Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Okay, Bissette fans: This weekend, the man is prying himself from the Green Mountain state to make a relatively rare appearance here in Massachusetts to sign the new book he illustrated, "The Vermont Monster Guide."

If you're like me you can't get enough of Joe Citro's work much less Steve's, and this book is a must. As they say on TV, it makes a great gift.

Here are the details:

HOLYOKE – We know there are bears, deer and moose living in the forests and mountains of Vermont. We know there are trout and turtles in the streams and lakes.

But did you know about big hairy ape-men, indestructible bucks and large, unknown aquatic animals?

By many accounts there are beasts spoken about in whispers in the state known for fall foliage, maple syrup and dairy products. A new book, "The Vermont Monster Guide" (University Press of new England, $18.95), written by Joseph A. Citro and illustrated by Stephen R. Bissette, gives readers an encyclopedic look at the things that go bump in the night - and in the daytime as well.

Bissette will be signing the new book at the Holyoke Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m. on Oct. 3. He will also be signing two other recent books, the hardcover edition of "The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Book 1" and "Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaimen." Citro will not be able to attend the signing due to a previous commitment.

The two native Vermonters have collaborated on several projects, most recently "The Vermont Ghost Guide." Both men spoke to Reminder Publications in telephone conversations last week.

Citro is well known and celebrated as a collector and chronicler of the bizarre in such books as "Weird New England," "Curious New England" and "Passing Strange." Especially during October, Citro is in demand as a speaker about the odd footnotes of New England history.

Bissette is a veteran comic book artist, known for his work in such books as "Swamp Thing" and "Tyrant" as well as his cutting edge horror anthology "Taboo." He is now a faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., and continues an active career as an illustrator.

Both men agreed this book was a "fun project" and readily admitted some of the monster stories were more credible than others.

Bissette noted the story about a mystery mammal that looked like a miniature fur-covered stegosaurus was probably an injured fisher cat seen by someone who had never seen the elusive predator, a member of the weasel family.

Citro said if you created a continuum of credibility some of the monsters, such as the sidehill cronchers - a cross between a wild boar and a deer - would be at the ridiculous end, while others such as Champie, the lake monster of Lake Champlain, would be at the other end at real or almost real.

Catamounts or mountain lions are included in the book and Citro knows they are real, as he has seen one in a daylight sighting. Vermont wildlife officials claim the species has yet not retuned to the state, with the last cougar shot in 1881.

"They're passing through the state to reach the tax free shopping malls of New Hampshire," Citro said with a laugh. He theorized state officials might not want to admit their presence as another endangered species might make land development more difficult.

Bissette said that he has never seen anything in the wilds that has made him stop and ponder. The only "monster" listed in the book that both men have seen is the remains dredged from the Connecticut River displayed with Barnum-esque panache at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vt., that suspiciously look like a skeleton of a horse.

Citro said this book relied on a lot of research, stories culled from newspaper accounts as well as eyewitnesses, some of whom he interviewed.

Bissette said his challenge as the illustrator was to be as faithful as he could to descriptions of the various beasts. In the story of a foot-long caterpillar, he had a colored drawing by the person who saw it as source material.

For Citro's accounts of Vermonters who've seen aliens and UFOs, Bissette was able to use original drawings as the basis of his illustrations.

In another accounts, he had to use some creative license. In one story, in which a winged, feathered serpent was seen, he said, "There were five or six ways of picturing it."

Bissette said their new book is the "kind of book we grew up on" - such as "Stranger than Science," collections of stories of the unknown.

For Citro, his favorite monsters to write about were the two with the most documentation: Champie and Bigfoot. He explained a recent video shot at Lake Champlain has certainly raised additional questions about what is living in the lake as well as a scientific study that showed something living in the lake was using sonar in the same way as dolphins and whales.

Champie and whatever has been spotted at Lake Memphremagog for years are the two most credible of Vermont's many monsters, Citro said.

Although he has done research into the oddities of New England for years, Citro admitted he was surprised to find the number of monster stories from his home state.

"It's the reason I stay inside," he said with a chuckle.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

No comments: