With its giant testicles. Jillian Tamaki

It's not really accurate to say that mythical beasts are suddenly popular again. They never really go away. Certainly, specific types of imaginary creatures come in and out of fashion—people have recently been posting illustrations of Robocop riding on the back of a unicorn all over the internet for no good reason or financial motive, and vampires have reclaimed the imagination of current cinema from zombies for the umpteenth time in a row—but bestiaries of sea monsters and Sasquatches have been produced for as long as we've been putting ink to paper. One of the first books I ever bought with my own money was The Book of Beasts: Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century, by T. H. White, a book that lumped the griffins in with the chickens and informed its readers that mother bears gave birth to their young by licking them into existence from their own skin.

Fantagraphics' two BEASTS! anthologies are gorgeous McSweeney's-style takes on these bestiaries, with art from 180 cartoonists, painters, and graphic designers. The broad array of talent—consider Matt Burlingame's diorama of a ghastly Wendigo consuming human flesh in front of a cottage on a cold winter's night, only a few pages away from Julie Morstad's sweet minimalist watercolor interpretation of a Selkie (a kind of Scottish were-seal)—is impressive. Even the less-accomplished art, like Lew Lashmit's bad-fantasy-novel-cover–style painting of a Poughkeepsie Cryptid, seems more compelling because of the intrinsic basal-ganglia–tickling appeal of the subject matter.

There's some great wry text here—"TANUKI, the Japanese raccoon-dog, is best known for its enormous testicles"—in a nod to the Victorian bloviation that took the place of scientific fact in bestiaries past; but this is, first and foremost, an art book, a gallery show between two covers. I could go on for hours: Blexbolex's woodblock print of a Djieien resembles old socialist propaganda posters; Yoko Shimizu's Baku is a gothed-up Hokusai. It's enough to leave a reader reeling. And whereas the bestiaries of old created a sense of capital-wuh Wonder at the idea of a world full of magical creatures, these collections create a similar awe at all the imagination out there running wild, just waiting to be seen. recommended