Have you seen me lately?
It's a strange experience to be fascinated by monsters. If you are, an attraction to the monsters of myths and movies is inevitable ... but an attraction of so-called "real" monsters will eventually happen, too.
I honestly don't think that anything monstrous is swimming around in a certain lake in Scotland, but boy howdy did the Loch Ness Monster make regular appearances during my childhood in the late '70s and early '80s--and I was completely enraptured with it at the time. I even presented a report in one of my early elementary school English classes about how I wanted to grow up to become a cryptozoologist so that I could investigate Loch Ness. I tore through books that were aimed at my age group and alternated between blurry photos of something in the water and artistic depictions of how these blurs might really appear. Then again, if you were already reading about movie monsters in other books aimed at kids (as I was at the time), then the jump over to books with this kind of subject matter was the next step.
This post is dedicated to the kind of art that populated the Loch Ness Monster books, art that did everything it could to plant the idea in fragile young minds that there are lake-dwelling dinosaurs living in Scotland and elsewhere. Sure, the art was an exercise in shameless manipulation, but it was the visual equivalent of catnip for my monster-hungry mind. Read on ....
When I was a child, pop culture made Scotland's cryptozoological celebrity as accessible as ever, usually through cartoons like Scooby-Doo, Spider-Woman and Inspector Gadget. It would regularly appear in documentaries, either on prime time network TV or on syndicated shows like In Search of..., and magazines aimed at kids would feature articles about it as well. Busch Gardens even named one of its roller coaster rides after it, complete with a set of complementary merchandise you could buy in the gift shop that bore the monster's supposed likeness.
Above: Scooby-Doo's first encounter with the Loch Ness Monster in
Below: The entrance to Busch Garden's Loch Ness Monster roller coaster ride.
The most memorable of the mind-corrupting monster books I had was All About Monsters, an entry in the World of the Unknown Series that was published by Usborune Publishing in 1977. I lost my copy a long time ago, but thankfully someone else loved this book too and posted scans of it on the 'net. This book had plenty of great, full-color monster artwork in it, but the Loch Ness Monster and sea serpent art really stood out among the rest. In fact, the book put Nessie on the cover, showing off a complete set of sharp, pointy teeth.
Unfortunately, for as many pictures as I've found online of Loch Ness Monster art, I couldn't find many pictures that appeared in which books that appeared in my elementary school's library way back when. Nevertheless, the pictures below fit the themes and style of the art that those books contained. For example, given that no one could verify for sure what the Loch Ness Monster looked like--let alone what it actually was--most of the books' artists went with the notion that the monster must be some kind of dinosaur because ... kids love dinosaurs, right? The occasional lake-monster-as-giant-snake picture would pop up every now and then, but artists have obviously preferred the dinosaur version of Nessie.
Some of the Nessie artists would find ways to incorporate imagery from popular photos of the Loch Ness Monster into their pictures. If you look closely at the picture of Nessie below, you can spot a nod to a famous sonar photo that was taken in 1972 that purports to be a glimpse of Nessie's flipper.
Of course, the media has treated other modern monster legends like Bigfoot, the Yeti and UFO-piloting space aliens the same way as it has the Loch Ness Monster, but the concept of a lake monsters appealed to me more due to my fascination with the Jaws movies. Pop culture didn't disappoint me in that aspect, either--most horror movies about the Loch Ness Monster (or a similar kind of creature) are usually crap-tacular Jaws rip-offs anyway. Furthermore, as you can see from the art below, Nessie the lake monster and Bruce the mechanical shark have a lot in common: they're both large, have rows of sharp teeth, and enjoy hiding in deep waters until their monstrous appetites drive them to the surface to hunt for unsuspecting prey.