Who remembers TORG? I do but I never played it. I remember this RPG because one of the primary gamebooks – The Living Land sourcebook – somehow found its way into a second-hand bookstore in my third-world country, so of course I had to go forth and talk about it.

The premise is that Our Earth has been invaded by bad guys from various realities, and they’re forcing their realities on ours. North America has become a lost world of religious dinosaurs. France has become an alternate history version of itself where the Avignon Popes won, developed cyberware, and turned the place into a Catholic cyberpunk dystopia. Egypt is now run by pulp pharaohs and weird science. Southeast Asia has become a new Victorian England populated by Gothic nightmares. California is a cyberdemon-infested hellscape. More than usual. It’s a really cool concept but the only thing I know about it is what I could get from the books. I have no idea how it plays out. If you’re interested the current holders are kickstarting an update.

I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of RPGs, but I do pretend to be a connoisseur of creatures, and TORG has plenty from different areas. There’s the standard Tolkien-ripoff fantasy world (yawn), but I do appreciate this adorable muppety Cockatrice.

cockatrice

As well as this kelpie.

kelpie

The Living Land was my introduction to TORG, so you can imagine my dismay when I found out it was the least popular setting. But… dinosaurs? TORG came out pre-Jurassic Park so the dinos are all inaccurate lumbering lizards (and unfortunately, the remake has stated “our raptors don’t have feathers either”. Gah!) But it has so much potential! It’s like Stephen King’s The Mist except it’s dinosaurs. And they could easily have advanced biotech instead of nonliving weapons…. but I digress. One of the coolest sapient races of all are the stalengers, which are flying stained glass fuzzy starfishes. Yes.

stalenger

“You okay there buddy? Speak to me, bro. Speak to me.”

Then you get things like cyber-enhanced hunter-killer insects like these adorbs little things.

liquefier
nanodeth

That’s right, if you hadn’t guessed by now, Tharkold and the Cyberpapacy are the cosms of METAL. \m/

tar pit ghul

Undead subfossil La Brea creatures? Why not?

I don’t know about you but one of my life’s goals has been to become a flying disembodied brain with cyber enhancements. I’m glad TORG has made this a reality. I want to be a ziggit. Called Stardust. I can see it happening.

ziggit

The gamemaster’s paradise is surely Orrorsh, where anything and everything is a disguised Horror ready to kill you. Children’s toys? Medical instruments? Household objects? They’re all Horrors, and they will make you Die Horribly. Have I mentioned how much I love anything OF DOOM?

pop weasel
doctor's little helper
TEDDY BEAR OF DOOM

Of course I saved the best for last. This is it. Unironically my favorite of all creatures. Nothing I do will ever compare to this image of perfection.

ROTARY MOWER OF DOOM

I love everything about this.

What I’m saying is that if you can’t appreciate how wonderful a ROTARY MOWER OF DOOM is then you’re a shriveled joyless husk, thank you and good evening.

The Unprecedented Discovery of the Dragon Islands (or TUDDI for short) by John Kelly and Kate Scarborough is a book which I remember very fondly. I first saw it as a child in a bookstore that no longer exists, and my memories of it got so fuzzy that I eventually became convinced I had dreamt it up. Searching for “realistic dragon book”, “living trap monster”, and similar terms led nowhere. Eventually, by some quirk of fate I searched Amazon for “dragon island” and checked the results for the 90s… and there it was. I hadn’t imagined it after all. And since it’s mostly pictures, I’m covering it under Obscure Modern Monsters rather than ABC Reviews (needless to say I give it 5 gigelorums).

You needn’t search for it as you can buy it here and here.

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TUDDI is a big, colorful coffee-table book for children of all ages. It presents itself as the illustrated diary of young Lord Nathaniel Parker as he and his ship get lost at sea, and end up finding a fabulous archipelago where dragons and sea serpents exist. Lord Parker writes to Belinda, his main squeeze, and a lot of TUDDI’s humor comes from his stuffy aristocratisms. The book ends all too quickly and suddenly – sequel hook? It certainly feels like the authors could fill several more “episodes”, but sadly I don’t think they have (if you’re the authors and you’re reading this, take note).

