I’ve always liked monsters, and it all started with Morgan Freeman. Sure, he might be better known now for his roles in movies like Wanted and The Dark Knight, but when I was a kid he was Vincent the Vegetable Vampire on The Electric Company, an educational program on public television.
Vincent was a strange guy, even by educational vampire spokesperson standards. He sang odes to the joys of bathing in caskets (captured for posterity at YouTube-don’t click unless the idea of a topless Morgan Freeman vamping it up in a coffin full of suds does it for you), and offered children amusing couplets like “I’m Vincent, the Vegetable Vampire. In the nighttime, when tomatoes start to scream, it’s only Vincent the Vegetable Vampire creeping in the garden of your dreams.”
With characters like these lurking in the periphery of acceptable children’s programming is it any wonder that I developed an affinity for monsters? Decades later, it’s still there.
I love collecting bestiaries, encyclopedias and other tomes devoted to mythological beasts, and I’m always happy to snap up a new one when opportunity presents itself. One of my more recent acquisitions is Fantastical Creatures Field Guide, a slender volume by artist and writer Aaron Lopresti.
A fun, tongue-in-cheek collection, Fantastical Creatures collects “eye witness” accounts of run-ins with whimsical beasts like the Fresh Water Amazonian Trout Man, or New York’s own Metropolitan Pterosaur and Elizabethan Constrictors, all accompanied by illustrations in full color.
Fantastical Creatures is an exercise in droll humor, with plenty of absurd allegations (one of the aforementioned pterodactyls is currently living in the Statue of Liberty’s torch, and that’s why it’s always closed to the public) and puns to clue the reader in that there’s not a single page of the book that is to be taken seriously.
The fun doesn’t stop with the monster descriptions, either. The last part of the book is devoted to showing how Lopresti drew and painted the creatures in the book—sure to be a source of inspiration to any aspiring artist of the weird.
While most of the other monster books I have in my collection are of a more scholarly tone, Fantastical Creatures is a welcome and light-hearted addition. Now if only there was an entry in it for Vegetable Vampires…