Monday, December 12, 2022

Cryptozoology Anthology

Cryptozoology Anthology, edited by Robert Deis, David Coleman, and Wyatt Doyle
June, 2015  New Texture

It’s a shame Bob Deis wasn’t around back when men’s adventure magazines were still being published; he could’ve made a living coming up with themed anthologies for the publishers. And while there were a handful of men’s mag anthologies back in the day – ie Our Secret War Against Red ChinaWomen Without Morals, etc – none of them were as inspired as the themes Bob and his co-editors Wyatt Doyle and Bill Cunningham have come up with for their modern-day anthologies. I mean who would’ve thought there were enough men’s adventure mag stories to fill up a 300+ page book on Bigfoot, the Yeti, and sea creatures? But thankfully Bob Deis is around now, and Cryptozoology Anthology is another must-buy offering from his “Men’s Adventure Library” line. 

Let’s talk about the actual book for a minute. This hardcover edition of Cryptozoology is incredibly impressive, featuring full-color and black-and-white art throughout. The binding is a sturdy blue, and the pages – folks, the pages are on actual pulp paper! If you are looking for a Christmas present for that men’s adventure reader in your life, Cryptozoology is just what you are seeking. It’s too big to stuff in a stocking, though; as mentioned this baby is a big 300 pages. While it isn’t the same size of an actual magazine, it’s still pretty big, and also one thing I really appreciated was that Deis and Doyle (sounds like a songwriting team!) reproduced the splash page(s) for each story, followed by the story itself laid out in a more readable style. In other words, not the dense columns of text as in the vintage magazines themselves…though you can see what the original format looked like in the spashpage for each story. 

And there are a lot of stories here. Deis and Doyle (who could forget their top ten hit “Weasels Ate Me Alive?”) cover the gamut, from stories that follow the traditional men’s mag template to ones that come off like straight-up reporting. In addition to Deis and Doyle there is also David Coleman, who per the credits is a modern day cryptozoologist. Coleman provides an intro for all the stories; to be honest, while Coleman’s writing is fine, I missed Bob Deis’s typical intros. With Bob, you get more info on the publication or the artist, or how the story in question was comparable to other stories of the day. Coleman instead focuses on the critters discussed in the yarn, and what is known about them today. In a way, it epitomizes the difference between our day and the day of the men’s mags. Whereas the stories themselves are pulpy conceits that trade off on lurid mysteries, Coleman’s intros are more along the lines of “this is clearly made up.” But to me that’s part of the charm of the original stories. And to clarify, Coleman seems to like the stories a lot himself, and seems knowledgeable about the men’s mag publications. I just missed Deis’s usual intros, like for example the ones you’ll see in each volume of Men’s Adventure Quarterly

The monster covered the most frequently in Cryptozoology is the Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman. I was surprised at this, figuring there would be more yarns about Bigfoot. But I guess the Yeti’s popularity coincided more with the era of the men’s mags. Also, his habitat, in the cold forbidden reaches of the Himalayas, was more in-line with the adventure fiction vibe of the mags. In addition we do have a few stories about Bigfoot, two about sea monsters, and other assorted yarns about a variety of monsters. One thing to note though is that the monsters, especially the Yeti, are rarely seen by any of the narrators. In almost each case it’s some other character in the story who sees the creature, while the narrator is off in the distance and uncertain of what he has seen. My assumption is this way the editors of the men’s mags could retain the “true” conceit of the stories they published, while still capitalizing on the Yeti/etc fads of the day. I mean if they had a yarn where a narrator straight-up claimed to have fought the Abominable Snowman or Bigfoot or whatever, it would clearly be seen as fiction. That said, one of the stories here – one of the better ones, in fact – is clearly fiction, but it’s taken from Argosy, a magazine that featured fiction in addition to the usual nonfiction. 

