today's this week's celebration of Scary-Crayon's fifth anniversary continues! Much like the Courageous Righteous Bootleg Turtles, the subject of this review is another product that I've been meaning to review for quite some time. In fact, not only did I have plans to review this coloring book even before I launched SC -- it was one of the main things in my possession that inspired me to start the site in the first place. I mean, there are a lot of clever and snarky webmasters out there reviewing random crap, but one of the things that makes us all welcome and hopefully worth reading is that, while there's certainly some overlap regarding our content, at least some of what we're reviewing is unique to our sites. If you google "red lobster fun book" or "red lobster hidden treasure pack", for instance, all of the results that come up refer to the reviews (here, here, and here) on this site. I mean, we all have our individual takes on things, but sometimes it's especially refreshing when we're sharing our unique viewpoints with respect to unfamiliar and uncharted media.
That said, part of me wishes that I could find something on the web about the Scary Faces coloring book, since at least then I could tell you about the history of it. I picked it up during a family trip to London in 1987 -- though the 1986 copyright date also serves to give us information regarding the period of the book's circulation -- but, unfortunately, that the book was sold in England in the latter half of the 80s is all that I know. Googling the illustrator, Norman Nodel, has led me to multiple pages that refer to an apparently well-known and respected illustrator of Jewish children's books. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2000 and none of the pages that mention his works list Scary Faces among them, so there's no way for me to know whether he was the Norman Nodel responsible for the brilliant art in this book. (If you're familiar with Nodel's work and recognize his style, though, please drop us a line or leave a comment in the blog!) I also googled Susan Lurie, the book's editor, but that seems to be a common enough name that there's no way for me to tell which Susan Lurie helped to create this masterpiece.
In addition, while I haven't been able to find anything about this particular book by searching for information on the publisher, here's an interesting fact: one of the most prominent search results regarding the Waldman Publishing Corp. and Playmore Inc. refers to a 1994 court case. I'm hardly interested enough in the matter to read through the details of the case, but the suggestion of a legal battle involving the publisher does add to the mystery surrounding Scary Faces in an indirect sort of way. And there's also the book's missing cover! Although I'm not entirely certain it ever had a cover -- though it probably did -- the lack of it makes the book even more esoteric. We may never know what was on that cover. Insofar as we don't know, however, we'll always have to accept the possibility that perhaps it alone was the key to solving The Peculiar Mystery of the Scary Faces Coloring Book. Heck, perhaps that cover was the key to solving all mysteries. Yet in place of that mythical artifact, all we have is Boglins stamp I placed on the inside cover.
Since we have no cover or any additional information regarding the book, we'll just proceed with the summary review. Right away you can tell why this book left such an indelible impression on my young mind. It contains two of the things I loved most in all the world: dinosaurs and
Madballs monster balls. There's rhyme, as all of the text in the book employs a simple rhyming scheme, but there's definitely no reason to the action -- the Scary Faces just erupt from a volcano and start playing with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs that can talk. Why are the dinosaurs capable of intelligible speech? Why are they interested in playing with Scary Faces as opposed to eating plants and/or each other? What the hell kind of volcano produces knockoff Madballs?! None of these questions will be answered in this book. But perhaps doing so would have been redundant, since perhaps all of these questions were dealt with effectively on the missing front cover. The Scary Faces cover is legend.
Also, note that the last spread above is the sole portion of this book that kid Wes bothered to color. Why I left the remainder of the book uncolored is anyone's guess -- perhaps I was too awed by the contents of the book to mar its pages with crayon, or perhaps whatever happened to make me lose the cover also caused me to lose my coloring tools -- but if you'd like to see the clean page for whatever reason you may click here.
As if monster balls spewing forth from a prehistoric volcano and talking dinosaurs weren't strange enough events, Scary Faces really takes the oddball antics to a new level when the titular spheroids suggest that they all play games. Wikipedia might tell you that basketball was created in 1891 and that volleyball was created in 1895, but here we see Scary Faces and dinosaurs playing these sports together over 65 million years ago. What's even weirder is that the Faces happily let the dinosaurs use them as the ball in every sport, even when that includes kicking them into trees during a game of soccer. In addition to being birthed from molten rock and well-versed in the language of terrible lizards, Scary Faces feel no pain and apparently cannot suffer concussions or brain damage. And remember how the stegosaurus was said to adore Scary Faces earlier? Apparently that's still true, since, while everyone else is engaged in a game of water polo, ol' Steggy wants to be alone with one of the balls. I'm not even sure this is a case of me jokingly reading something sexual into an innocent children's book -- look at the sly look on that stegosaurus's face! That dinosaur is so clearly thinking naughty thoughts. And Norman Nodel appears to be a really good artist, so I have a hard time believing he didn't intend to give just that impression. Kids would never pick up on it, so what's the harm in having a little fun? Wherever you are, Mr. Nodel, thank you for giving me the opportunity to write something that's probably never been written in English until right now: That stegosaurus totally wants to fuck that Scary Face.
Typing that sentence was so satisfying that I feel like I need a cigarette.
