Stephen Bissette is a legendary comic book artist. His work with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing in the 1980s defined a character and a genre. He and Moore won four Jack Kirby Awards for that book. Bissette also served as the publisher for horror anthology Taboo, which won the Best Anthology Eisner Award in 1993.
If you didn’t know any of that and you simply picked up Bissette’s latest self-published book, Cryptid Cinema, for either the cryptids or the cinema — well, you might end up disappointed. That’s because the book, at a monstrous, over-sized 245 pages, often reads more like a Bissette blog might, with more emphasis on anecdotes and the author’s personal feelings and inclinations than the actual material itself.
The first third or so of the book addresses the big name, headline-grabbing creatures you expect to see — Bigfoot and his cousin, the Yeti. There is a lot of good information here (maybe too much on the first film to feature the apeman, succinctly titled Bigfoot), but Bissette is prone to tangents and the organization is lacking, as it’s done with simple Roman numerals that give little indication that this is the right spot to find what you’re looking for. An index would have done this book wonders.
Or just better editing in general. At first I thought the book didn’t have an editor, but after discovering there were TWO, I couldn’t help but wonder what they did. There are tons of cool, old movie posters and other images to gawk at (all in black and white, sadly), but they seem more randomly slapped down into margins than carefully placed for any specific effect. Maybe they found it difficult to tell Bissette “no,” or maybe Bissette ignored such suggestions, which he’d be totally within his rights to do, him footing the bill for the project and all.
But after the scattershot but still undoubtedly relevant Bigfoot portion, not a lot of the rest of the book seems to connect to the title. Bissette launches into a veritable tirade against doubters of the Patterson-Gimlin “true” Bigfoot footage, which doesn’t have anything really to do with cinema. After that, there’s not much more mention of cryptids, beyond a short discussion of 1998’s The Last Broadcast, which featured the hodgepodge legend known as the Jersey Devil.
The second half of the book is mostly Bissette defending small-release horror films he really likes, that others might not, which doesn’t have much to do with cryptids. Some early lip service is paid to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, as a sort-of swamp monster, but then you’d better be ready for long passages on 2011’s Creature, 1998’s The Glasshead and walking catfish vehicle Zaat, better known to most (thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000) as The Blood Waters of Dr. Z. There’s even a little bit on Kevin Smith’s walrus-man movie, Tusk!
Other impertinent inclusions are a look at the weirdest Swamp Thing merchandise (okay, you can understand the reason for that) and … a Stranger Things episode guide? And the results of polls from Bissette’s Facebook page, which had tens of respondents? The worst part is there isn’t as much original Bissette artwork in Cryptid Cinema as you might think, given the solicitation text.
Bissette obviously did a ton of research for this book, though I’d hesitate to call it “work,” as he clearly adores these topics and is already supremely knowledgeable about them. Cryptid Cinema is a labor of love, so it’s difficult to come down too hard on it, but as in his tremendous comics work, one can’t help but think this project would have come off better with a collaborator to help smooth the edges and cut the chaff. Having a conversation with Bissette about monsters and movies over drinks would probably be a life highlight, but he’s unable to transfer that experience to paper for Cryptid Cinema.