Books have changed over the years, they’ve had to. At one time books were the source of all knowledge and people who had access to them were privileged and held in high esteem. As a result pride was taken in the design and construction of these valuable objects of power. Thick cloth and leather bound volumes with gold leaf-edged pages, sumptuous illustration on heavyweight stock meant books were beautiful as well as informative items.
This concept, of a book as a piece of art is something that has mostly been lost over the years. The disposable nature of modern culture, the prohibitive cost of hand crafted items and of course in recent years, the Internet have all knocked considerable weight out of the idea of the book being the gateway to knowledge and power. So now in this electronic age it seems beautifully fitting that this new volume; Beasts, put out by Fantagraphics harks back to a forgotten time to suit its subject matter.
Beasts, is an encyclopaedia of fantastical creatures that probably never existed and only feature in the mythical stories of old salty seadogs. The book in fact, takes it's cues from an ancient book called a bestiary. A bestiary would contain beasts, most of whom, had not been proven to exist by the not quite up-to-date scientists and botanists of the age. The book would also include some text detailing the abilities of each beast and information on it's nature. This modern version contains a huge variety of mythical creatures, from the well documented Vampire and Lock Ness Monster to the slightly less known Triton and Nuckalevee.
Asp Turtle By Souther Salazar.
Fantagraphics has published this volume and it’s been dreamt up, designed and curated by their art director Jacob Covey, so all the illustrations are by the very finest talent in the arenas of comics, skate art, children’s books, rock posters and Sci-Fi / Fantasy art. Containing work by Jeff Soto, Jay Ryan and Tony Millionaire to name a few, the list of the ninety contributors is pretty much a who’s who or who’s up and coming in the aforementioned disciplines. Every monster has its very own page and there is some accompanying text detailing the specific legend of each beast on the opposite page. The illustrations vary greatly in style from the bright playful Japanese-esque ‘Kudan’ by Mizna Wada to the playful amusing monotone ‘Minotaur’ by Jason.
Werewolf By Jordan Crane.
Beasts looks to be a real labour of love for Covey, the book is a beautiful thing – ten inches square, one inch thick with a matte black and gold cloth binding, guilt-edge pages and an extruded title illustration on the cover. With the comic book market awash with collections of comic strips by a plethora of talented artists Fantagraphics and Covey have done very well to come up with such an intriguing idea for a book, that outthinks the competitors so efficiently. Fantagraphics are on fire at the moment, no one can touch them. Books like Beasts are testament to that fact.