# # Color Me Nostalgic - the Coloring Books of Troubador Press

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

Color Me Nostalgic – The Coloring Books of Troubador Press

The Morlock

The thick, heavy scent of blunted, broken crayons and rough reams of low-grade paper – a smell that pervades the elementary classrooms of my memory. You’d think it might rather be a pungent miasma of the squirming, unwashed bodies, funky shoes, forgotten lunches, and maybe a little bit of puke and piddle but, no, when I think “kindergarten” there it is; the unmistakable, unavoidable, almost (but not quite) pleasant redolence of crayons and paper.

Now, I don’t know about you but I was never all that taken with coloring as a kid. Oh, I had crayons, colored pencils, pens, and markers at my disposal but I never really moved much past the primitive, “random scribble of color inside (and outside) the frame” approach.

I likely would have but for my brother, who was not only five and a half years older than I and artistically gifted but also a vocal (if righteous) critic:
“You don’t stay within the lines!”
“Stop using my markers! You press too hard and ruin them!”
“You’re tearing the page!”
“You colored his hand the same as the wall! That’s his *hand*, not a brick!”

Hey, I was under ten – gimmie a break.

The effect was soul crushing. I went through one, short burst of coloring and that was that. I spent the rest of my child and early adulthood thinking I sucked at artistic endeavors and hating any activity related to them.

Beyond this painful awareness of my limitations as a colorist, I found traditional coloring book subject matter boring at best. Uninspiring, sparse, dead scenes on coarse, gray paper of things like Porky Pig and his intended staring at each other with adoring eyes or Woody Woodpecker posed as if to say “Hi there, you post-toddler schmuk!” Yeeeeecchhhhhh.

Monster GalleryColoring never really came alive for me until a mid-70’s Christmas when my mom delivered unto my brother and myself a pair of coloring books from Troubador Press.
I received “Monster Gallery” and my brother got the “Science Fiction Anthology”.
Man-oh-man, what great stuff! Now we were talking!
Big, bold, and exciting line drawings of classic monsters and stories juxtaposed with thoughtful (if a bit erudite, given the proposed audience) blocks of descriptive text.
I also received a set of watercolor pencils (that’s right, you read right). The idea was that you’d do your coloring and then go over the work with a wet brush. Yeah, it worked as good as it sounds, especially in the hands of an artistically maladroit grade-schooler.

The Fly from Monster GalleryTroubador debuted their wonderful coloring book series in the early 1970′s. These 11×14″, heavy paper stock coloring books covered a wide variety of subjects with a decided focus on wildlife. All contained detailed and thoughtful descriptions opposite beautifully intricate and eye-catching line drawings.

We loved the coloring books so much my mom would occasionally let us each get another from The Toy Box, a great, local toy store across the street from our Safeway grocery. They carried the Troubador line and the first one I picked out on my own was the “Science Fiction Anthology,” which I’d coveted, while my brother went for “Tales of Fantasy.” Far out!

North American BirdlifeAfter finishing up “Tales of Fantasy,” my brother moved on into Troubador’s nature series. Coloring books with titles like “North American Birdlife” and “North American Wildflowers.” After a few basic approaches, he got bored and began to experiment with color, choosing only two shades to fill out an intricate image or shifting the colors up the spectrum to create a consistently surreal landscape of fascinating if “wrong” color. He had no idea what he was doing but, man, did he know what he was doing!

Everyone was impressed. My mom would show off his work to visitors and he cut the good ones out of the book and tacked them to his wall.

I tried to ape him by doing a two-tone red and blue colorization of the “Planet of the Apes” page in the “Science Fiction Anthology” but I screwed it up and … the color choice just sucked, anyway. After finishing “Monster Gallery” and “Science Fiction Anthology,” I started “North American Sealife” but petered out – for me, its content didn’t have the punch of the previous books and I was tired of seeing my puny efforts up against my brother’s. I just didn’t have the inspiration or the talent.

Further, I came to the early conclusion that coloring in someone else’s design, much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, was not for me for a very basic reason: you weren’t really *creating* anything – it was a dead end.North American Sealife
Sure, my brother learned a lot from those books, or maybe he just demonstrated what he already, intrinsically knew – but, until he started to draw his own images to color, it was all just creative masturbation; stagnant, dissatisfying. Disappointed and unimpressed, I left coloring books behind.

