Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wannabeasts!: The Ohio monsters that won’t be in Beasts! Vol. 2

(Note: This post might be slightly NSFW, depending on where you work and how uptight your boss is. There are two rather poor drawings of breasts further down the post).

As regular readers of Every Day Is Like Wednesday are well aware, I'm not exactly what you might call an "artist." Or even a "cartoonist." Or a "guy who can draw better than the average 14-year-old after half a bottle of shop-lifted NyQuil."

But I like to draw, and I do a heck of a lot of it, in part because if I want to tell a joke about Darkseid fighting a J'onn-J'onnz-disguised-as-a-cat or Black Lightning meeting the Ghost of General J.E.B. Stuart from The Haunted Tank, it's more expedient to draw it on my kitchen table that night than, like, hire an artist to draw a cartoon to amuse me and the eight-to-20 EDILW readers who will see it.

Nevertheless, when Beasts! editor Jacob Covey sounded the clarion call for entries to fill a one-beast hole in the second volume of the beautiful bestiary series, I didn't give it too much thought before I sat down at my kitchen table (My drafting table is in a room that's so cold, I don't enter it during winter). I even eschewed my regular materials—index cards and colored pencils—for actual paper-paper (thanks for the Christmas present, W.!), a really nice ink pen, and a Crayola brand twistable mechanical colored pencil.

See, Covey said, "Bonus points for creatures from recent times (such as the chupacabras, Beast of Bray Road, sasquatch, Loch Ness monster—but not those because they've been depicted by other contributing artists)."

So I figured I could, at the very least, score the bonus points because the beasts I was thinking of were of more modern vintage, falling closer into the "cryptid" category than the "completely made-the-fuck-up" category, but still pretty far from “likely to exist.”

Remote as my chances were then, I figured I’d do some drawing and send an entry in, as it would give me a chance to evangelize on one or more of the great state of Ohio's great monsters, whether to whoever reads Beasts! 2 (if it made it in), or just Covey and cohorts if it didn't and, of course, all of you who would end up reading this EDILW entry.

Now, we Ohioans are kinda used to being the butt of the East and West Coast establishment's jokes, but, in the monster department, I think we hold our own pretty well against the likes of New England, California and New York. We've got the various Lake Erie monsters, we share the Mothman with West Virginia, we’ve got phantom cats, kangaroos and even a phantom python, we've got the Loveland Frogmen, the Branch Hill Trolls, and good God, do we have Bigfoots. The Grassman, The Minerva Monster, The Mifflin Monster, The Mill Lake Monster, The Cedar Bog Bigfoot, Ol’ Red Eyes, The Stick Man, Mow Mow, The Wood Devil—local names for variations of the Sasquatch creatures that allegedly make their homes in Ohio.

I'm not entirely sure why Ohio has so many sightings, nor am I sure why it is one of the leading states of Bigfoot research. Given the amount of development in the state, and how surrounded we are by other equally or more developed states (there are no ocean coasts or rainforests for large unknown species to hide in), I would expect that if anyone ever does find a Sasquatch type creature in North America, they'd be far more likely to find it in the Pacific Northwest than here in the the Buckeye State*.

(If I had to hazard a hypothesis as to why there have historically been so many sightings, I would say it has to do with the amount of time many Ohioan's spend outdoors at night, as people are wont to do in places where there's nothing to do, and a certain paranoid energy in the air in a few locales, like the shore of Lake Erie and weird areas of Southern Ohio where the Moundbuilders plied their mysterious trades centuries ago).

Now the first monster that crossed my mind for a possible Beasts! submission was of the Bigfoot family (I think cryptozoologists and monster hunters refer to them as "Hairy Humanoids" as a class, although this one also falls under the category of "Monsters of Lover's Lane.") Basically, he's described like most Bigfoot-type creatures are, with two differences. One is his gigantic size—eleven feet tall. And the other is the feature for which he's namde—his bright, orange eyes, capable of lighting up the night around him.

Orange Eyes, as the monster is known, was said to have made a habit of lurking around parked cars in secluded places, spying on the young lovers engaged in necking, making out and um, the things young lovers do in parked cars. In other words, Orange Eyes was a gigantic Sasquatch-like voyeur.

There aren't a whole lot of stories about Orange Eyes, and they tend to overlap in the major details.

