When I was very young, my imaginary friend was a ghost named Marvin. I don't think he was ever the kind of imaginary friend that I played with or talked to, but he was my explanation for why doors would shut suddenly and I pointed him and his father out to my parents when we saw some laundry blowing in the breeze. Sometimes I made up stories about him -- at least I think I was making it up. In time, I expanded Marvin's cast of supporting characters. He had a skeleton friend named Mr. Bones who lived in our attic, and a vampire friend named Fangs who dropped by on rare occasion. I'm pretty sure there was also a wolf man, and there might have even been a Frankenstein's Monster of some sort, but these were additions that came toward the end of my "imaginary friend" arc -- somewhere in my first couple years of school. I don't think I made up as many stories about them, but it seemed natural to me that a ghost would have a supernatural supporting cast.
I suppose that's a large part of the impetus behind this article. From the very edges of memory, I was thinking about monsters who were friends with me and with each other. I don't know what planted that seed specifically, but given when I was born, there were all kinds of cheeseball possibilities from the 60s and early 70s. It's altogether likely that it was a combination of those elements that reinforced the idea for me and inspired me to add to Marvin's retinue. Looking back, it's easy to make fun of those things, but I sure wish I'd had access to some of these books back then. Adam Rex's books, in particular, would have blown my mind.
I'm not going to make any effort whatsoever to be comprehensive here. It's simply not possible, particularly given the history of monsters in comic books, and comic books' fetish for crossovers. So if I forgot your favorite, or simply something that you remember, that's okay. It's not a Master's thesis.
Written & Illustrated by Neal Adams
Featuring: Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Werewolves
Comics industry superstar Neal Adams tried to break away from the Big Two in the 80s. The business of comics still wasn't quite ready, and Adams had neither the business acumen nor the writing chops to really make it work the way that it would for the Image founders a decade later. One of his projects was an anthology comic called Days of Future Past (I know, right?) and Adams' contribution to the short-lived title was a story than combined Dracula, Frankenstein and a Werewolf with his own designs, to avoid any legal toe-stepping with Universal and, one suspects, to show off a little because he was still Neal freakin' Adams after all.
The story would actually have been a better a better House of Dracula than "House of Dracula." It still works within the same themes as the Universal pictures, adds some new elements of its own, and remixes them into a much better story with more interaction between the monsters we'd like to see. It's not necessarily great, but it does pay tribute while improving upon the notion.
It turns out, the comic was expanded from a record and storybook that Adams originally made in the 70s. If Universal had taken the bait then and developed it as a movie, we could have seen much different development through the 70s and 80s.
Rampage - 1986
Rampage is an arcade video game that puts players in the role of giant monsters tearing cities apart. While the characters are not licensed from existing monsters, they are clearly "inspired by" them. George is a giant ape, akin to King Kong. Lizzie is a giant dinosaur like Godzilla, but also looks a little Black Lagoon-y to me. Ralph is a giant werewolf. Okay, sure, why not? With its large character sprites, Rampage definitely looked different in the arcades, but I always felt that gameplay ran a little thin fell short of the concept's potential. Clinging to the sides of buildings and moving fairly slowly just didn't embody the sense of rampaging that I wanted from it. There would be sequels for consoles later on, but none of them were terribly well-rated. Small surprise.
King of the Monsters - 1991
King of the Monsters was a giant monster fighting/wrestling game for the SNK's Neo-Geo arcade/console system, which made it an unusual creature indeed. Players selected monsters which took their cues from Godzilla, King Kong and Ultraman characters, then fought it out in large cityscapes. The concept was great and the large figures in urban environments were impressive for their time (like Rampage), but (also like Rampage) the gameplay just really wasn't there. Being more inspired by Japanese wrestling games than martial arts styled fighting games, the controls were less intuitive and satisfying than a giant smash-fest really demanded. There was also a sequel. Due to its oddity and its SNK basis, it really didn't get much traction in the west, despite ports to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
Darkstalkers - 1994
Capcom for Arcade and various consoles
Featuring: a vampire, demons, a mummy, ghosts, a Frankenstein type monster, a werewolf, an Uzi-packin' Red Riding Hood, a cat girl and more!
