Interview with Karen Falk and Stephen Christy

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At this part New York Comic Con, I had the pleasure of interviewing both Stephen Christy, editor-in-chief at Archaia, and Karen Falk, head archivist at The Jim Henson Company.   The Muppets are returning to the big screen in their eponymous movie on Nov. 23rd.  The Jim Henson Company and Archaia have a few releases of their own, including Storyteller, which made headlines recently in USA Today, and Tale of Sand.  In the related panel, a graphic novel prequel to The Dark Crystal was announced.  The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths is due to be released late this year.  There’s also a prequel graphic novel of Labyrinth in the works where Jared descends into the Underground and faces the goblin queen.

Comic Booked – How did you arrive at the position of archivist?

Karen Falk – Well, I was really lucky. I used to work down the street from the Muppet Workshop and I saw the guys had Kermit the Frog jackets and thought “Gee, I’d love to work there, but what could I do? I’m a historian.” I saw an ad for the Henson exhibits department and I send a resume and called. I was told they filled the position, but they would keep the resume. I thought that would never happen.  Then a couple months later I got a call. They said, “Jane Henson wants to hire an archivist to organize the papers.”  This is shortly after Jim passed away.  “We want to talk to you about maybe starting an archive.”  So, I went and over the period of a couple months I had discussions with various people in the company and was eventually hired, originally as part of the PR department, which is where a lot of archives exist and then after about a year we broke off and we were our own department.  It’s been a great thing. We started off just dealing with papers and scripts and have slowly taken over the media collection – that’s come into the archives – and historic puppets.

Comic Booked – How did you arrive at the decision to bring Tale of Sand out of the archives?

Karen Falk – Well, I think it was really Stephen [Christy] and Lisa Henson that were for it.  Lisa called me and asked “What have you got in the archives would be interesting for the kind of project that we’re talking to Steve Christy about?”  So I came up with a list of things most of which were not complete screen plays.  They were short pieces.  They were things that had been produced in some way as a test or something, but there really wasn’t much in the way of a complete screen play that didn’t have muppets that was a nice snapshot or window into Jim’s creative thinking and when she looked at the group of materials she recognized Tale of Sand.  She knew it, of course, from when she was younger and said “This is something we could work with” and brought Stephen in to make a judgment call on that.

Comic Booked – How did you come to the decision to bring it into a graphic novel format rather than a movie or television production?

Stephen Christy – It couldn’t have been a movie because it’s Jim’s.  He’s not here to do it anymore. It’s just a question of this great thing in the archives.  How can we share it with people?  When we signed our partnership with the Jim Henson Company, one of the first things I told Lisa was “You’ve got stuff in your archives.  Let’s find something and make a graphic novel as a tribute.”  And when we got Tale of Sand we didn’t even expect it. I actually had the script for six months before we started the artist search.  I was trying to wrap head around the story, thinking “How am I going to do this?  How is it going to work?”

Comic Booked – Did you audition artists?

Stephen Christy – We auditioned four different artists and selected Ramon Perez.  He sent in samples that blew everyone away.  Lisa loved it and I loved it and when you get Lisa Henson’s blessing on something, I was like “That’s the guy.”

Karen Falk – Lisa’s been a film executive for many, many years.  She was with Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures before she came back to work in the company.  She worked on Batman and Sense and Sensibility. She really has a great eye for what’s going to work.  She’s not a director herself, but she has a real sense of what works from her experience in the industry.    She saw this as something that really would not work as a film.  When Jim pitched this originally to film executives they all said this is fantastic, so creative, but this isn’t going to work as a movie.  She recognized that from her own professional experience, by the idea of adapting it to a graphic novel is a perfect way to access Jim’s idea.

Comic Booked – Is that why you decided to partner with Archaia?

Karen Falk – We already had an arrangement. We had a partnership with Archaia.

Stephen Christy – We had an arrangement and partnership for all of Henson’s library, including Fraggle Rock, which we did comics of, and Storyteller as well.   It’s just so funny looking back at how the book turned out.  It’s almost as if it was meant to happen.  It’s so perfect in the way it works and it’s such a wonderful realization of the original screenplay.  It sounds weird to say, but I think if you look at it from a meta perspective or from a Zen perspective it’s like Jim wrote this to be a graphic novel – to exist as a graphic.  He didn’t know it was going to happen, but that’s the reason he wrote the script – so we could publish it now around his 75th birthday when the Muppets are coming out as something that can hopefully bring another generation of people appreciate how creative Jim was.

Comic Booked – Given what you know about Jim – can I call him Jim?

Karen Falk – Sure! Everybody did.

Comic Booked – What do you think he would think of the influence his legacy has had? For example, Avenue Q has the frenetic muppet energy and adult themes in there, too.  Clearly, in his early film short, Time Piece, there are adult themes.

Karen Falk – That’s like some of the work we’re doing in now at Henson. We have a branch of our entertainment that is Henson Alternative  that Brian Henson is really leading up. We have a live improve comedy show that he created and is touring the country now.  That is very much late night adult humor and it’s been really well received. And we’re working on several film and television projects that are more for those audiences.

Jim always worked on several levels.  He got pigeon-holed as a children’s entertainer after Sesame Street and having worked already in the industry for fifteen years for mixed audiences it’s nice to be able to get back to some of that that. It’s certainly something that he tried to do with his work in the 70s and 80s was get back to some of the more adult themes and different levels of thinking about his work.

Comic Booked – On a similar line, the images you showed of A Tale of Sand and Dark Crystal were simply stunning.  There’s a clear trend in Hollywood focusing on remakes.  Are there any rumblings about a Dark Crystal or Labyrinth remake?

Karen Falk – Well, we certainly have been in development for a long time on Dark Crystal II, which isn’t necessarily a remake, but it involves a lot of the same characters in other times and what have you.  It’s not in production yet, by any means, but it’s one of the things that is on our wish list to do.   Certainly, these are timeless characters, timeless stories. Whether it’s muppets in space, the new movie coming out or it’s some of these fantasy projects, it’s really a way to see them have a longer life. 

Comic Booked – There was a segment in Tale of Sand where Jim is inserted as a director.  Was that part of the original script or was that an inspiration?

Stephen Christy – In the original screenplay, I think it just says you’re watching the scene and you hear someone yell “Cut!”  You pull back and you see that  everything has been taking place on a movie set and the director comes out and gets the crew scurrying away and cleaning the set up.  It doesn’t specifically say that it was going to be Jim.

Karen Falk – Well, it’s kind of like in The Cube, the man comes out and says you’re watching a television show of yourself.  It’s very much that meta thing that Jim and Jerry Juhl were inserting with their writing.  They were having fun with it.  It was amusing to do that kind of thing and mess with the viewer a little bit.

Stephen Christy – I think even though we don’t know if Jim would have done it, we wanted to have him in there.  It was the perfect place to do it.

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