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Tuesday, 17 June 2014
by brian truitt
IT’S not even Thanksgiving yet and Roger Langridge has already had his fill of turkeys.
The British cartoonist quips that he’s suffering from “turkey fatigue” but really he’s gobbling up everything about his new graphic novel Jim Henson’s The Musical Monsters Of Turkey Hollow, out from Archaia in October.
An award-winning writer and artist of Snarked and many Muppets comics, Langridge is adapting the unproduced 1960s-era screenplay by Henson and Jerry Juhl that was penned to be a puppet-filled holiday TV special but has instead been sitting in the Henson archives for decades. (It’s the same archives where they found Tale Of Sand, a 1967 script that was turned into an acclaimed original graphic novel in 2011.)
Both the graphic novel and a new small-screen version the Jim Henson Company is currently working on “are incredibly close to the original treatment”, says CEO Lisa Henson, the eldest daughter of the late creator of The Muppets and Sesame Street. “It was a delightful, classic, Henson-y property.”
The story takes place in the New England haven of Turkey Hollow, New Hampshire, during Thanksgiving 1968. There are a few thousand turkeys running around but only 27 residents of the human sort – the mayor of the town, Grover Cowley, also maintains gigs as shopkeeper, sheriff, postmaster, city treasurer and auto mechanic.
What he and the rest of the town don’t know, however, is that an egg carrying seven furry and toothy aliens crash-landed near Turkey Hollow centuries before, with each boasting the ability to create a different musical sound.
They make their presence known after being attracted to the song stylings of young Timmy Henderson, who finds a strange accompaniment coming from these creatures one day while practicing his guitar by a brook.
Timmy and the aliens become fast friends, but farmer Eldridge Stump is not a fan. He sees his chance to finally wrest land from Timmy’s Aunt Clytemnestra by blaming the youngster and these strange extra-terrestrials when all of the town’s turkeys go missing right before Turkey Day.
Langridge liked the directness of the story narratively and emotionally – the good guys are very good, the bad guys not so much, and other fairy-tale aspects of Turkey Hollow were appealing, he says.
“The protagonists’ parents are absent, the villain lives in a big spooky house in the woods, and the monsters of the title, although they’re supposed to be from outer space, are effectively woodland elves. Overall, it has the feeling of a timeless fable.”
It’s also a coming-of-age story, as Timmy in the beginning is a shy and nervous boy who lives in the shadow of his older sister Ann.
“A lot of the substance of the tale is Timmy discovering his self-confidence – and his own emerging talent – through his friendship with the musical monsters, and learning to stand up for what’s important to him,” Langridge says.
Aunt Cly is a favourite of his – dotty and eccentric, she also knows exactly who she is, according to the cartoonist. For him, though, the real star is Cowley, and Langridge admits he had to keep reminding himself that Timmy was the main character.
“I was giving Grover too much of the action,” he says. “He’s got a kind of easygoing, small-town Jimmy Stewart quality, but with steel lurking just beneath the surface, that I really enjoyed writing.”
The original puppets of the aliens that Henson created in 1968 are starting to fall apart, so Lisa Henson gave Langridge pictures for reference that her father took of his creations – some had Lisa and her sister Cheryl playing with them when they were little children.
Jim Henson did the holiday show The Great Santa Claus Switch in 1970, but also had fairy-tale specials early in his career when he first started mixing human and puppet characters, which became a hallmark of his work.
The aliens he created for the shelved Turkey Hollow special are archetypal Henson puppets that came before the iconic Sesame Street monsters and were part of the overall evolution, Lisa Henson says. “They’re sort of more squirrelly and feral – you feel like they could actually skitter into the woods.”
The monsters’ music was a big part of that early script treatment, and since comics are a silent visual medium, Langridge worked with fellow artist Ian Herring to find ways to use colour as a metaphor for the music.
And in personality, the aliens are a shaggy, playful, curious and affectionate lot, and they are very loyal to Timmy. They form an attachment that Timmy can’t escape, but after a while, “he finds that he doesn’t want to”, Langridge says. “Which means, of course, that Timmy has something to lose, and that raises the dramatic stakes.”
Growing up in New Zealand, Langridge is quite familiar with turkeys since his father kept them on the family farm, so “I do have a sense of how they move and how darned weird they look” as he crams many scenes with fowl play.
Langridge notes the graphic novel is larger in page count and format than usual monthly comic books, and that meant a bigger canvas in every way for him to put all sorts of birds, aliens and a few humans, too.
“I’m putting in some long hours here, folks!” Langridge says. “It’s exhausting, but also very satisfying, to pack a page with so much detail.
“This is a special book, it’s a privilege to be allowed to work on it, and I’m extremely aware of that. I have high hopes that the final result will be worth all the extra effort.” – USA Today/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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