The creature was first sighted near Mansfield in central Ohio in March of 1959. Despite it’s Mansfield sightings, it was popularly believed to have lived for at least a generation in a tunnel near Cleveland’s Riverside Cemetery, but was driven out by post-war highway construction, and it made its home in a forest behind the Cleveland Zoo.

In 1968, a huge group of teenagers went out to catch or kill it, armed with baseball bats, flashlights and ropes, and were believed to have driven it off once and for all.

In the rather tongue-in-cheek book The Field Guide to North American Monsters (Three Rivers Press; 1998), author W. Haden Blackman writes, “The montser has been known to drool on windows and howl with delight at the sight of naked flesh. Frightened lovers have stabbed, shot and driven over the creature, but none of these attacks seem to have injured the beast.”

I really like a lot about this story, and I think it would have the makings of a great horror movie. Or graphic novel I guess, since movie-making’s for suckers. Aside from the monster itself, you've got a ready-made excuse for nudity and sexy imagery (I've heard sex sells), some great settings (graveyard, zoo, tunnel), a readymade climax (in which the monster, horrifying one-on-one, becomes pitiable when hunted by a crowd; not unlike Frankenstein going from scary to sympathetic in the latter half of the 1931 classic), and even a bit of a message, what with the development moving him out of his home, forcing this symbol of the natural world into conflict with humanity, which ultimately defeats him. Man, I’m tearing up just thinking about it…

So, that was the first monster I thought of when thinking of a beast for Beasts!.

I messed around drawing faces for a while, finally settling on a no-neck, mop-like version. This was my first sketch:

I gave him little hair horns, a tail and quadraped-like hindquarters just because they were more fun to draw than the normal hairy Bigfoot-type body.

Then I thought a stronger image might be one that incorporates the beast’s point of view and the lovers’ point of view better. So I thought about a scene from inside the car. That would be scarier. And easier to draw.

The first sketch had a much too small monster, using the car window for scale, so I tried again:

Ultimately, though, I liked the first idea best, so this is what I submitted to Covey:

Obviously, it didn’t make the cut. Covey received over 200 submissions, after all and mine is, well, it’s not exactly the work of a pro, you know? Covey was kind enough to respond with a nice email though, which was very cool of him, particularly considering the amateur quality of my submission.

Here’s the image that will ultimately fill the open hole:

It’s of some nymphs by Jennifer Tong, and it’s damn pretty. Covey has posted some of the beautiful runners-up here. You can see a bunch of the other submissions posted here. I’m glad I didn’t see any of these while I was drawing mine, or I wouldn’t have even bothered—there is some nice art there, and I can't imagine how hard it must have been for Covey and company to narrow it down to just one.

Among my favorites of the other wannabeasts are the turtle town, kick-ass Chimera, the pissed-off Skunk Ape, the Maryland Goat Man (another Monster of Lover’s Lane), the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (I coulda sworn it was in the first volume, but maybe that was just a similar lamb/plant hybrid) and the Batsquatch (Hey DC Editorial, I just go a great idea for a Batman Confidential pitch). If you've already checked out the flickr images, you might want to check back. Every time I click on the link, the images multiply.

I never completed my drawing of the other Ohio monster I was thinking about, which is, rather than a single monster, a race of monsters: The Melonheads.

Despite the funny name, they are some scary-ass customers—feral, possibly cannibal diminutive humanoids with gigantic hairless heads that roam the woods and lonely roads around Kirtland, Ohio, one-time home to real-life monster Jeffrey Dahmer.

The Ohio Melonheads have very well defined stomping grounds—Chardon-Windsor Road in Chardon, and Wisner Road and around the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland. The area’s about 45 minutes from the town I was born in and grew up in, and about two hours or so from Columbus; I drive through it whenever I go home to visit. I’ve never gone looking for Melonheads though, and haven’t actually been in the woods in the area since I heard of them. In high school I used to spend a lot of time running around the area though, so I’m kinda glad I didn’t hear of them until I transplanted to Columbus.

