Independently Well Done highlights completed and/or noteworthy story-arcs published by indie and small press creators.
Jim Henson is a name that, I believe, is probably world famous. Someone, somewhere has heard of at least one of his many creations: Muppets, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Sesame Street, Dinosaurs, the list seriously goes on forever. What some people may not know, and you’re honestly missing out if you don’t, is that Archaia has published a series of books called, Jim Henson’s: The Storyteller. Each of these books comes in a four part series, each of which covers a particular mythical subject matter. Today we’re going to be talking about my favorite in the series, Dragons.
Now, for clarity’s sake, I want to mention that these book aren’t new, in fact they we published starting in December of 2015. Why am I writing about books that are nearly a year old? Well, because they’re amazing. As it is with smaller publishers, often these books get overlooked, undersold, and cast into the shadows behind bigger more popular names. It’s incredibly sad because the joy and talent in these books is nothing short of incredible. The best part, I would consider these kid friendly. Not being a parent, I’m not the best judge of things like this, but I feel like these are more than appropriate for preteen and up.
This series is broken up into four different books, each titles Jim Henson’s the Storyteller: Dragons, then it’s labeled Tale One of Four, Two…and so on. For the sake of this post, and to not sell any of these books short, I’m going to break this up into four parts, and post them each week on Thursday for the month of December. We’ll look at the art, the plot, the story, the characters, you know, all the stuff that makes a comic, then tie it all together on the last Thursday of the month.
Starting us off, you may have guessed it…
Story By: Daniel Bayliss
Art By: Daniel Bayliss
Published: December 2015, by Archaia
Starting us off in the series is a wonderful story about a father and son who are basically forced into a horrible situation, but end up making the best of it. As it starts, and as it should, we’re given the setup by none other than the Storyteller, an elderly gentleman who looks somewhat whimsical himself, sitting in a oversized chair, by a roaring fire, discussing the delight of fresh fish with his dog. When I say discussing, I mean actual banter back and forth. The man speak, then the dog responds…with words. I bring this up because it serves a fantastic purpose. Before we, the readers, even get into the story, we’re already given a taste of whimsy and fantasy through a talking animal. The mood is light, fun, but with the setting we can tell there’s about to be a, “Once upon a time…” moment.
This moment begins with a turn of the page, and we’re whisked away onto the ocean as a Native American father and son are in canoe, spear fishing. We’re given all the setup we need as the Storyteller establishes a wonderful relationship between parent and child. We can immediately grasp a connection with these two, and before we’re even given a chance to reflect, the father and son are attacked by a Horned Water Serpent. The father, being more than a fisherman, was a warrior. He jabs and thrusts his fishing spear at the wild beast, but size and speed are not on their side. As if things can’t get worse, a storm approached, and just when we think reprieve comes in the form of the serpent’s natural enemy, the Thunderbirds, the battle that ensues smashes the canoe, separating father and son. The storm whisks them away from each other, and we watch as son washes up on an island and the father on a barren, rocky cavern.
From this point on it’s a story about survival, hope, and the eventual twist that made this story amazingly endearing. We of course won’t talk about the twist, but it’s suffice to say that this story carries with it all the whimsy and wonderment that was built early on in the book.
Carrying along this amazing and extremely well built story is nothing short of fantastic art. There are times when a writer, or artist, switches hats and does both the storytelling and the art. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much, but when it does there’s nothing but magic to be found on the pages. Why? Because when a person is writing a story, as weird as this might sound, it literally plays out in their mind. It’s sort like watching a mind movie while attempting to type fast enough to capture it all on the page. When you have someone, such as Daniel Bayliss, who can write like nobody’s business AND draw beautiful pieces of work panel after panel, what we the readers get are frames of the movie exactly as they appeared in the writers mind. We get to experience the story through both the mind and eyes of the storyteller.
I don’t think I need to get into why that allows us to experience something beyond the normal, but I will say that I always, without fail, find it captivating when the writer also draws their book. As for the art itself, what can I say other than it’s perfect and wonderful. The pacing, paneling, camera shots, landscapes, character design, creatures, all of it was just perfect for this story. Then we get into the colors, again done by Bayliss, and everything is cranked up to max.
We’re given such an amazing reading experience in this first book in the series that there wasn’t a chance I was going to miss the next three books. I’ve had some experience with Storyteller in the past, and every single time I’m blown away. These books just have a way of bringing you back to a childlike feeling. When everything and anything was possible, to a time when imagination and reality were one and the same. It’s as though within these pages are moments of childhood, allowing the reader to feel that freedom and playfulness once more.
If you haven’t picked up what I’m laying down, I’ll make it more clear. Go read this book. Heck, go read this series, you don’t need me to write about all of them to know these are going to be something special. Then, you can go grab the Witches series, then because you’re super addicted to these amazing books you’ll end up with Giants as well. That’s what happened to me, but we all know I have problem. Fortunately for you, these books are good this will be the best problem you’ve ever had.
Until next week.