Another note is that the majority of the stories are in first-person. They are also short, running to just a few pages each, though two of them are quite a bit longer. Another note is that most of the stories do not follow the usual men’s adventure yarn template, ie the cold open on some moment of tension, followed by the inevitable flashback which gradually sets up that opening incident – followed by a hasty wrapup. Only those two long stories follow this format; the others are more “reporting” than what one might expect. In other words, not all the stories here have the narrative drive of the average men’s adventure story. Again this is likely due to the editors trying to maintain the façade of “realism,” while still indulging in stories about monsters. Humorously, some of the stories feature introductory blurbs from the original men’s mag editors, basically disavowing any belief in the stories about to be told! 

“Wild Giants of British Columbia” by J.W. Burns is the first yarn, from the September 1948 issue of Sir!. This is our first indication that the stories here will be slightly different than the men’s mag norm, as instead of narrative it is comprised of stories told by Indians of a mysterious creature spotted here over the centuries – “[stories the Indians] have never confided to a white man before!” 

“Fish With Human Hands Attacked Me!” is by Arthur A. Dunn and from the November 1955 True Weird. I’m not familiar with this magazine but, judging from this story at least, it too was more along the lines of pseudo-reporting instead of the adventure yarns of the average men’s magazines. This one is about the many sightings of a humanoid fish off the coast of Nicaragua, one with a penchant for stealing off women – we even get a reference to The Creature From The Black Lagoon

Franz Kale’s “I Stalked The Yeti!,” from the February 1953 issue of Man’s Magazine, is the first to have more of a men’s mag adventure story vibe. The narrator tells us of a trip to the Himalayas and how he spotted obvious Yeti tracks. The beast then killed the “cowardly” native guides who ran away that night. But this story also introduces the concept that the white narrators themselves will rarely see the Yeti; in most every story it will be the natives who see it, with the white narrators off in the distance and their vision obscured. 

Up next is “Incredible Monster-Man Sightings In The US,” by John Keel and from the August 1970 Male. Okay, this one has to be a spoof, or at least a snarky joke from an author trying to pull a fast one on the editors. I mean how could we think otherwise when we come upon lines like, “We shall call [this monster] the Abominable Swamp Slob, or ASS for short?” Or better yet: “There’s hardly a respectable swamp in the Deep South that does not boast at least one ASS.” And try to get this image out of your mind: “The slime-covered ASS got away.” Otherwise this one’s just an overview of various “ASS” sightings, including Bigfoot; the author attempts to work in UFOs at one point, but drops the point with no resolution. 

No less than Arthur C. Clarke appears next, with “The Reckless Ones,” from the October 1956 Adventure. This is another strange one, not to mention one of the most awkwardly constructed short stories I’ve ever read. I mean it starts off with Clarke’s reminscing about some group of scientists he belonged to, then it turns into the ponderings of a Professor Hinckelberg (“He could talk like an LP record on a 78 turntable”), and then Hinckelberg tells a yarn about another guy named Jackson, who might’ve gotten some photos of an undersea creature. This story gave me a headache due to the awkward construction. 

Much better is the following story, “Hunt For The Half-Man, Half-Ape Of North America,” by Tom Christopher and from the November 1969 Men. This one’s the sort of rugged yarn we expect from the men’s mags: the author tells us of a hunting trip he took to British Columbia, in which a friend of his named Joe swears he saw a Yeti-type creature. Again, the narrator himself did not see the monster, a recurring motif of these stories. A year later Joe disappears and the narrator deduces that he’s gone back to BC by himself to gather evidence. The narrator heads there, finding that Joe has recently been in their hunting cabin, though Joe himself is gone. From there the story turns into Joe’s diary, which the narrator discovers – a tale of mounting horror, as Joe recounts his discovery that there is a Yeti type thing out there…and what’s more, there are a few of them and they seem to want to kill Joe. The diary ends with Joe practically being attacked in the cabin one night…and then the narrator, reading all this in that very same cabin at night, puts down the diary and goes to bed! This was so goofy I laughed out loud. Otherwise this story was really along the lines of what I expected from this anthology. 

