In "Beasts Book 2," as with the first, cryptozoology, international myth and legends, top-notch illustration and a good sense of humor are mixed together for fun kind of coffee table book that offers something a little different for anyone bored in your parlor.
As curated by Jacob Covey, this "prodigious bestiary from the interest of modern artisans" gathers together just short of 100 different monsters throughout time and the ages. Some you already know well, like a nymph or a mermaid, while others are more obscure -- I'd never heard of a domovoi, for instance. A domovoi, for the equally uninitiated, is a little, horned and hairy man in Russia who likes to do house and yard work, but will get bent out of shape if its adopted family does not. Sweep your floors or there will be hell to pay.
There are plenty of other creatures on display, revealing a common trait in all humans -- the innate ability to mix the absurd with the gruesome, usually for the purpose of berating children, though often just to teach a lesson to anyone for any reason. Bad wives in Japan can end up as the one-eyed, two-mouthed futakuchi-onna. In Bali, practicing black magic can transform you into a cannibalistic floating head called a leyak. And in England, when you don't listen to your parent and go near the water, a peg prowler might just pull you in and gobble you up.
More than anything though, are the creatures designed to scare people of anything unknown. That's a belief that has united humankind for ages -- if you don't know about it, it's bad. And mean. Dare to venture from home in the Phillipines and a tikbalang -- a fetus-like man-horse -- will play tricks on you. In Japan, the Mountain Woman will find you, pounce on you and eat you. In the Gobi Desert, a Mongolian death worm might spray you with acid.
Each creature is realized by some of the best artists, illustrators and cartoonists you'll find working today -- Jaime Hernandez, Lilli Carre, Ray Fenwick, Kim Deitch and Anthony Lister, among many others.
The book also boasts a short comic story by the marvelous Dan Zettwoch focusing on a real life incident in 1865 involving a Kraken -- or, much more likely, a giant squid. Adding to the book are two fascinating interviews -- one with cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard, the other with renowned giant squid researcher Richard Ellis. With all the pieces put together, "Beasts Book 2" actually surpasses the first volume in quality and interest and provide hope that maybe a "Beasts Book 3" will come along to top those.
Skitzy by Don Freeman (Drawn and Quarterly)
Don Freeman is a legend in children's books -- his book "Corduroy" is a classic and others like "Pet of the Met," "Beady Bear" and "Norman the Doorman" are still read to little kids.
Freeman began his career as a magazine illustrator, renowned in the 1950s for his renderings of New York City street life, as well as theatrical drawings for newspaper drama pages. It was at this point in his career that Freeman self-published "Skitzy," now represented for the first time after decades of obscurity.
Freeman's illustrative calling card was a loose style that evoked the cartoonist's pencil, as well as an animator's pen. In "Skitzy," Freeman puts this style in its most spare form, dashing line drawings that capture much in their simplicity. Following the work day of Mr. Skitzafroid, Freeman presents the stereotype of a 1950s office worker as he literally splits into two people and lives two work days. One grumpily heads to work for a day filled with papers and charts and numbers and screaming bosses, while the other heads to a downtown studio to paint nude models.
It's the sort of dynamic that seems more common at the time than many of us now give credit to. Creativity -- artistry -- was not the desired career of a man. You were supposed to go out and get a good job with a good company, get benefits, make something of yourself. Being an artist was just not a sure thing -- and America was built on security, right?
In the end, Freeman's pantomime manages to bring the two worlds into collision -- not violently, however. Instead, Freeman offers solutions and this speaks to his enlightenment at the time, a very progressive view that art and business did not have to be two different things. A man can make his living through art -- or whatever makes him happy.