Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monstrous Potential

Monstrous Potential

Home Invasion

A couple of days ago, I had the strangest experience.

See, I was just sitting at my computer, working, when I heard this tip-tapping outside my office door. Slow, plodding footsteps. But not the kind of sound a shoe would make. The footfall of a bare foot. With clawed feet. Coming closer. Closer. I stopped working. I looked up at the door.

And there it was. A monster!

A Monster In My Office!

Or so I imagined. It turned out to actually be a slowly skulking Ernie. And, of course, I know monsters don't exist, so it's not like I actually thought there would be one. Hehe.

And yet.

I just couldn't stop seeing this monster. I looked down the hallway, and imagined it in my living room, just standing there, looking around, its yellowy eyes wandering the walls, until they settled slowly on the hallway. On me. Our eyes lock — it sees me. Terrifying!

When I was a kid, this is what my nightmares were like. Things didn't eat me, hit me, bite me, serve me subpeonas, or anything. They did nothing, which for some reason is infinitely more scary to me. The potential monstering that exists in that moment is much more frighting than the kinetic monstering that goes on afterwards.

But, I'm an adult now, or at least a guy who pretends to be one so he can drink. So this big blue vision didn't send me crying into my parent's bed like the old days, no sir. Anyway, that's like a 45-minute drive.

Instead, I decided to share my experience, and capture the beast on paper, so that later on I would be able to better explain to Kim that, not only am I hallucinating, but that those hallucinations are funded entirely by the Children's Television Workshop.

A Monster In My Living Room!

And so it was done. But having trapped this monster on paper, to my surprise, another appeared! Again, I netted the terrifying beast:

A Monster Prepares To Eat Me!

And still they kept coming. Ernie, alerted to an invader in the house, rushed to my aid!

A Monster Smushes My Dog!

Dammit. That's going to leave a messy stain.

Of course, while these little exercises are fun, they don't really capture the seed of fear from which they're born. There's something about translating the images in my mind to the page. They lose their power. My fears turn to farce. Which is actually a handy trick, and one I wish I had learned when I was a kid.

As I've mentioned before, one of my tactics for dealing with the monsters outside my window was to tear open the curtains and press my face against the glass in gesture of open defiance, and at the same time, open surrender. It worked poorly to calm my fears, and I have to imagine it might have done more harm than good. I suspect one or two of my neighbors came to fear waking up in the middle of the night to see that creepy Cornell kid mashing his face up against the window and screaming silently. I was probably their monster.

This is an interesting notion, especially on the cusp of a startling realization I had the other day. That indeed (a) I am a monster, and (b) so are you.

Going Public

I was having one of those moments where I was comparing myself to others, and falling short in every category. Now, this isn't necessarily some activity I do consciously. It's not like I have a whiteboard with everyone I've ever met listed on it. Well, actually I do have that. But that's just a simple listing of social security numbers and mother's maiden names. Anyway, this self-comparing... it's an unconscious thing you do. While you're washing dishes or picking your nose or something. Just a little exercise your mind goes through to help keep humanity from returning to divine-right monarchy.

So, like I said, my brain enacts this self-evaluation game. And I have to say I hate when it does that, because it takes away from precious brainpower I need for unitasking, and it always makes me feel like crap about myself. But luckily, this day, I finally had a life-changing epiphany. There I was, comparing myself to several much taller, stronger, smarter, and nicer people when I suddenly realized — boof! bam! — I'm playing the game all wrong!

See, I was thinking about the private me. The me no one ever sees, to whose every deep dark secret I am privy. The one who hurls curses at pots and pans and wet tupperware, who callously jokes about a monster crushing his dog, who teeter-totters between fantasies of violent retribution or indomitable sexual conquest. Essentially, a monster.

Dr. Kevin Jekyll and Mr. Kevin Hyde

But the public Kevin. He's a different guy. Polite. Accomodating. Empathetic. Just the sort of well-behaved individual he needs to be so that he can get along with others. That's how society works. We all trade in a little of our selfish, aggressive, and otherwise beastly characteristics so that we can have jobs, friends, families and significant others. And for the most part, everyone is like this... there's a public version. And a private version.

Drs. Everyone Jekyll and Everyone Hyde

The problem was, I was playing the comparison game and comparing the private me to the public everyone else. And you'll always look really bad when you make that comparison. And the worst part is, because you never really get to know the private versions of other people, the game is pretty much rigged from the start.

A Healthy Trade-Off

Since then, I'm glad to say that my brain has initiated the comparison game very few times, and when it does, it doesn't get very far before I call foul and end it. I have to say, it's really been a nice change of pace to not beat myself up over every little imperfection. And really, if the only repercussion from stifling my brain's natural tendency to self-evaluate is a horrible Muppet-esque hallucination every now and then, well, I'll learn to live with that.

