This is the first of two volumes edited by Jacob Covey and published by Fantagraphics. This is the softcover version, featuring a typically incredible wraparound illustration by Jordan Crane (whose book design for Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends, published by the endlessly inventive 'McSweeneys', used three thin 'obi'-type partial dust-jackets, each shaped at the top to match the intricate illustration running from the inner front flap of the cover to the inner front flap of the back cover. By removing the first, thinnest strip, you reveal the many details it partially hid; by removing the slightly thicker second, you expose even more == the best book design ever, along with 'McSweeneys: Vol. 13' and 'Omega the Unknown'). The end-folds open to reveal a 32" x 8" illustration executed in Cranes' virtuoso mixed-media-technique. The original hardcover for volume 1 is out-of-print, but matched nicely with Jacob Covey's understated but stylish cover for Beasts!: Book Two; both books are 8" x 8", a bit over 200 pagas, and are very nicely put together.
The idea of involving one hundred of the world's top gallery artists, illustrators, and cartoonists (per volume), for the purpose of creating a modern-day 'Bestarium', is both obvious and ingenious. Editor-book designer Covey lets the artists play, while the writers put together concise descriptions of a given creatures appearance, geographical range, cultural/historical origins, and known habits, hungers and weaknesses. They treat their cryptozoological subject without mocking it, but the bizarre stories are often hilarious in the specificity of exotic cultural detail.
But this is an Art-book, first and foremost, one that immediately appealed to me -- evoking memories of the primary school library and it's Time-Life collections on the Paranormal, Dragons, & Mythical Creatures from around the Globe, where I would pore over them for hours. Combined with the pleasure of seeing some of my favorite artists re-invent these monsters, sometimes with not-so-great results, but 90% or more turn out incredible. Artists involved are Dan Zettwoch, with a great comic about the mysterious disappearance of a ship laying the Transatlantic cable, and the most likely suspect, as well as unforgettable illustrations by Jim Woodring, David B., Jeff Soto, Anders Nilsen, Stephane Blanquet, Craig Thompson, Jens Harder, Sam Weber, James Jean, Jillian Tamaki, Tomer Hanuka, Nathan Fox, et cetera, etc. I advise buying both books while they're still available... they will likely become your two favorite monographs. l