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Review: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller

This book takes bedtime stories to a new level, with magical tales told by a stellar lineup of writers and artists. Even without the Henson name, it’s a keeper.

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller
By Jim Henson and various authors
Archaia Entertainment, 2011

The publisher Archaia is carving out a nice little niche for itself with a certain type of graphic novel: Handsomely produced anthologies and all-ages stories with a classic look, high production values, and a stellar lineup of talent. Jim Henson’s The Storyteller is just the latest in this line, which also includes their Fraggle Rock and Mouse Guard anthologies.

This book is a nice collection of folk tales (some genuine, some new but with that old-fashioned feel), all knit together by a framing device: The storyteller, a genial, white-haired fellow who sits by the fire in a smoking jacket and tells stories, and his dog, who talks back to him. The storyteller introduces each story and comes back in at the end to deliver the moral, while the dog is mainly there for comic relief. Sandwiched between the stories are single-page drawings of the Storyteller by different artists, along with little sayings about the stories, all done to look like pen and ink on parchment. The effect is stunningly beautiful.

The stories are short and quite different from one another, although, oddly, three have the themes of a romantic relationship between a human and an animal. All have a vaguely timeless feel and a vaguely European setting, and most have some sort of moral.

The book is based on the short-lived (13 episodes) television series The Storyteller, which was produced by Henson and ran in 1988-90. It’s not at all obvious what the connection is, though, as the book doesn’t mention the series except in passing. The last story, an odd tale drawn from Russian folklore, is based on an unproduced script from the show; if not for that, the casual reader could be pardoned for not knowing at all that this is a TV tie-in book. Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad thing.

The usual cliché about anthologies is that they are a mixed bag, and while this is true of The Storyteller, it is also true that there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. All the stories are written and illustrated by seasoned comics pros, and there are some well known creators in the mix: Roger Langridge, Colleen Coover, Marjorie Liu. This makes the book a satisfying read for adults, who can enjoy the fine art and high production values, as well as an entertaining book for children who simply enjoy a good story.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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