Unless... what's actually happening is that I'm suddenly able to see the private everyone else. And they're just hanging out in my house. Watching me. All the time.

You know what? I think I just might sneak out for a relaxing 45-minute drive. No reason.

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OMG love it! looked like that American Muppet Eagle from the closeup...whats his name... Sam? very cool dude


Haha - that's true - it does!


You sir…are lovable.

And I share you fears. For me, it too wasn't the act of being attacked, but the game of searching my environment with my eyes for the intruder looking back at me…still and unflappable. I'd then, and only then, close my eyes tightly. Knowing that when I reopened them, the stranger would be hiding in another location awaiting my visual search.



Well, I've been lurking in the metaphorical closet of your blog a while, I'm afraid, but now you've managed to pull me out with this piece!
Your monsters were a lot more lovable and cuddly looking than mine! My freakish visions were big, sort of Bionicle/transformer looking, with a touch of Predator thrown in (not that I'd ever seen the thing!) and they lived underneath the enormous piles of dirty clothing under my bed. I once told my parents that the reason for my piling the clothes under there was to keep the monsters away...
You can imagine the repercussions.
You kept me laughing the whole way through, so a round of applause to you!

Cliener von Cleanskin

The Children’s Television Workshop has a lot to answer for! I’ve taken the liberty of burning down their headquarters to save future generations from their torment – it’s amazing what you can do with Google Earth these days.

On another note, I hereby pledge my oath of fealty to the mighty Ernie.


I do like the Monsters, Inc. version of things - that the monsters are actually afraid of US. Highly improbable, though, since they sort of have the evolutionary advantage, what with the fangs and enormous claws and brute strength. Poor Ernie! He was much too valiant to be squashed by a giant wearing haystacks!


Springfish - That sounds like an owl infestation to me. Think to yourself... what would Fry do?

Ellyn - Welcome to the world of commenters! You're a different person now. Cocktails for lunch, Cars with AUTOMATIC transition, people don't hit you as much... you'll even find monsters wash your dirty clothing instead of live under it!

Cliener - I like your can-do spirit! Hey - can Google Earth landscape my yard?

Phyllis - Fangs aren't an evolutionary advantage. You have to drink everything through a straw.


When I was a child, Daleks used to chase me in my dreams… (I mean, I never actually WATCHED Dr Who when I was a child, but the Dalek was a kind of summary of everything which was scary)… The unfortunate thing was that I knew I had to close my eyes in my dream in order to wake up. Alarming.

Anyway, I love how the dog of a cartoonist actually looks like he was drawn BY a cartoonist. I like to think you went to the pet store and said “I’d like a cute one which looks like this [produces quick sketch] please.”


If THAT was true, he'd be able to shoot flames from his mouth. I drew that feature over and over and over.


"Fangs aren't an evolutionary advantage. You have to drink everything through a straw."

I'm not convinced that would be altogether a disadvantage, really. I suppose the drink you're trying to consume would be the determining factor. Coffee, for instance, would not be a straw-compatible beverage, but then, monsters are already nocturnal and probably don't need the extra caffeine.

russer butter

Most of the monsters I encounter, mainly in my dreams, often end up screaming and running away once they realize that I am aware of them.

Does this make me the real monster?

The only monster that truly haunts my dreams anymore is a small white creature that says little, save the word "Eh!"


thank you.


Very, very nice, sir. You may not believe this weird mumbo-jumbo I'm about to spout at you, but I've been popping in here and commenting for a while, and this post FELT different to me as I read it, so your little epiphany may be working.

And not to foul the air with religion, but as I have worked through the crushing idiocy of all the perverse ways people have misrepresented the religion in which I have found myself, I have finally concluded exactly what you have: that all there is to it is to admit that I am a monster, but so is everyone else... so it's OK.

Keep chasing the bare bodkin of it, and thanks for all the fish. I'm gonna go link this post on my blog.


I'm intrigued, Josh - which religion, exactly, are you a part of? It sounds like fun, if it teaches that we're all monsters! I envision services as being something like the Muppet Show ... Stadtler and Waldorf heckling the minister (Kermit) from the balcony as the choir (Electric Mayhem, of course) leads the congregation in a rather unconventional hymn. I would never miss a Sunday! :-D


Christianity. We weren't born that way, we are self-made monsters.


super as always, kev. you could get a job at jim henson studios and then quell those fears by flooding yourself with them (then you'll either drown, learn to swim or be eaten by sweetums)


i notice you have been careful not to draw any "x" on the behind...
i love the coloring here. great palette


Haha - yeah - I certainly learned my lesson with Father Nature! Plus, when Ernie was young, we had his entire digestive system removed.