Darkstalkers (known as "Vampire" in Japan) is a 2D arcade fighting game series from Capcom, similar to the Street Fighter series, but with monster characters and more fantastical fighting techniques. There have been 3 main entries in the series and a couple compilations. It's also spawned cartoons and comics. It has been suggested that there won't be a new Darkstalkers game until Capcom gets a million requests. I suck at the games about as much as I suck at most 2D Capcom fighters, but it was always my favorite of the bunch because the characters are so cool. Some of the characters turn up in other Capcom crossover projects.
Illustrated by Art Adams
Featuring: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, a giant samurai demon and a giant naked mole rat
Creature Features collects 4 monster tales illustrated by enemy of deadlines everywhere, Art Adams. The largest story is a fairly straight adaptation of Universal's Creature from the Black Lagoon. It's beautifully illustrated (let's just say they all are, because Art Adams), thanks also to the coloring by Matt Hollingsworth. The other main feature is a story from the Godzilla Color Special, and that's the real money shot, as far as I'm concerned. It's the story of an isolated Japanese island whose residents have turned their backs on the ways of the 20th century. An anti-kaiju strikeforce known as G-Force (90s continuity) is sent to evacuate the villagers due to an impending Godzilla attack. The villagers are unwilling to leave, and it soon becomes a moot point once Godzilla devastates the naval blockade. It turns out the villagers aren't quite so defenseless as they appear. Legend tells of an 800 year old demon that attacked the village long ago. The body of the demon became a huge statue which the villagers believed would come to life to protect them, which it does (although there's a story behind it). Every time Godzilla smashes the statue, it reforms itself from the dirt and stone, coming back bigger. With the help of G-Force, it's able to go toe to toe with the King of Monsters and ultimately redirect his course. Now, this giant samurai demon statue is a tribute of its own to the Daimajin trilogy from the 60s, about a guardian statue in medieval Japan. I like this story so much that I had partly convinced myself that it had been an actual movie, or that the statue had at least existed in one of the, at some point. It would indeed be a great Godzilla movie, or half a movie, at some point when Toho starts making them again. There are also a couple short stories in Creature Features. One stars Adams' own characters, Monkeyman & O'Brien against the Shrewmanoid and a giant naked mole rat, and the other is by Alan Moore. I don't know that piece, as I purchased all the original comics separately, but hey, Alan Moore, so that can't suck.
War of the Monsters - 2003
Incog Inc. for Playstation 2
Designers: Dylan Jobe, Kellan Hatch, Eric Simonich & Scott Campbell
This free-roaming fight game pays homage to giant everything in a 1950s drive-in movie setting. While none of the characters are licensed from existing franchises, it features a giant ape, a couple reptilians, giant robots in both American & Japanese varieties, a giant mantis and more, wreaking havoc across 10 highly destructible environments. Players can duke it out hand-to-hand or use ranged attacks, but the most fun comes from using environmental weapons. My favorite is skewering an opponent with an antenna tower and watching them flail around trying to pull it out. I love this game. I can only assume that it's been criminally slept-on, because it would have become a mega-series if it was getting the following it deserves.
Mommy? - 2006
Story by Arthur Yorinks
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Papercraft by Matthew Reinhart
If you haven't seen a pop-up book in a while, let me just tell you; they are doing amazing things in papercraft nowadays.
Maurice "Wild Things" Sendak pays tribute to the Universal Monster movies of his youth in this very simple tale of a little boy looking for his "Mommy" in all the wrongest places. The pop-up art does more than merely fold out of the page. It creates a deeper sense of space, and often animates as it unfolds. The scene with The Mummy is a real show-stopper. The papercraft doesn't just show off the art, it plays a role in telling the story. But oh that art! Sendak clearly had fun illustrating it, and the whole product just radiates with the love that its creators put into it.
Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich - 2006
Written & Illustrated by Adam Rex
Adam Rex started out as an illustrator. I think he painted card art for Magic: The Gathering before he moved into children's books. Then he started writing them too. Then shifted into juvenile & young adult fiction, and he does it all brilliantly. I've loved everything he's done, but this was my first real exposure to him. The whole book is filled with poems that play with classic monsters. Imagine Shel Silverstien wrote a book about Universal (and other) Monsters and had it illustrated by the Usual Gang of Idiots from Mad magazine, and you'll have kind of a sense of what to expect here.
