December 2nd, 1983: as a geeky teenager who was a couple years away from running away to Alaska, I caught one of the most epic concerts/ stadium-rock experiences ever: Genesis' "Mama" tour (North American Leg #1) at Syracuse, New York's Carrier Dome. One of my favorite albums for many years had been their '76 release "A Trick of the Tail," which marked a stylistic transition from the earlier Peter Gabriel catalog into their later, more pop-oriented incarnation. Like most other prog-rock titans (Pink Floyd, Yes, Rush et al) the sound of the band gradually tightened into a more contemporary format, in no small part due to the changing, stripped-down lineup, which lost them many fans. Myself, I've always enjoyed it when artists experiment and evolve creatively, so I love listening to everything from Foxtrot all the way to Abacab. But one particular tune always held a special place for me: "Squonk."
From a drawing on the album (sleeve design by Hipgnosis featuring artwork by Colin Elgie) came the first, small image of the the Squonk, along with an excerpt written by band members Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford that followed the song lyrics: "The Squonk is of a very retiring disposition and due to its ugliness, weeps constantly. It is easy prey for hunters who simply follow a tear-stained trail. When cornered it will dissolve itself into tears. True or False?"
More can be found in the original source material for Lacrimacorpus dissolvens, the Squonk, in a 1910 book "Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods" by William T Cox:
"Page 31 – The Squonk: A creature of the Pennsylvanian hemlock forests so ashamed of its upsetting countenance that it weeps constantly. J. P. Wentling once managed to catch one in a sack, but as he began to walk away he felt his load lighten. He opened the sack to find the squonk had dissolve completely into tears."There's even an accompanying illustration with the description by Coert du Bois (1881–1960; US Consul and forester):
And so with these two completely different visual takes on this mysterious creature, the challenge was to incorporate subtle elements of both into a totally new interpretation of the character. I spent spare time in warm-up/cool down sessions at the drawing board by doodling out many an idle sketch. Some of the influences that were explored were starting with a basic walrus and toad, maybe mixing in some Jabba the Hut/Duke Leto Atreides II (sandworm metamorphosis stage), a little Grinch/Gollum perhaps... basically concocting a critter that was somehow simultaneously both repulsive and cute. Part of the fun in projects like this is juggling of concepts and infinite looping of unexpected ideas with inevitable false starts and dead ends. And now that the character is in place, it's time to start spinning a tale...
The seeds for this were planted back in 2010 with this post ("Countdown: Empty Horn of Plenty"), and also after resurrecting another MFA piece ("Please, Please, Please") on endangered species Lots of other peripheral inspiration bubbled up, from documentaries like the PBS "Nature" episode "The Loneliest Animals" to blogger/cartoonist John Platt's recent "Extinction Countdown" series for Scientific American. Added to this was the continual exposure and immersion into a new environment by exploring Acadia, and wandering about the deep hemlock, cedar and pine thickets... wait, what was that?