Seattle's Fantagraphics introduces hopping vampires and other beasts
The writing is even more fun than the illustrations in "Beasts! Book Two" — the new "Pictorial Schedule of Traditional Hidden Creatures" from Seattle's Fantagraphics Books.
Seattle Times arts writer
"Beasts"An exhibit from Fantagraphics Books' two anthologies about mythical creatures. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 24, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 1201 S. Vale St., Seattle; free (206-658-0110 or fantagraphics.com).
Sometimes there's nothing as satisfying to a reader as a detailed inventory. Even an annotated list can lead to literary bliss.
Think of Italo Calvino's magical 1972 novel, "Invisible Cities," with its litany of "thin cities," "hidden cities" and "continuous cities" supposedly encountered by Marco Polo on his travels — or Australian writer Alistair McCartney's more recent "The End of the World Book," in which all the aspects of his life are alphabetized, in brief, eccentric, encyclopedialike entries.
Now Seattle's Fantagraphics Books, under the "curatorship" of Jacob Covey, has done something similar for mythological creatures in "Beasts! Book One" (published in 2006) and "Beasts! Book Two," just hitting bookstore shelves now.
These two volumes on "cryptozoology" ("the study of hidden animals") are in part an excuse to throw a bunch of graphic artists — including locals Peter Bagge, Kazimir Strzepek and Jim Woodring in the new book — into an anthology together. Much of the artwork is on display through Jan. 24 at Fantagraphics' bookstore/gallery in Georgetown.
The visuals range from striking graphic design to standard comic-book gothic, goofy or gross-out. More unexpected are the finely written informational entries which blend fantasy, pseudoscience and macabre wit to savory effect.
Readers will recognize some of these creatures from classical myth and legend. In "Beasts! Book Two" (Fantagraphics, 207 pp., $34.99) they'll find mermaids, shapeshifting selkies and those monstrous hazards to Mediterranean mariners, Scylla and Charybdis. But they'll also come across a host of less familiar creatures, described by writers Heidi Broadhead, Paul Hughes and Rob Lightner with pithy panache.
There's a hopping vampire from China. "More flexible in some ways than the Western vampire," the entry reads. "Though it, too, is a reanimated corpse who must sap the vital force of the living in order to retain its thin hold on existence, it doesn't need to maintain a strict diet of blood."
The Paija, a giantess "more dangerous than any other hazard in the desolate wastes of the Arctic," has a reputation for "tracking lone male hunters and devouring them." A single glimpse of her is lethal.
On a more humorous note, there's England's Peg Powler, who grabs "disobedient children who play too close to the water's edge" and drowns them or eats them. "Reports of Peg Powler have decreased significantly since 1967," we're informed, "when her habitat was reputedly destroyed by the building of Cow Green reservoir to support local industry."
So much for the virtues of environmentalism.
Some kindly creatures also inhabit these pages: the short, squat Barbegazi of the Swiss Alps, skiing enthusiasts who sometimes rescue avalanche victims, and the more curious Tsukumogami of Japan, who are composed of "household tools and objects that have become self-aware precisely 100 years after their creation."
A warning: "Beware of Tsukumogami congregating in large numbers, especially if they have taken to drink."
"Beasts! Book Two" begins with an introduction by Loren Coleman, of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, who notes that the late 1970s were a busy time for researchers in his field.
"Was the world going crazy," he asks, "or were humans only screening sightings of new cryptids through the lenses of a culture unbalanced by UFO contactees and planetary poltergeists?"
In closing, it seems appropriate to give the full title of the book, which goes a long way — and I do mean long — toward conveying its flavor: "The New Modern Now Library Series, Part the Second: A Prodigious Bestiary from the Interest of Modern Artisans: Beasts! A Pictorial Schedule of Traditional Hidden Creatures, as Curated by Jacob Covey, A.D."
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.