Frankenstein Takes the Cake - 2008
Written & Illustrated by Adam Rex
Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich must have worked out well for Adam Rex, because 2 years later he was back with more monster madness. This time, there's a bit more of a narrative thread connecting them as Frankenstein prepares to marry his Bride.
Sometime more IS better!
Rex has gone on to write the HI-LARIOUS juvenile lit book "The True Meaning of Smekday" (soon to be a major motion picture!) and the young adult satire, "Fat Vampire." He's partnered with Neil Gaiman on Chu's Day and Chu's First Day of School, so, you know, the guy's got mad nerd cred.
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme - 2009
Written by Bobbi Katz
Illustrated by Adam McCauley
While very similar on paper to Adam Rex's Frankenstein books, The Monsterologist goes a very different direction with it. Like the previous books, it's meant to be a humorous poem tome about a very similar variety of monsters, framing them as the research notes of a monsterologist. This device serves to distance the reader from the monsters and their personalities. It's hard not to compare it negatively in light of Rex's books. While it's certainly a different beast, those different choices don't seem to serve it well. I just didn't find the poems to be funny or endearing. Sadly, the art only magnifies this distancing from the material. McCauley's art isn't really fun or cuddly. It's very graphical with a more punk aesthetic better suited to something like the New Yorker than a children's book. They clearly invested in book production, employing gatefolds and die-cuts inside and a pseudo-leather embossed cover with metallic ink. It's an interesting piece of graphic design, but it disappoints in almost every category as a children's book.
King of Tokyo - 2011
Designed by Richard Garfield
King of Tokyo is a tabletop board game by superstar game designer Richard Garfield (Magic: The Gathering, RoboRally, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, etc). It's based on the general premise of Godzilla movies, and each player plays a monster inspired by Godzilla, King Kong, a Cthulhu-like Kraken, a giant robot bunny, etc. It's a most-ages game that uses Yahtzee-like dice mechanics to empower your monster as it fights to become the last monster standing.
It's much easier to grok than it initially seems like it will be. Strategy centers around a simple kind of resource management, balancing life, damage, victory points and power cells that allow you to buy cards to power up your creature. In our own gaming sessions, we've found that more is better -- more monsters is more fun, and setting a higher bar for victory lengthens the game, making the power-up cards more worthwhile and the strategy of dominating or yielding Tokyo more significant. My only real complaint is that it has a LOT of little pieces, which really comes into consideration if you have younger kids around. Not necessarily a complaint, but a questionable choice is that the dice are pretty big for an Ages 8 & up game. It can get kind of... dicey ... shaking 6 or more dice. You may want a cup, a la Yahtzee. That being said, it IS a lot of fun to go all rampagey and try to get the upper claw on your friends and family.
The Graveyard Book - 2010
By Neil Gaiman
Featuring: ghosts, a vampire, a werewolf, ghouls and more
When sudden death comes to the family of a toddler, he wanders off to a nearby historical graveyard. When the cause of their deaths pursues him, the ghosts in that graveyard take it upon themselves to raise the boy and keep him safe. Renamed Nobody Owens, or "Bod," he is granted the freedom of the graveyard and raised in the ways of ghosts, with additional tutelage by Silas, a neither dead nor alive resident of the cemetery. The flow of the narrative is semi-episodic, illustrating chapters in Bod's life which offer fun little encounters and adventures in their own right which will each provide the lessons he needs to overcome the dark forces which pursue him.
Highly recommended for spooky kids.
It's also come to my attention that the novel for kids has been adapted into a graphic novel with Gaiman's frequent collaborator and American national treasure, P. Craig Russell, so that's bound to be a gorgeous and satisfying option. I fully expect this one to get turned into a movie, so wait for that if you're lazy, or get on it now if you enjoy telling people you told them so.
So... I kinda lied. I ended up deciding to include more comics after all. It's still not comprehensive, but it's representative. Continue on to the penultimate chapter of the Monster Mash-Ups IN The Monster Mash-Ups - Part 9: Comics Appendix!
And if you missed all the movies, take it from the top with The Monster Mash-Ups - Part 1: The 1940s & 50s!