Friday, November 21, 2014

Recommended Reading for 11/21: The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow

I think it's pretty safe to say that most people who grew up in the 70s and 80s have a love of The Muppets and many of the other creations of visionary Jim Henson. And no creator in comics has worked with the worlds of Henson more than Roger Langridge, whose Muppet Show Comic Book was one of my first recommended readings. So, if there was one creator who would adapt a lost Henson Thanksgiving special, it would have to be Langridge, and so it was that Archaia Entertainment, publishers of various other Henson adaptations, and their parent company, BOOM Studios!, who initially published Langridge's Muppets comics and his series, Snarked!, got Langridge to adapt The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow.

Originally written by Henson and his collaborator Jerry Juhl in 1968, Musical Monsters has a feeling similar to the Henson holiday specials of the 80s such as Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas; you won't see Kermit or the other familiar Muppets, but you'll absolutely know it's a Henson story. The themes that it explores are friendship and family, both themes that are central to Muppet stories.

The plot of Musical Monsters has that simple charm of all the best Henson stories. Timmy Henderson lives with his big sister, Ann, and his aunt, Clytemnestra, on land outside of the town of Turkey Hollow, where the turkeys vastly outnumber the people. They're a little different, a little quirky, and their neighbor, Mr. Sump, wants their land. Timmy is learning to play the guitar, and when he goes out to practice in the woods, he finds the Musical Monsters, creatures from space, who make harmony with his playing and helps him find his rhythm. He befriends the Monsters, they play music and have fun, and soon they they befriend Timmy's whole family. But Mr. Sump finds out about the Monsters, and soon Timmy must help save his new friends.

The characters in this story are simple characters that can be summed up easily. Timmy is a good kid, Ann is his sweet big sister, Aunt Cly is the quirky hippy lady, Mr. Sump is a big jerk, and the local sheriff, Grover Cowley, is a nice guy with a crush of Cly. And for a story like this, that works perfectly. It's a holiday story about Musical Monsters, and so a simple plot with simple characters works perfectly. They all have dimension and motivation, Henson and Juhl were too good as writers to make their characters two dimensional, but the story doesn't require haunted backstories and long monologues. It's just a holiday story, one about making friends no matter their shape or size.

The Monsters themselves don't speak, but each interact through making a specific sound. Anyone familiar with The Muppet Show can picture this kind of Muppet creation, as they would often appear as one off skit creatures. It's here that the graphic novel format really helps the Musical Monsters. Muppets can be wonderfully expressive, but as simple puppets, they only have so much range of facial and physical expression. Langridge is able to give the Monsters so much personality, even though they don't speak, just by look and body language. They're all well designed, with Langridge expanding on the initial designs by Henson to make them full creatures, since most Muppets don't show all their appendages after all. There are test images of the original Muppets, along with Henson's daughters, and you can absolutely see that, while Langridge expanded the Monsters, he stayed very true to Henson's original intentions.

Now, one of the problems with telling a story that has so much music in it, as most Muppet stories do, in this kind of format is that, well, you can't hear the music. In his afterword, Langridge himself admits that music and comics go together like, "chalk and peanut butter," but he knew he needed to do something, since music is central to the plot of the story. Through the wonders of the creativity of Langridge and colorist Ian Herring, music is symbolized through color. Notes of different colors dot the pages as Ann sings her song, and as the Musical Monsters harmonize with Timmy whole pages are covered in whirls of gorgeous hews, all bright, warm colors that seem to send joy from the page. I found myself making little tunes to each of the sings and pitches and tones to the Monsters sounds.

Oh, one very cool thing to look out for when you check out the book: at one point in the story, the Musical Monsters sneak into Timmy's bedroom and he wakes up to see them standing at the foot of the bed. The internal back cover and the last page are a two page spread that show the shot from the other angle, and it shows the Muppeteers performing the parts, including Henson, and Juhl holding some script pages. It's one of those charming pages and ideas that makes Langridge such a brilliant creator and something that brought a big smile to my face.

So, that's The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow. I was talking to a customer this week at Dewey's, and they asked if this would be good to read to a kid, and that got me to think this would be a perfect book to share with your kids. I can see making up tunes, making funny sounds, and doing every silly thing to make a kid smile throughout the story. And those smiles are the greatest tribute that a man like Jim Henson could have asked for.

Even though there will be at least a couple posts next week, I just wanted to thank everyone reading this for taking the time to read my little blog. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend.

The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow is available at better comic shops, as well as bookstores.

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