The most popular version of the Melonhead story goes like this. Around the time of World War II, a Dr. Crow or Dr. Crowe or Dr. Kroh or Dr. Crower, who was an evil or benevolent scientist, was given a brood of normal children or children suffering from a rare form of hydroencephalism to take care of or experiment upon or to give a rare form of hydroencephalism. He inejected their heads with water or chemicals or radiation, and it mutated them or caused them to mutate them further. He may have abused them physically and mentally until one day they revolted, attacking and killing him and burning down the lab or orphanage in which they were kept. Or he was kind to them, and it was burnt down in a fire that also claimed the doctor and/or his wife, leaving the despised Melonheads to fend for themselves.

The Melonheads that now roam Lake County are either the originals, or the descendants of the originals or possibly the ghosts of the originals. They are either filled with vicious hatred of normal-headed people, and will attack, kill and eat them on sight. Or they are deeply ashamed of their misshapen looks and will try to scare people away before they can get a good look at them. Or they are shy and docile and will try to avoid any and all contact with others at any costs.

There are a couple of other more radical variations, including one in which The Crows are nineteenth century farmers or settlers who gave birth to a brood of disfigured children, and retreated to the woods to raise them in secret, far from prying, judgmental eyes, and, when the couple passed on, their children became feral.

The other version, which I’ve only encountered in Weird Ohio (Sterling Publishing; 2005), has the doctor performing illegal abortions out in the woods, and he’d bury the (sometimes deformed) bodies around his cabin. Implying that the Melonheads are the ghosts of aborted, deformed fetuses…?

Abandoned structures and ruins found in the area—barns, shacks, houses—are often said to be the place where the Crows lived or raised their kids or performed their experiments.

The Internet is absolutely lousy with Melonhead stories, and Weird Ohio has a few pages devoted to the subject, including a handful of personal accounts. I understand that both Michigan and Connecticut have their own version of the Melonheads, which sure makes them seem a lot less likely to be real. I mean, how many races of diminutive feral creatures with giant heads can there be hidden on this half of the continent?

The scariest stories I’ve heard or read involving Melonheads have to do with people encountering them by accident. Pulling over on the side of the road near the woods so someone could get out to take a piss, or parking by a dead end somewhere to make out for a while. And, while they’re out of the car or the car’s engine is turned off, a Melonhead or a group of them will appear in the headlights or come slowly wobbling through the underbrush at the teller of the tale.

So I imagined an image of someone running away from a group of Melonheads, coming out of the woods and about to clamber over a guiderail to get at the victim.

At first I thought about drawing a trio of them, each with an actual melon for a head. Like, one would have a watermelon head, one would have a honeydew head and one would have a cantaloupe head. I was thinking of the logo for Lemonheads candy, and thought about a “cute” version of the Melonheads.

For a few seconds, anyway. Then I realized I can’t draw melons to save my life. At least, not without photoreference.

So then I settled on something more akin to giant babies with huge heads

and got this far with a final piece

Before February was about to turn into March, and the deadline expire, so I stuck with the Orange Eyes drawing.

And there you have it: A guided tour of my Beasts! submission thought and drawing process, and just about everything I know about two of the coolest creatures in Ohio’s monster menagerie.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go redesign the hell out of Iron Man…

*Since writing the first draft of this post, I’ve read Bigfoot In Ohio: Encounters with the Grassman by Christopher L. Murphy (Pyramid Publications; 1997), and apparently as of 1992, 81% of Ohio's total 41,000-square mile area was “rural or forest in character.” Researcher Rene Dahinden, who wrote the introduction, said “Ohio, like numerous other states, certainly has sufficient wilderness regions to support a Bigfoot creature…Would these creatures venture into Ohio’s rural areas as numerous witnesses claim? Such is not beyond reason.” So there you go. That’s what the experts say.


mordicai said...

from the title i was hoping you would talk about my cherished melonheads.

SallyP said...

Why...I had no idea that Ohio was so...Interesting! I really must go there.

I'm from Connecticut, and we really don't HAVE any scary monsters. Well, we do, but we call them elected officials, and they all hang out at the State House. You don't want to KNOW what they do on a full moon.

Anonymous said...

This was awesome!

Unknown said...

When I was a wee lass, I heard a story at Girl Scout camp called the Watermelon Baby: A kid that everyone made fun of for being a crybaby got hit in the head with a baseball. It, um, hit his pituitary gland or something and caused his head to grow to watermealon-like proportions. He now lives in the woods and kills unsuspecting campers who wander off on their own.

Wendy said...

You are most welcome, fine sir! An excellent use of your Christmas bounty!