Yet, somehow, the illustrations and approach of Troubador’s books stayed with me.

During these last five years or so, every once in a great while, my mind would flash back to those crazy pages: the whirling whip of the cruel Morlock, the cowering madness of the man in “Brave New World,” my brother bitching about the ruined tips of his markers …

Science Fiction AnthologyAnd so I sporadically hunted for the books, though I couldn’t remember anything beyond their subject matter: no names, no authors. Then, in February of this year, a wiser set of search terms brought the name and imagery of “Monster Gallery,” along with a host of memories, flooding back to me. I almost fell over when I saw the cover again, it was that powerful.

Unfortunately, not only is Troubador out of business, their books long out of print, but it seems I wasn’t the only one upon whom these books made an impression.

“Monster Gallery” now regularly sells for $50+, even though a reprint exists (with an incredibly ugly cover, I might add),  which can be had for around $7. Many of the other titles, which apparently didn’t receive reissues, command prices similar, if not as high as “Monster Gallery,” though a little searching yielded copies for $20 or less.

I RobotAs I collect those I can find, my girlfriend, who still enjoys coloring as an adult, eyes the stark black and white of the pages with avarice and intent but I shoo her away. My plan is to scan them for posterity and the opportunity of multiple colorings, should the urge arise.

Savee’s illustrations in the two I have managed to track down are evocative of an earlier time: Scooby-Doo mornings both eerie and innocent. Not every image or subject is magnificent but I love them, none the less – and, if you’ve read this far, you might, too.

I’ve attached a smaller, lower res, electronic version of “Monster Gallery” that I found online and didn’t feel too bad about posting since the book is out of print – peruse them or … print them out and have a go: The Monster Gallery

 

Monster Gallery – Leah Waskey Mark Savee (illus) – ISBN: 0912300329
(the reprint – Monsters – ISBN: 0843138807)
Science Fiction Anthology – Ken Savee and Mark Savee (illus) – ISBN: 0912300523
Tales of Fantasy – Larry Todd – ISBN: 0912300604

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16 Responses to “Color Me Nostalgic – The Coloring Books of Troubador Press”

  1. jon says:

    corey

    happened upon your site while also looking for these amazing coloring books. I think they actually clicked something on in my head when I was 10 or 11 and made me the sci fi nut I am today. For years I have been semi obsessed with finding them again. I have such fond memories of taking a cross country trip and having these with me and being in awe of the images and stories behind them long before I had read the books. Especially the dune image which especially fascinated me. You’re correct, these are from the awesome age of saturday morning only cartoons – big GI joes and unjaded (non internet troll) appreciation and imagination. when every b-movie was guaranteed to be playing in a theater somewhere!!
    something my kids cant comprehend in this age of instant gratification.

    jonG

  2. […] published its first monster book, Monster Gallery, in 1973. Written by Leah Waskey, Troubador’s bookkeeper, and drawn by Mark Savee, it was a […]

  3. Michael says:

    It’s actually “my brother and me” not “my brother and I.” You break the two phrases up and if you would say them separately, you say them together. You would not say my mother gave onto I, therefore you can’t use it in a conjunction like you did.

    • Thanks for the constructive tip – I have fixed the error. Like all of us, mistakes do creep in here and there – such as your typing “onto” rather than “unto” when illustrating the mechanics of my grammatical my error. I wish more folks would act as free editors! 😉 Thanks for reading!

  4. Brent says:

    My kids and and I have been coloring from scams of some of these and my little ones love them. Do you have any scams available of “tales of fantasy”?

  5. Brent says:

    Lol. Scans. Autocorrect

  6. Always great to hear about how our books brought excitement and fun into their reader/artist/s lives.mw – founder of Troubador Press

    • Hello Malcolm – I’m surprised we’re not seeing these books reprinted, what with the sudden adult coloring fad.

      I think Troubador’s original line would net quite the profit these days. I know I’d re-buy the bulk of them and am not alone.