Up next is a yarn that could’ve been a drive-in sci-fi flick of the era: “The ‘Thing’ At Dutchman’s Rig,” by Joseph Mavitty and from the November 1958 Showdown. Another first-person yarn, and another “Joe” to boot, but this one’s unique among the stories here in that narrator Joe himself sees the titular “thing.” Working on an oil dig in the jungle, Joe and team come across a friggin’ dinosaur, which keeps attacking the party. But the true monster here is Joe himself, who keeps pushing his men to work on the oil…despite the friggin’ dinosaur that keeps attacking them. This is another one where the original editors disavow any actual belief in the story being told. I also enjoyed the narrator’s hasty explanation that the dinosaur, a 20 foot T-Rex, might have been spawned by “radioactive fallout.” I could almost see the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion creature for this one. 

Mike Flint’s “A Man From Another Age,” from the November 1959 Man’s Illustrated, is the longest story in Cryptozoology. Or at least I think it is. Labelled a “book bonus” by the original editors, this is another first-person story in which “Mike,” a “big game hunter,” tangles with the Yeti. But this story is the closest to the typical men’s mag yarn; our hero even has sex with a lusty native gal per the men’s mag template. Actually not once but twice, first with one of the “four naked Nepalese girls” he randomly comes across during his trek, then later with another hotstuff native gal who sneaks around his campsite while he’s hunting the Yeti. We even get the customary cold open before the inevitable flashback; Mike opens the tale with his finding the mauled corpse of a dog while on a mountain trek in the Himalayas, then the flashback to how Mike was hired on for an expedition to gain proof of the Yeti. But again even here it's another character who gets all the evidence: a Brit who suffered by his own admission of cowardice in WWII, and who is looking to reclaim his dignity by finding the Yeti. Meanwhile, once again, our narrator is way far away when that confrontation finally occurs, with snow obscuring his vision and whatnot, so he never really sees anything. Otherwise this one was a lot of fun, mostly because it really was a men’s mag-type adventure story…and quite long, too! 

“Monster Bird That Carries Off Human Beings!,” by Jack Pearl and from the May 1969 Saga, gets back to the “just the [pseudo] facts” vibe. This tells of the “thunderbirds,” big-ass birds of myth who attack people and carry them away. The story randomly references the internment camps Japanese-Americans were kept in during WWII; some of those unfortunate prisoners plumb disappeared, so more than likely it was those damn thunderbirds carrying them off. I mean what other explanation could there be? 

The second longest story in Cryptozoology follows: “MacDonald’s Nightmare Safari,” by Jim MacDonald and from the August 1959 Man’s Conquest. Jim MacDonald is a familiar men’s mag by-line; he even wrote the famous “Wild Raid Of The Lace Panty Commandos.” But this tale too is in first-person, MacDonald telling us of a safari in the Matto Grosso of Brazil where he was attempting to find a diamond lode. This one’s more of an adventure yarn, similar to Valley Of The Assassins, plus it works in a boiling suspense angle with a married native couple that goes along with MacDonald – and the husband wants to kill him while the wife wants to do him. This is another one where the narrator gets some native booty, though of course it’s all off-page. In fact it isn’t until the very end that you realize why this story was even included in the anthology: it turns out the diamond lode is “guarded” by a massive reptile. 

“I Encountered The Abominable Snowman” is by Richard Platt and from the September 1960 Rage. This one is ostensibly told by a mountain sherpa from the Himalayas; he recounts the tale of how the young sister of a fellow sherpa was stolen by the Yeti once, and the men gave chase. Interesting to note that in this one the narrator – who is not white – does see the titular monster…but also he does not save the girl. Unintentional commentary from 1960. 

Up next is a “hidden” story: in the intro, Robert Deis notes that a story has cleverly been hidden in the book, to play along with the theme of “hidden” creatures. He also promises “you’ll know it when you see it.” And sure enough, the pages for this story have a yellow border. Titled “What-Is-Its-Of-The-Sea,” this short tale is from the December 1948 True and is by Ivan Sanderson. This one gets away from the Yeti and, uh, the ASS, and focuses on sea monsters. But again it’s mostly pseudo-reporting, Sanderson recounting various sea monster sightings…and assuming that eventually these creatures will be discovered by science. 