The main reason you would want to read TUDDI as fans of ABC, mythical creatures, speculative biology, speculative evolution, and all-around great art, is the creatures. Some are new takes on old classics, while others are completely new organisms with no equivalents. Even speculative insects and plants are painted in loving detail.

Above you can see TUDDI’s take on the sea serpent. An enormous, sea-going reptile convergent on the whale, complete with baleen. Lord Parker and his friends find a dead one on the beach with ominous sucker markings on its body…

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I’ll just give a small sample of what’s inside. There are unicorns. There are griffons, which hunt in packs, feed on the unicorns, and make a go at our heroes. There are giant ratites with faces that look like the old duck-rabbit illusion. There are carnivorous plants. There are Cambrian relict arthropods. There are aquatic-adapted shrew-things.

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The gorgon is an all-original creation and one of the things I remember most from the book. It’s literally a living bear-trap, one that lies camouflaged amid tree roots and snaps shut on whatever steps on it. It’s a nasty piece of work, and I like that a lot of it is left to the imagination. We’re not even sure what it evolved from, but I’m guessing some kind of primate?

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Of course, it wouldn’t be the Dragon Islands without dragons, would it? The dragons themselves are marvelous organic balloons, big pink bloated floating translucent fire-breathing plankton-straining gilled soarers. They’re exactly as awesome as they sound.

Is this an “Art of ABC” or a “Making of ABC” entry? It could be both, so I went with Art because it’s all about the art.

Part of my job in making ABC entries is painting the illustrations. And like every semi-competent artist I despise everything I do. But sometimes I think I’m really missing the mark with a painting, and decide to start over for a number of reasons. What might those be? Let’s take a look at some dishonorable discharges.

comparison aloes

Some do-overs are simple. I decided the first Aloés I painted (top) just wasn’t interesting enough. Too generic, primary-colored, and simple. Too flat. And the “pear-shaped” crown, well… let’s just say it looked like crap.

comparison mbielu3

The Mbielu-mbielu-mbielu was painted during a time when I wanted to be as creative as possible. When I set out to draw the creature with planks on its back, I originally made the top image, taking the planks to heart. But it didn’t seem creative enough at the time. After consulting with my housemate at the time (who is definitely one of the Top 5 People I Respect The Most), the suggestion was “why not teeth that look like planks?” So I went with that and made the hippo-mesoplodont you see below. But now, in retrospect I’ve been trying to keep ABC depictions more “conventional” to go with the research, so I included a sketch in the entry that combined both.

One thing was for sure: I was not going to paint a stegosaur.

comparison pilou

I’ve also been trying to push back against things made up by other authors, in a bid to go back to the roots. The Pilou has no description, just the fact that it makes noise. Dubois saw fit to describe it as a dormouse-elf, and I wanted it to be different. I decided to do a sort of fuzzy jumping spider creature, seeing that those are a lot cuter than dormice, but it couldn’t seem to work for me (left). I eventually threw in the towel and made a dormouse creature anyway. It’s me, I’m part of the problem…

comparison pyrallis

The Pyrallis has been incorrectly described as a dragon-insect following Woodruff’s lovely image of one, so I definitely wasn’t doing that. The creature described almost certainly was a moth drawn to flame, but that wasn’t as interesting. Maybe a firefly? That’s on fire, after all. A tail-glowing scorpionfly with a lit match for a proboscis? Now we’re talking!

I redid this one due to material issues. I had been using textured watercolor paper, and at the size which I did it, the texture overwhelmed a lot of detail (top). So I repainted the whole thing on newly purchased hot-pressed watercolor paper, the fine grain doing a much better job (bottom). I do think the lighting turned out better in the original though. Look at how bright it turned out!

comparison shoo fly

This one’s a lot simpler. The original Shoo Fly I thought was really simple and generic, with only a snorkel-proboscis as a clue that it lived underwater. So I took the head and thorax of a horsefly, the flattened abdomen of a botfly, and took some cues from the awesomely-named Strashila incredibilis to round out the portrait of the submarine fly.