The next two pages feature a neat poster spread of a particularly hideous Scary Face and several sauropods (with a couple of pteranodon in the background), and then it's back to more crazy sports antics. The boxing image is really odd, since it features a dinosaur wearing not only boxing gloves -- which, like so much of this book, makes very little sense -- but also being knocked out of its socks... implying that dinosaurs actually wore socks. Plaid socks. What's up with that, dinosaurs? At least stripes or spots might've matched your hides! Yet for all I know, plaid socks and naturally-occurring hide patterns were all the primal rage back in 65 million B.C.E. And if they weren't already popular, I now have no problem believing that the Scary Faces couldn't have started this trend themselves despite not even having feet. I mean, really: boxing, bowling, bouncing off the heads of dinosaurs for no apparent reason -- is there anything the Scary Faces can't do?
The two images below effectively answer my question with a resounding NO. In fact, they're so incredible that you'll need a moment to prepare yourself. Take deep breaths and get ready to have your world rocked.
Ready? Here goes...
The first image above is among the most amazing pictures I've had the pleasure of posting on SC -- and I've posted a lot of weird stuff over the years. You can see it just fine for yourself, I'm sure, but let me confirm its contents for you just in case you're having difficulty believing your eyes. It's a hadrosaur... using a Scary Face... to ward off Count flippin' Dracula. Or, rather, Count Dra, as Mr. Nodel has drawn a cleverly-placed rock to cover up the name of the vampire for some unknown reason. Perhaps the name "Dracula" hadn't yet entered public domain in Europe at the time? In any case, you and I both know that that's Daddy Drac in that coffin. And he's terrified. Of a Scary Face. Perhaps Nodel covered Drac's name to spare him the humiliation that he'd rightly endure if his monster pals knew he'd been cowed by an ugly rubber ball? Of course, Frankenstein's monster wouldn't be able to talk -- Scary Faces not only frighten him to tears, but also send currents of electrified fear streaking throughout his misshapen body. Yes, Virginia, the monsters you fear in the dark are complete and total bitches. It's time to ditch the nightlight.
On the other hand, if you suspect that a stegosaurus is hiding in your closet, you might want to leave it on.
Nine pages remain in Scary Faces, but since it is virtually impossible to top the appearances of Dracula and Frankenstein alongside dinosaurs and monster balls -- it's like Nodel and Lurie pulled that sequence straight out of my wildest fantasies and simply omitted the makeout session between Allison Mack and Amy Acker -- the remainder of the work simply involves the characters winding down from what was undoubtedly the very highest point of any coloring book in the history of ever. Really: like the encore following a really engaging performance, one Scary Face tells a riddle and then it's time for them to go. I hope the Scary Face that made aquatic sexy time with stegosaurus woke the smitten dinosaur up to say goodbye -- doing otherwise would be rude even for a one-eyed thing that drools all over the place by design.
And thus concludes the most amazing coloring book ever. The book seems to end on a happy note -- the Scary Faces are smiling because they had a fantastic time, yet are also glad to be returning to their molten domicile -- but this note quickly drops a few octaves when one realizes that the Scary Faces have left the dinosaurs just prior to the onset of the K-T extinction event. Never again can those giant reptiles enjoy a friendly game of beach volleyball or strut amidst the pre-fossilized foliage in their fetching plaid socks. Never again can they make like Gumby and enter the world of gothic fiction, staring down such monsters as Count Dracula and Frankenstein with backup from their brave, bodiless buddies. Never again can Steggy pull a Scary Face aside and... okay, so I've beaten that joke to death. Just like nature and a plummeting freighter with Adric on board beat the dinosaurs to death. But we'll always have memories, eh? And just as we have photos to remind us of happier times today, we have the fossil record to remind us of those joyous days long past. Somewhere, buried in layers of mineral not far from an active volcano, there is an armor-plated skeleton and the imprint of a stegosaurus curled up in a fetal position. If you look closely at the area that shows the outline of the animal's face, I'm almost certain you'll be able to make out a contented smile amidst the rock.
In all seriousness, Scary Faces is easily one of the most enjoyable books I owned as a kid -- and even though I didn't use it for that purpose, it's probably the most fun coloring book I've ever seen. Even 20+ years later, it still strikes me as brilliant in on a level that most media doesn't even aspire to reach. I'm glad and honored to have had the opportunity to share it with you! Here's hoping that the publisher (which apparently has a history of being litigious...) doesn't decide to acid rain on our prehistoric parade with a cease and desist order.
And finally, in keeping with my longstanding fondness for this book, I actually employed Scary Faces as bullet points and in several other places in early SC layouts. (You can still see two of them in one of the random graphics alongside Grimlock and Miyamoto Usagi.) So now, in honor of their seen and unseen influence on the site, I'm posting those images -- which I digitally colored myself way back in 2004 -- for your viewing pleasure. Long live the Scary Faces! And technically, since the Scary Faces first surfaced during the late Cretaceous and are still around in 2009, I guess they have indeed lived a very long time. :)-- Wes --