I’ve been sick as a dog for the past week with the worst head cold of my life, so I haven’t felt particularly inspired… but somehow managed to drag my sorry ass out of bed long enough to do a few things (including attending a 5 hour event at MOCAD — by the end of which I swear I was going to pass out).
First up is another creature in a possible series from Mandeville’s travels; a cynocephale (dog-headed man). Some of the period illustrations of the cynocephales showed them as having fur all over their bodies, others illustrations show them with fur only on their heads. I opted for the fur body — he isn’t wearing anything other than a bracelet. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to give him a tail, but none of the period illustrations I looked at had tails, so I left it off.
I’ve been using felt tipped markers on a sketch pad paper rather than my regular pen, brush and ink on Bristol and am still trying to get the feel for these new tools. One of the advantages is that I can work anywhere and traveling with a couple of felt tips and a pad is easier than needing a bottle of india ink, pens, brushes, cleaning supplies, etc. I’m less happy with this one than the picture of the Blemmye I did earlier — mostly because the legs look fucked up. But I like using a paper with a less smooth surface than the Bristol, although I miss the brush a lot.
Next up is a headless zombie, and she’s coming right down the sewer tunnel at you! This is from an adventure idea I had based on one of the characters from “The Oz” series of books. In one of the books, there was a character named Princess Langwidere who had a palace in which there were cabinets containing many ‘swappable’ heads. Langwidere could just take her head off and replace it whenever she wanted with another head from her collection. When Dorthy Gale wandered into the picture, Langwidere decided she wanted Dorthy’s head and offered her another from her collection in exchange. I don’t remember quite how it turned out (other than Dorthy retained her head), but I always liked the swappable heads idea.
The adventure idea might be a city/town location where all female visitors are carefully inspected when they arrive at the gate… and, if they have an attractive face or a nice head of hair (or are even interesting or exotic looking), they are summoned to the castle for a royal audience where the Princess/Duchess/Baroness/etc., will demand they swap heads with her because she wants their head for her collection. She wouldn’t be interested in bearded female dwarf heads or tiny hobbit heads, but human or elven heads would probably strike her fancy.
I haven’t worked out how the heads are removed — perhaps a magic axe that severs the head without all the blood and gore and death? Then the user can just put the head on the stump of the neck and it sticks like Velcro. Langwidere probably wears some sort of a choker to cover the seam. I might rule that if you ever put your own “original” head back on, it will immediately graft itself into place and the only way to get it off again (without getting killed in the process) is to use the magic axe. If, after having their head severed by this magic axe, the user does not place a head of some kind on the body, they will eventually turn into a ‘headless zombie.’
One of the possible adventures could be that the party might either have to return to the palace to either free their female companions (who might be trapped in a dungeon for having refused to give up their heads) or they might want to break into the palace to retrieve the original head of their female companion if they have been forced to relinquish their original head.
One of the ways into the castle is through the sewers… but the sewers are inhabited by the animate corpses of the Princess’ former enemies or women who made a nuisance of themselves by demanding their heads back.
One of my new intentions is to try and finish things. For example, I have hundreds of drawings lying around that I have been too lazy to finish. One of the ‘first fruits’ of my newfound ambition is the drawing of a creature known to our ancestors as a ‘Blemmye,’ at right.
“Blemmyes” belong to that class of creature which today would be called an ‘urban legend’ or ‘folk lore’ — like leprechauns or the Loch Ness monster. But in the 16th century, before satellites were constantly photographing the earth from overhead and everything had been google-earthed, there were still lots of blank spaces on the map marked with question marks. Someone (author unknown) wrote about“The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” Mandeville had apparently travelled to some of those blank spaces on the map and returned to tell of the tale.
Mandeville gives details of the lives of different species of humans like the ‘Skiapods,’ ‘Cynocephales,’ the ‘Cyclopes’ and the ‘Blemmeyes.’ As you can see, the Blemmyes have no head (making decapitation and buying shirts difficult) and their faces are on their chests. Belatedly, I realized that my Blemmeye has no ears; in some of the classic illustrations, the Blemmye is portrayed as having ears that flank his eyes… and female Blemmyes are portrayed as having boobs that start on their cheeks.
Another favorite is the ‘Cynocephales;’ a race of men with the heads of dogs (sometimes portrayed with fur). Their speech apparently sounds like barking and Mandeville notes that although they are very intelligent and reasonable, they worship a god who takes the form of an ox (I suppose thinking that god could be an ox seems just silly to Mandeville, since, as a Christian, he knows that god is really a dead man nailed to some wood).
‘Skiapods’ have one leg and a single giant foot which the Skiapod uses to shield himself from the sun. The classic illustrations of the Skiapods I have seen almost always portray them as lying on their back in the shade of their own giant foot (like in the period woodcut at right); I wonder if the skiapod puts sunscreen on the sole of his foot? Or does he just wear a big-ass shoe?
A sample of the unknown author’s prose:
From this land men go to another isle that is clept Silha. And it is well a 800 miles about. In that land is full much waste, for it is full of serpents, of dragons and of cockodrills, that no man dare dwell there. These cockodrills be serpents, yellow and rayed above, and have four feet and short thighs, and great nails as claws or talons. And there be some that have five fathoms in length, and some of six and of eight and of ten. And when they go by places that be gravelly, it seemeth as though men had drawn a great tree through the gravelly place. And there be also many wild beasts, and namely of elephants.
The book is filled with all sorts of creatures, countries, personalities and observations; like giant snails, dragons, Prester John and other weird stuff. I’ve only read bits of “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville;” maybe I’ll have to make time to read some more of it.
(edit: corrected spelling of ‘Blemeye’ to ‘Blemmye’; and discovered this was also the name used by the Romans for a tribe of Nubian nomads with conventional anatomy (it is not known what they called themselves) — how the name came to be applied to the headless people of Mandeville’s travel is unknown… also found out that ‘cockodrill’ probably means ‘crocodile.’)