent and I love the way a drum is reappropriated as a shield, for the playful sound effect that produces.
In the opposite way, Feifei Ruan’s “The Fisherman and the Giant” makes you weary about taking action too quickly after learning his giant’s motivations. The last line of the issue is a stumper in the best way possible, while Ruan’s art is assertive in its experimentation with layouts to adapt stories from Arabian Nights. Red, blue and black line drawings are textured and sparse on white backdrops, the more involving using a giant’s beard to tie the page together (Ruan mentions that one took multiple reworks)
Whether you think you’ve outgrown fairy tales, it never fails that they find a way to stomp back into your heart. In Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Giants the foot prints are massive. Putting aside Jim Henson’s natural inclination to appeal, Boom! didn’t slouch when putting this series together, and the outcome is a book all-ages can sneak a peek through during bedtime.
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Giants is available 8/23.
Diabolique Rating: 4.5 stars