Yes, but it's not very manly or scary to consume every beverage [irregardles of caffeine content] through a straw. So I would assume that it is in fact conter productive for proper monstering/monsteneering or whatever you kids call it.
The point is, my monsters are evolving away from that, exactly because they get teased quite a bit in bars when caught sipping beer through a straw.

They do, after all have feelings too.


But all their feelings are "I'm tired of performing with Jim Nabors."


Smith - excellent points, sir. Of course, now I can't get the image out of my mind of a group of giant, shaggy monsters perched on barstools that are far too small to hold them, sipping an assortment of coctails, with tiny umbrellas in them .... tee-hee ... :-)

What monsters do in their down time has never diminished their overall scariness, though. After all, whenever a monster has visited my house to scare me, he never brought along refreshments.


The whole 'scariness of nothing' thing was encapsulated very well in an old Simpsons' Halloween special some years back. Lisa was reading Poe's 'The Raven' out loud with the inevitable commentary from a bored Bart. When Poe's narrator flings wide the door to find nothing there, Bart interjects:

"You know what would have been scarier than nothing? ANYTHING!"

Thus the definition between generations is writ; once we knew that 'nothing' was the scariest option possible - now it's not scary unless it's rendered in digital 3D in all its bony/slimy/toothy/bloody glory.


I pine for the days of 'nothing'.


LOL, funny post. I love the monster with Ernie...the poor little guy never stood a chance against such a large nosed foe.


Phyllis - Well, that's not true. That bagful of bunnies was for BOTH of you!

Bananaglyph - Yeah, hollywood often seems to think "scary" and "gory" are the same thing. I don't mind a scary movie, but I hate a gory scary one.

Gerren - In monsters, nose size is proportionate to meanness.

glindon marten

Really great article. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has been secretly comparing... and find's it counterproductive.

glindon marten

At least I know my grammar is apparently better than everyone else. (see above)


Grammar is one of those lost arts. Like Atlantean volcano jumping.


Yes, volcano jumping may be out, but I've heard you can still enjoy the semi-annual Atlantean X-Games. The Trident-throwing competition sounds thrilling!


@Bananaglyph -I think Poe was reacting to the nothing in a metaphysical, "life has no meaning" there aren't even monsters, sort of thing. no nothing. not even something to give his poetry meaning. (he went nuts over analysing things)

he shoulda taken up drawing monsters like Kev (the unpronounceable) here


"Kev, The Unpronouncable" Sounds like a mythic character from yonder age of lore: "Mighty king, who reins over the Land of Twist-o-the-Tongue." I'll bet his chancellor and chief advisor was a brave knight named Peter Piper whose pickled peppers picked a peppy precipitious fight with the Percolating Perps of the Purple Porpoise mountains. And none of the fair land ever were abducted by aliens. The end.


...and now my eyes are bleeding from all the "p"s, whilst my ego shrivels up, because I could'nt understand half of the words.


A thousand pardons! Alas, the pen of Peter Piper truly was mightier than his sword! And thus were his enemies vanquished, with tongues tied and eyes a-bleeding and thoroughly confunded by the many difficult words! (If it makes you feel any better, I'm not entirely positive those are all real words ... I'm sure I saw them somewhere in books, but then, I've also seen words like "Quidditch", "Ork", and "Military Intelligence" and I'm quite sure all of those are pure fiction ...)


well, thank you very much
now you've done it...
this used to be a wholesome family website which I used to read to my child but those monsters have crawled out of the computer (I think they used the printer as they now appear to have laser-eyes) and started lurking under my childs bed

I thought I could solve it by stuffing non-smelly clothes under the bed but they don't like clean clothes


You know, simple truth is powerful! Not only are the pics outstanding, but the monsters are everywhere! Unfortunately, they are mostly inside. Very well said. Fantastic blog. Great art.


So true indeed. I find myself having to constantly remind myself NOT to compare myself with others. You are always setting yourself up to lose, unless of course you compare yourself to someone like a serial killer.

Another thing we as humans ALWAYS seem to do, is we push our own personal expectations and personalities onto everyone else. So if we think everyone else thinks and acts just as we do and then we get upset when they don't.


Sorry the last sentence should read:

"So we think everyone else thinks and acts just as we do and then we get upset when they don't."


I love this article! Wow I love that I can see this being written as I type!!
Just this morning I saw a strange reflection on the wall that my imagination told me was a huge monster's head leering at me. I discreetly opened the windows remove the image.
As for the comparison game. I feel like your analogy rings with such a simple truth I can't believe I never thought of it myself! Thank you for the very playful perspective of my two greatest fears!


I aim to please!


Simply interestingly interesting, if I had the toured syndrome I would be shouting: You Rock!..Your illustration are .(.a several good adjectives compilation)

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