Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: It Came From Ohio...

They Came From Ohio... might have made for a more accurate title, as writer James Renner's book contains 13 stories of monsters, UFO encounters and similar strangeness from my home state (and, incidentally, would have differentiated it from the R.L. Stine biography with the same title), but then, It Came From Ohio... is a better, snappier-sounding title, and the pronoun could be referring to the book itself, not the stories the book contains, or the creatures and characters that are featured in each of them.

Let's start at the beginning. No, let's start before the beginning, with the cover.

It Came From Ohio...: True Tales of the Weird, Wild, And Unexplained (Gray and Company; 2012) is a very attractive little book. It's a slim volume, just over 100 pages, and higher than it is wide—a thin rectangle of a book that could almost but not quite fit in one's back pocket, or inside coat pocket, like a guide book might.

The almost bright black of the cover sharply contrasts with the green of the title and the figure in the middle, a green which just as sharply contrasts with the sickly yellow of the image's background and the author's name. A few bits of red in the creature's eyes and the beam of light seeming to shoot from its finger draw the eye and add an additional level of complexity.

The cryptozoologically inclined among you, those with an at least passing interest in Ohio's many, many monsters, or readers of this blog with a photographic memory will probably recognize the creature as The Loveland Frog.

The image is by artist Todd Jakubisin, who provides an illustration for each chapter of the book (which we'll look at some more examples of below). Each chapter opens with an illustration facing it, all in roughly the same shape and proportions, and in stark black and white; the cover image is taken from the third chapter, "The Ballad of The Loveland Frog."

There's a block-like simplicity to Jakubisin's illustrations, all of which strive to capture essential elements of the stories, but to present them in ways that are decorative and evocative more than representational. That cover image, for example, isn't a drawing of what the witnesses described seeing so much as it's a cool drawing of a frog-like bipedal creature.

In addition to the Loveland Frogs, other famous Ohio monsters who have their stories told here include the Lake Erie monster AKA South Bay Bessie, the Melon Heads of Kirtland (the next city over from where I currently work and reside, though I'm not brave enough to walk around the woods with a flashlight at night), The Mothman (whom we share with West Virginia; although Point Pleasant, WV is his/its home, the Silver Bridge terminated in Ohio, and there were plenty of sightings of it on our side of the river), and, of course, the omnipresent Bigfoot (The hairy humanoid discussed in the chapter "Bigfoot's Lair" is in Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County).

The other monsters included were new to me. That, or else ones I had read about previously and forgotten having done so.

There's a werewolf from Defiance said to have used a two-by-four or club on a few victims (What's scarier than a werewolf? A werewolf with a two-by-four. Funny how if you add the words "with a two-by-four" to the name of just about anything capable of holding a two-by-four, it becomes scarier. Try it.)

There's a camp ghost nicknamed "Red Eyes," a name it shares with one of the state's many famous Bigfoots.

And then there's a ghost in a house near the university of Akron. (I've read quite a few books on ghosts in Ohio, but few of the stories really stuck with me, as I'm not terribly interested in ghosts; certainly not as much as I'm interested in monsters).

Two pretty famous UFO incidents are included, the 1966 incident in which police officers chased a relatively low-flying, slow-moving UFO along highways for the better part of a night, producing detailed sightings from multiple police officers (This is an incident written about extensively in Jerome Clark's UFO encyclopedia, a book I'd recommend if you're at all interested in the subject), and another particularly credible sighting involving a helicopter full of military men, flying back and forth between Cleveland and Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton (which Clark also covered).

The remaining stories are more along the lines of general weirdness: A chapter on the Toynbee tiles found around the region, the "WOW" signal from space that an Ohio State University professor temporarily picked up and lost and the goings-on of mysterious and super-exclusive rich-person Lake Erie hangout Rattlesnake Island.

