150. JIM HENSON: A puppeteer’s advice
Jim Henson (1936-1990) was a puppeteer, storyteller, director, writer, artist, experimental film-maker, savvy businessman and all-around creative visionary responsible for many of my generation’s fondest pop-culture memories. Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth (not to mention all the television shows and films Henson’s company provided the special effects for) … it’s hard to imagine growing up without the influence of this great man.
I’ve recently journeyed down the Henson rabbit hole again after reading the latest biography by Brian Jay Jones. It’s been nice to read the book at night then get on my iPad and watch Muppets clips on YouTube. Ernie and Bert have been my favourite. Henson (Ernie) and Frank Oz (Bert) were one of the greatest comedy duos ever. The Jim Henson Company has a wonderful YouTube channel with hundreds of videos.
Henson realised he was in control of his life at an early age. There was only one industry Henson wanted a career in and that was television. Puppeteering was just a means to an end for Henson, a way to get his foot in the television door. It was only after a trip to Europe where Henson discovered the rich history of puppeteering did he recognise the potential of the artform and decide to dedicate his life to it.
Reading Henson’s biography was incredibly motivating for me. Henson used an art form that was seen as crude, childish and primitive to create television and films that have brought joy to millions. At the height of its popularity, The Muppet Show was the most-watched program in the world. Henson (along with his fellow puppeteers) also created characters beloved by generations.
It made me want to revisit some of the characters I have introduced in Zen Pencils (not that I’m comparing mine with Kermit and Co.) and illustrate how they have changed my life. I thought combining Henson’s wonderful quote with my own story and characters was the perfect way to celebrate my 150th comic. So this is the Zen Pencils origin comic. I filled countless notepads with scribble at my old job, always dreaming that one day that those scribbles could somehow get me out of my situation. I guess I did kind of feel like the victim. I had pretty much drifted through life and did what I was told through school and university to get to that situation, never really taking control for myself. Once I finally did take control, everything changed.
I never considered reaching 150 Zen Pencils comics when I was scribbling at work nearly three years ago. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you decide to take control of your life.
Thanks for helping me reach this milestone, I couldn’t have done it without your support. I hope you’ll stick around for the next 150!
– If you want to read the Zen Pencils comics where the above characters appeared: The Shaolin Monk. The Dragonslayer. The Wrestler. The Boy Genius. The Lover.
– A big thank you to Liz Stevens for sending me this quote. Liz is a bona fide Jim Henson and Muppets expert and has written a book about Henson’s mastery of art and commerce. She also recently wrote this article on Salon about The Muppets which includes a mention of yours truly!
– Who are your favourite Muppet characters? Post your favourite Henson/Muppets clips in the comments