Where the Artistic, Deeply Sensitive Wild Things Are

Beasts! eats bad art for breakfast

As a child obsessed with Ghostbusters (film and Saturday morning cartoon), cryptozoology and parapsychology seemed like two very viable options for a future career. Luckily for my parents, the onset of maturity forced me to reevaluate my priorities and take a more fiscally responsible path—working for a free weekly newspaper. Inwardly, though, I still find myself aligned with the Art Bells of the world, preferring to believe there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Beasts!, one of the newest releases from the always reliable Fantagraphics press, is a godsend to those of us who long to couch our obsession with the supernatural in a slightly more presentable tome than the Fortean Times Digest.

Editor Jacob Covey has assembled a collection of 90 allegedly mythical beasts and asked 90 modern artists to illustrate them as they see fit. The art itself runs the gamut from Juxtapoz-approved ironic pop-art to more classically imagined portrayals. Each image is accompanied by a description of the beast, selected from traditional mythology across the globe. Most of the animals described are obscure enough in the Western cultural experience to give you a whole new set of nightmares when you read about them. The artwork is uniformly excellent—or at the very least it's consistently fascinating to see the particular artist's style on display in his imagining of their subject. Renee French depicts Bigfoot as a sad-eyed pensive beast, swarmed with flies and longing for love, while Sam Weber portrays a vampire as a legitimately terrifying, dead-eyed wraith, baring its fangs and spattered with blood, as though it had just stepped out of the latest J-Horror blockbuster. James Jean's Succubus is a particular standout, with the fleshy, slimy, pale-skinned demon clutching her victim in passion as his soul escapes like steam from his mouth and his child looks on from the doorway.

The accompanying text, written by Heidi Broadhead, Felicia Gotthellf, Paul Hughes and Rob Lightner, is equally engaging and shows an impressive scope. How much richer my life has been made by the knowledge of the Donestre, a lion-headed human who attracts travelers with his charm and then consumes all but their heads, which he then holds and weeps over as he is consumed by guilt and self-loathing. Who can't relate to that, metaphorically at least?

Beasts! contains enough mythology to launch a string of prog-rock anthems, and Covey has designed a volume that will not look out of place next to your Franklin Mint Press classics or chi-chi museum catalogs. Growing up a weirdo wasn't always comfortable, but thanks to Fantagraphics I can now display my ridiculous fascinations with pride.

BEASTS! CURATED AND DESIGNED BY JACOB COVEY; FANTAGRAPHICS PRESS. HARDCOVER, 200 PAGES, $28.95. AVAILABLE AT WWW.FANTAGRAPHICS.COM

 
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