      I wonder if Penguin-Putnam still holds the rights …

  7. Dusty Abell says:

    Great reminiscence from your childhood Corey, I really enjoyed reading it. I put the cover up on my Facebook page along with the PDF link and was pleasantly surprised how many friends replied back that they to had the great Troubador Monster Gallery books as kids themselves and had fond memories of it as well. I believe that book is HUGELY responsible for setting me on the path to become a professional artist as an adult as well as cultivating my love of genre movies, TV and books. I picked up absolutely pristine copies of both books, Monster Gallery and Science Fiction Anthology, on Ebay about a year ago, and like others, the flood of nostalgia reading and seeing them again al these years later was magical. I was 5 years old in 74 when I got my original copy. I would love it if somehow those Troubador books could somehow be collected into some kind of Omnibus collection…… maybe even unpublished or preliminary roughs by the artists included in an extras section. Probably wishful thinking, but these books touched more young peoples lives, especially those that wound up pursuing careers as illustrators , than anyone would possibly imagine.

    • Hi Dusty –
      I’m really sorry I missed your reply last December.

      LOVE your idea about the omnibus collection – that would be so amazing.

      I would welcome reprints of these books in any form, as long as the scale and paper grade is as good or better than the originals (that’s not asking so much, is it?)

  8. Lori Hurst says:

    Hi. I was given one of your coloring books in the early 80’s I Love it .It’s the LOVE BUG Coloring book !!!!!!That was in Monroe WI I live in the west now would love to have more of them .Are there any somewhere? Thank you for making them .I also got my daughter into loving your books too. Waiting to hear from you!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  9. Lee Millay says:

    I was already old when I found these books! Now I’m old plus 35 years. My favorite is North American Indians (1979), and I’ve rationed it so that there are still unfinished pages. The recent Adult Coloring Book fad is nice, but the coloring books I’ve seen aren’t. I’m not inclined to color big circles divided into tiny parts, as in stained glass – same little fiddly things over and over. And cheap paper! Makes me nervous, bored and irritable! lol I’m sad to learn that Troubador Press is no more. I appreciate the pleasure it gave me. Thank you, Mr. Whyte.

  10. Bronwen Hanes says:

    I loved the Troubador coloring books. I had many of them as a kid and into my young adulthood and agree that with this new comeback of adult coloring, it would be wonderful to have these books back again! They are very expensive new if they can be found! I think I had the cats, dogs, butterflies, fish, gnomes, horses and I know one other one that I can’t remember. Thank you for memorializing these books!

  11. CR says:

    I have never forgotten my copies of Science Fiction Anthology and Monster Gallery… in fact, I still peruse them once in a while, wishing I had the time to trace the line art to make clean ‘masters’ I can copy and re-color.
    During my most recent viewing of my old copies, I showed my kids, explaining that my marker quality and coloring skills had both improved after finishing Science Fiction Anthology and moving on to Monster Gallery; I had attempted to blend colors and apply a lighter touch to achieve more range of color. It still looks like a pre-ten-year-old kid did the work, but it’s a notable difference all the same.
    A couple of other random memories regarding Monster Gallery: (1) Some of the Monster Gallery pages got used on the card packaging for some monster dolls–er, action figures–that were made in the mid-1970’s, though I don’t know whether said artwork was licensed or lifted. Can’t remember what company made the doll–FIGURES, though. And (2) at a park in–I think–McHenry, Illinois, I saw some artwork clearly inspired by some of the MG pages decorating a fort/maze playground thing. This was well over a decade ago, and I don’t know if said fort still exists, let alone the artwork, but it was cool. I wonder if anyone else recognized the artwork for what it was…
    Anyway, thanks for posting about Troubador Press coloring books. Nice to know I’m not the only one who remembers them with fondness!

    • Famous Monsters of Legend! The first series *totally* ripped off Savee’s designs for their card-art. Hilarious.
      That park sounds amazing. If you get back there and it’s still up, share some pics!
      Troubador’s coloring books have quite the following – I was thrilled to be able to find some untouched copies at …”reasonable” prices. It’s so cool you retained yours from your youth – I wish I had.
      Thanks for reading.

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