Next is my favorite story in the book: “The Stone Monster,” by A.M. Lightner and from the November 1963 Argosy. This is the one I mentioned way above: it’s clearly fiction, and no attempt is made at passing it off as anything but. David Coleman notes in his intro that “Lightner” was the pseudonym of an actual cryptozoologist named Alice Hopf, and that here she delivered a monster tale with a smattering of incidents taken from true-life encounters. The story is also in third person, one of the few tales in this anthology in that perspective. Humorously, in this one the Yeti is basically a cuddly four-foot creature who helps the main character, the two trapped after an avalanche and sparking a somewhat touching friendship – a friendship geared around chocolate. Yes, folks, the sole female author in the book turns in a “kinder, gentler” monster yarn. Despite which I really enjoyed this one and I have to say the relationship with the Yeti was cute…a word I never thought I’d use to describe a men’s adventure yarn. 

“Face To Face With The Ape-Man Monster Of Tennessee” is by Ted Gross and from the October 1973 Man’s World. This one is also in third person and features protagonists who witness the titular monster. It’s about a married couple who go camping in the woods but who are stranded due to flooding. They come across evidence of Bigfoot-type tracks, then later the beast starts stalking them. Features a great Gil Cohen illustration where the husband tosses a flaming stick at the monster, but otherwise the creature is similar to the one in the previous story in that it doesn’t seem to intend much harm…it even breaks into the couple’s cabin and cuts itself while tearing open cans of food. I liked this story, too. Plus it has a funny finale in which the husband has the creature’s blood analyzed, and the results come back: “Not human or animal!” 

In addition to the above there are other odds and ends, like art from other Bigfoot-type men’s mag stories, as well as a puzzing piece of vintage reportage on how the Russians have created ape-man soldiers in the Bakony Forest. Also, David Coleman’s intros are all a few pages long each, and in them he gives overviews on what cryptozoologists today think about the topics about to be covered, or what has been found. And to tell the truth, friends, it doesn’t look like much has been discovered – I resorted to Google to see if anyone’s actually gotten a photo of that damned Yeti or Bigfoot or whatever, only to find that the area is as shrouded in uncertainty as it was back in the days of the men’s mags. So in that regard at least the world hasn’t changed much. 

So wrapping up, I highly recommend Cryptozoology Anthology, and look forward to reading more entries in the Men’s Adventure Library.

Addendum: The blog will be on hiatus until the week of the 26th.  Merry Christmas!


Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

I love and greatly appreciate that in-depth review, Joe! Cheers and Happy Hollydaze! FYI to your readers -- all books in the Men's Adventure Library Books I co-edit with Wyatt Doyle and all issues of the MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY I co-edit with Bill Cunningham are on sale during December in my online bookstore. (10% off and free shipping.)

Grant said...

One thing that always interests me about paranormal things (especially UFOs and cryptids, I guess) is how people who eat up any given movie or other fictional story act like it's incredibly important to debunk any story that claims to be true, even though it isn't some life or death matter to do that. So I can imagine how they are about THESE kinds of stories, since they're in a kind of middle ground.

Jack Nevada said...

Sorry to go off-topic, but I'm a long time reader, first-time author, I've got an ebook that I'd love for you to review, if you have the time and inclination. It's a Western, very much in the pulp and 'Piccadilly Western' tradition. Some Longarm and Slocum for flavor. Plenty of sex and violence and definitely not politically correct. If you're interested, please just let me know and I'll shoot you over a review copy. Here's the Amazon page, in case you'd like a look at the cover art and first few pages:

-Alan D Hopewell said...

There's a giant squid on the cover, but no giant squid story? REALLY?

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

@ Alan - Yes, there is a giant squid story in the book, written by Arthur C. Clarke and reprinted with the permission of his estate. It's titled "The Reckless Ones" and it was first published in ADVENTURE, October 1956. The squid illustration was used for the story in that issue. It's by an artist named Denver Gillon.