Depending on how many other similar books one has read before, Renner's book is either full of quite interesting stories, or a pleasant enough re-telling of some familiar ones (Six of the 13 were new to me). The chapters are all very short, no more than 10 pages at the longest, and thus there's not a whole lot of room for detail. That makes it something like a Weird Ohio 101, introductions to various incidents and creatures one can read more about elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Renner's book doesn't include any notes or even a bibliography, so it doesn't really function as a stepping stone, so much as it might send one seeking a stepping stone. As someone interested in Ohio's monster populace, for example, I very much would like to learn more about the two-by-four toting werewolf of Defiance, Ohio, but I wasn't given anywhere else to look for. Nor can I check his sources for various bits of the Mothman story that seem to contradict other tellings.

(I was interested and confused, for example, by a sentence reading, "Others say the Mothman was an ancient harbinger of doom, the kind seen by prophets in the Old Testament." I don't recall any thing in the Old Testament at all resembling the weird-ass Mothman, and a Bible passage from the Book of Daniel quoted in sidebar in is prefaced by the vague "Some have noted the similarities between a biblical beast...and the Mothman", quoting the following line from Daniel: "After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon its back four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads." Doesn't sound much of anything like the two-winged, headless, owlman-like Mothman, does it?)

Also, I would kind of like to learn more about this crazy paragraph:
Renner is the first to suggest, at least in my reading, that the Coyne Incident (the UFO sighting by the guys in the helicopter) might have been the result of the government testing some sort of psy-op on their own men.

There seems to be a bit of first-hand reporting involved in some of the stories though, even if there are a few cases of sources simply being identified as "Some" or "Others."

In his chapter on the 1966 UFO chase, for example, Renner talks to the son of one of the officers involved in the chase, and reveals some crazy, spooky details about the man's death.

And in the chapter on Mothman, Renner quotes Hazel DeWitt, who appeared in the documentary Eyes of the Mothman, who now serves a Mothman burger in Point Pleasant's Harris Steak House (It's an eight-dollar "charbroiled patty covered in pepperjack and Mothman sauce, whatever that might be.") It's weird how scary the Mothman sightings were in the context of John Keel's original Mothman Prophecies book were, and how silly they seem now that the town has embraced Mothman as a tourist attraction—how credible is a Mothman sighting coming form a lady selling you a Mothman burger, for example, or a tale of a visit from a Man In Black from someone working at the Mothman Museum?

Perhaps the most intriguing stories Renner shares, however, are personal ones, given in the short introduction in which he discusses his fascination with such weirdness. One is about a childhood experience in which he and his friend encounter some weird aerial phenomena and some strange animal or insect life (an incident that takes place at Camp Manatoc, home to the Red Eyes discussed in one of the chapters), and then there's this:
My aunt tells the story—I kid you not—of seeing the Easter bunny in the furry flesh as a child. She has become convinced over the years that what she actually saw was an angel pretending to be the Easter bunny to please her child mind.
That's a story I'd really, really like to hear more of—how big was the Easter bunny? How humanoid and how rabbit like? Was it walking upright? Carrying a basket? (My mom once saw Santa Claus' sleight through her window as a child on Christmas Eve, but only from afar).

Despite some disappointments, mostly of a nature that are particular only to me or someone at least mildly obsessed with some of these subjects, I found the book to be a lot of fun, and a good starting point for explorations on a few interesting topics (And, at $7.99 it's extremely affordable—less than the cost of two issue of The Avengers!)


Let's take a look at a couple of Jakubisin's illustrations, shall we? I'm just going to limit them to three, but if you're as interested in how different artists choose to depict the same subjects, it's probably worth flipping through one of these to see how he decided to draw, say, the Lake Erie monster.

First, here's his Bigfoot:
Note the posture and the walk, and how it looks a bit like his own, skinny, almost Muppet-like version of Bigfoot loping Patterson-Gimlin style through the woods.

