Pulp Fictions: Jacob Covey's Beasts! Book 2 and Matt Leines's You Are Forgiven
Beasts! Book 2 Jacob Covey Fantagraphics
You Are Forgiven Matt Leines Free News Projects
Collections are one place where size definitely helps. First published in 2006 (and newly available in paperback), editor/curator Jacob Covey's handsomely appointed volume titled Beasts! seemed merely intriguing at the time, with its 90 mythological, supernatural, and folkloric creatures illustrated buy as many fine artists. Beasts! Book Two (Fantagraphics), however, adds 90 more creatures, and takes Covey's obsession over the top and into the realm of the maniacal with its colorful tributes to the Boo Hag, Chupacabra, Deer Woman, Mermaid, Nymph, Reptoid, Three-Legged Ass and other figments of our fears, in yet another classy hardback edition.
Every illustration connects a remarkable feat of cultural imagination with a creative personal interpretation. Philip K. Dick might have invented the Tsukumogami, which Paul Hughes, one of Beasts!'s three pithy writers, describes drolly as "household tools and objects that have become self-aware precisely 100 years after their creation. Whether an old teapot (morinji-no-okama) or a well worn pair of sandals (bakezori), a TSUKOGAMI will behave in accordance with its previous treatment." Nobumasa Takahashi's black-and-white illustration, meanwhile, depicts a world of electric appliances and gadgets gone wild.
It's hard to pick favorites from among artists as magnificent as David B., Peter Bagge, Jaime Hernandez, Lilli Carré, Dash Shaw, Benjamin Sea, Kim Deitch, and his father, Gene. But what fan of Japanese hopping-vampire movies such as Ricky Lau's classic Mr. Vampire wouldn't go ape over Jonathan Hill's cartoony depiction of a girl dispatching a volley of vampires with kung-fu karisma? Also behold Brian Chippendale's hellacious double-page spread based on the vicious Al-Miraj, a bright yellow rabbit with a taste for blood. Not to mention Justin "Scrappers" Morrison's decidedly unbucolic vision of Alaska's Beaver of Killisnoo, an unlikely household pet whose seductive songs gainsay a penchant for homicide.
With its lion's head, scorpion's tail, ox's midsection, tortoise's shell, and six stubby bear legs, artist Matt Leines's illustration of a Mediterranean creature called the Tarasque in Beasts! Two looks like something he made up himself - at least judging by the amazing monsters, shamans, warriors, tigers, and buildings with eyes that populate the pages of his amazing debut monograph, You Are Forgiven (Free News Projects).
Leines's obsessive patterns, ziggurats, and electrical bolts suggest Babylonian mythology filtered through Mexican peyote visions. Born in 1980, the Rhode Island School of Design graduate does a lot with his relatively small, yet magnificently reconfigured, alphabet of shapes, symbols, and colors. Buildings contain the faces of warriors who cut the hearts out of tigers whose heads in turn sit atop shamans struck dead by bolts thrown by "lightning men" with the heads of buildings containing faces. And so on.
Both epic and a little cheesy at once (his characters' limbs are depicted as though hinged like two-dimensional dime-store puppets), Leines's installations and drawings suggest moments captured from a much larger narrative whose full scope may never be revealed. Full of blood and guts and magic, You Are Forgiven is a beastly masculine power trip for the ages.
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