It would have been a hard sell at nearly any other publisher, a coffee table art book devoted to the much maligned pseudo-science of cryptozoology—let alone a sequel to such a thing. And, had someone actually bit and jumped at the opportunity, the results would likely have been an unmitigated disaster.
In the loving hands of Fantagraphics, however, Beasts: Book 2 is a thing of beauty, from the fittingly classical packaging, presented with shades of Chris Ware and a metallic ink on the edges of the pages that unintentionally shed onto the hands of all who pick it up, to the impressive roster of artists—a sort of coming together of indie comic’s new and old guards, from Kim Deitch and Peter Bagge to Kazimir Strzepek and Jillian Tamaki.
It’s hard to say exactly who the target audience is with a book like Beasts, but surely there’s a fair-sized overlap between lovers of the paranormal and connoisseurs of fine alternative art. The bulk of the second Beasts is devoted to 96 plates. Each features a brief description of a fantastic creature from the world of cryptozoology, accompanied by a one or two page artistic representation of said animal. The beauty of the pieces is not only in the skill of the artists on display, but also the diversity of a stable that includes both cartoonists and artists from other worlds like children’s books, fine art, poster design, and skate graphics.
Many of the standout works, not surprisingly, come from names that will likely be familiar to anyone immersed in the world of underground comics. Jaime Hernandez’s “Peg Powler” is a piece of drably-colored terror that might have sat unnoticed amongst storyboards for Pan’s Labyrinth. Jim Woodring, not surprisingly, is right at home amongst the pages of mythical terror, with his stunning two-page charcoal tribute to Scolopendra and Hippocamp. Dash Shaw’s “Wivre,” meanwhile, unfolds like a colorful tribute to the skewed perspectives of MC Escher.
The pieces are supplemented with interviews and essays aimed at shedding more light on the field, including an introduction by Loren Coleman, the editor of the massively popular cryptozoology blog, Cryptomundo.
If there’s a complaint to be had here, it’s the book’s relatively lofty $34 cover price. Holding the book in one’s hands however, it’s difficult to deny that Beasts: Book 2 is a downright stunning little book.