A short and quick entry for today’s interlude. It’s also reaaaallllllyyyy stretching the definition of “modern”, but this is a) not something I’d be giving a complete entry to, b) I’m not listing all the instances of creature usage in art, c) I wanted to share this with you regardless, and d) this is my website, YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO DAD.

Of course, as ABC readers you’re acquainted with Gustave Moreau’s 1876 masterpiece Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra.

hercules-and-the-hydra-lernaean-1876

But did you know that the hydra has the heads of actual snakes? As part of his research, Moreau consulted books by Bonnaterre, Cuvier, and Wagler at the Paris Natural History Museum’s library. He then used seven snakes for each of the hydra’s heads.

Going by his study below, the snakes are, clockwise from bottom left to bottom right: the neotropical rattlesnake, the puff adder, the European adder, the Egyptian cobra, the boomslang, the horned viper, and the Mexican anaconda.

hydra head taxonomy

Will ABC’s hydra entry use a similar true-to-life approach? Who can tell…

References

Lacambre, L. (1998) Gustave Moreau. Dossier de l’Art Hors-serie No. 51.

aaain

Inventorum Natura

Una Woodruff

Inventorum Natura (IN from now on) is a strange and wonderful book. It is a coffee-table book with ancient pseudoinformation that has in turn been treated as genuine. Half of it is in Latin. It translates an ancient document that never existed. It has a tri-triceratops kraken. Confused? Read on.

You can purchase the book from here and here.

Scope

IN falls firmly on the “Pretty Pictures” axis of Bestiary Classification. Purportedly a translation of a lost manuscript by Pliny the Elder, it covers the animals, plants, cultures, and places encountered by the Roman historian. It is not a comprehensive creature encyclopedia, but provides a broad selection of creatures from across the world, including an economical description of horse-unicorns and rhino-unicorns within the same page.

Organization

The text follows Pliny’s travels around the world. As such it’s narrative and not clearly divided, but can be roughly separated by region, such as Africa, India, China, and Hyperborea. If you’re looking for something in particular, there is a table of contents.

Text

Readable both in Latin and English, the text is a joy to read through, especially for Latin scholars brushing up on their skills.

This is where I need to issue a disclaimer. The text of IN is entirely fictitious and written by the author. Pliny never visited China, or sailed to Hyperborea, or encountered krakens. This may seem obvious, but the text is written and treated as though it were a genuine never-before-seen discovery being revealed for the first time, and kayfabe is maintained all through the book. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll address further issues under the “research” heading.

Images

All of the journal entries are illustrated by at least one gorgeous full-page color painting. Una Woodruff is a talented artist who excels at painting plants, and it really shows – a lot of the most memorable creatures in the book are plants. The animals on the other hand have a strange not-quite-realness to them, a sort of uncanny valley that makes them even weirder.

In fact, even if you don’t read Latin, and even if you don’t want another reference for your bestiary bibliography (bibestliography?), the art alone makes it worthwhile for teratologists of all stripes. Besides this is the only book I know of that gives the kraken three triceratopsian heads.

Research

Here’s where my main beef with IN comes in. There are no references whatsoever, but it owes a lot to Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. In fact, I’d argue that more creatures are from IN than are from anything Pliny wrote! It’s great for an entertaining read, but anyone looking for scholarly research should look elsewhere.

Some of the fabricated information has been used (without citation) in other books. Information laundering, if you will. The description of the pyrallis as a dragon-insect comes from IN. Page and Ingpen’s Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were uses the description of Hyperborea, especially with the two-headed frogs. And of course the Peryton’s in there…

Summary

A beautiful book, written and illustrated so skillfully that it has fooled a nonzero amount of people. I like the book, and I love the art, but its scholarship problems give me pause. 3/5 if you’re like me and get irrationally annoyed by teratological embellishment, 4/5 if you don’t mind.

3

Dear readers of ABC, once again the time has come for the author to take a brief sabbatical that is entirely unrelated to ABC and entirely related to things happening in the Real World (TM). Don’t worry, it will be for two weeks only (this is a promise!) and when I get back you’ll have your regular fix of creatures as scheduled.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, etc. etc.