Bigfoot is big business right now. Just ask head of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization and star of the Animal Plant channel’s ratings juggernaut “Finding Bigfoot,” Matt Moneymaker. Yes, that is his real name. The program has brought cryptozoology – a word literally meaning “the study of hidden animals” – into the mainstream, for better or worse, inspiring even higher stakes challenges like the “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.”
Strangely enough, with all the attention, no one’s found him yet. Has anyone checked the Big Foot Pub on 118 Avenue? Or would that be too obvious? Okay, so the hairy mountain man probably isn’t real, but wouldn’t it be cool if he was? What about stranger things like Mbielu-Mbielu-Mbielu, a supposed aquatic animal from the Congo with planks on its back? If they were real, what could that teach us about evolution, and how these animals developed?
That’s the question vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish set out to answer in the new book “Cryptozoologicon: Volume 1,” along with artists C. M. Kosemen and John Conway. While exercising a skeptical eye, Naish is still thrilled to indulge in what he calls the “speculative zoology” of just how such mythic creatures could come to exist.
However it’s the vivid, all-new illustrations of the more than two dozen would-be beasts that make this edition special. I was lucky enough to get some thoughts from Kosemen and Conway on the “Cryptozoologicon” and what cryptozoology means to them.
The word “cryptozoology” itself can mean different things to different people. How would you define it?
Conway: The stock answer is the study of animals not yet described by science, but I think that is a bit inaccurate, because crytpozoologists have little interest in undescribed beetles, et cetera. No, I think a better definition would be “entertaining the notion that legendary beasts are real animals.”
Conway: It’s Bigfoot that I hold out the most hope for! (Not that I think it is real, I just hope.)
Kosemen: To me, cryptozoology is an intersection of two fields of human knowledge – actual zoology and evolution in the case of the few true cryptids like the giant squid, the Komodo dragon and so on – and quasi-zoological folklore in the case of the vast majority of other so-called cryptids.
How did you become interested in the subject?
Kosemen: I was interested in it since childhood, ever since seeing a magazine article on the Lake Van Monster in Turkey, which is where I live. When I was between 6 and 15 years old, I went through a phase where I believed in all sorts of cryptids and other weird phenomena.
How did the collaboration with Darren Naish come about?
Kosemen: I’ve known both John and Darren for a number of years; we are close friends. In 2012, we produced a book named “All Yesterdays” on dinosaurs and a new, realistic way of looking at them. We wanted to take the same “realistic re-interpretation” approach to another zoology-themed topic, and chose cryptozoology as our subject. “The Cryptozoologicon” was the result.
How did you go about conceptualizing these animals that have no definitive description?
Conway: In the book we make the point that the original reports of strange animals are often very different from the legendary cryptid that arises from them. Often there’s no reason to think the various reports are of the same type of thing. Nevertheless, cryptozoology has been a machine for taking these disparate reports and spitting out a single resulting animal. So, in many ways, the work was done for us. Sometimes we run with it and sometimes we subvert this, offering a very different type of animal.
Which cryptids can we expect to find in the “Cryptozoologicon”?
Conway: “Cryptozoologicon: Volume I” has some old favourites like Bigfoot, some new favourites like Chupacabra, as well as lesser-known cryptids like the Row and Ahool.
If there’s one that is likeliest to really exist, which do you think it would be?
Conway: Orang Pendek, a bipedal primate said to inhabit Sumatra. However, it’s Bigfoot that I hold out the most hope for! (Not that I think it is real, I just hope.)
And if one dose of “what if” isn’t enough to scratch your itch, fear not. Conway assures us that Volume 2 will be identified, bagged and tagged before we know it.
CC Photo Credit: The Yeti, Bigfoot’s Asian cousin, by John Conway.