There's a little sidebar in that chapter in which Renner writes that the Patterson-Gilmin film "remains the best evidence for the existence of Bigfoot." I don't know, is that true? If so, Bigfoot is totally not a real living, breathing animal because I'm on the "Dude, That Shit Is Fake As All Get-Out" side of that particular debate.

There's a nice quote about Bigfoot hunting from an Ohio expert and hunter Don Keating about the best way to go Bigfooting: "Don't go out there trying to find Bigfoot hiding behind a tree...Go out and enjoy nature. And if you see it, consider yourself lucky."

Sounds like good advice.

Here is Jakubisin's drawing for the Melonheads chapter, "Dr. Kroh's Home For Peculiar Children":
Rather than drawing a live Melonhead, feral macroencephalic children, Jakubisin draws the aftermath of one of their possible origin stories, in which the home they were living in burned down, leaving only their skeletons for him to draw in the front yard of the burning home.

And as The Mothman is such a repeated subject of interest here at EDILW, I would be remiss if my mission of collection Mothman depictions if I did not include Jakubisin's illustration for the Mothman chapter, "The Mothman Cometh":
Unfortunately, he doesn't offer a depiction of the Mothman, but instead focuses on the beginning of the Neil Partridege sighting, in which his dog Bandit chases a pair of giant red eyes that shine like bicycle reflectors and then disappears.

He distills the scene into a single, circular image, with parallel beams of light framing Partridge and Bandit. But there's no Mothman, which kinda boggles my mind, given how much fun Mothman is to draw.


Speaking of Mothman, Partridge and Bandit, here's my version of the story, as presented in my The Mothman Comics mini-comic which is, of course, still available for purchase:


Anonymous said...

You know, you've mentioned the MP movie numerous times throughout these posts, but you've kept fairly mum about it.

While I recognize it takes great liberties with the tale, one of the things I find most compelling / uncanny about it is the filmmaking itself and how, with a little clever-- perhaps too clever --editing, it conveys at least part of Keel's theory without belaboring things for a sci-fi-shy audience: namely, that MM & its ilk are higher-dimensional dwellers on the threshold.

The bit of the movie that gets most of my attention (because it panders to my literary obsessions as much as it does my lifelong interest in paranorm activity), is the way it plays with perception & plants the audience in MM's voyeuristic p.o.v. throughout, even going so far as to place the audience in the extremely uncanny-- or ├╝ber-corny, depending on how much one hates the flick --position of confronting a strange reflection in the mirror.

Pardon if I'm being too coy with specifics, but I don't wanna be spoilery if you haven't seen it.

Anyway, was watching the film again yesterday and picking it apart... (Because it is a deeply flawed film in a great many respects.) Here I check in today and, lo & behold, you've give MM yet another mention.

Caleb said...

Huh, you were just watching a movie and thinking about Mothman, and then you come here and see ME writing about Mothman...coincidence, or ultra-terrestrial string-pulling...?

I don't think I talked about the movie much on EDILW, did I? The Onion AV Club review of it was 50% of my inspiration for making a mini-comic about Mothman (the other 50% being a Scarberry quote, discussed in the first post on Mothman I ever did here).

As an ADAPTATION, it is an awful, awufl, awful movie that does almost nothing right. I think there were a lot of better movies within the text of Keel's book to be made, and splitting him up into two different fictional characters, inventing a sub-plot with a wife, moving the story into modern times, inventing the cop lady character...ugh.

It's okay-ish for what it is/was. the only image that really sticks with me is when Fake Keel #1's wife almost runs Mothman over, and the only scene the bit where Mothman or whoever says "Chapstick" over the phone. It's certainly not a Mothman movie I would have made or wanted to have seen made though (A more straight adaptation of the book would sure make an awesome Twin Peaks-style TV show though, wouldn't it? Like, Twin Peaks-meets-Mad Men-meets-The X-Files...?)

I'm glad they made it though, as it is what spurred my interest in Mothman to the extent that its grown to.