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.
Coloring 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.
Troubador 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!
After 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.
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 …
And 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.
As 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