October 19, 2008


I may have failed at getting a daily Halloween countdown together this year, but to me this is as good as a whole spooky months worth of posts because of the personal triumph it represents. After more than two decades of want, this weekend I've reclaimed the book Amazing Monster Mazes (1977, Hallmark) as my own.

It started in October of '77 when mom and I made a routine visit to the downtown Bible Book Store. Beyond the expected Bibles and books, the store carried a wondrous assortment of novelty gifts, jigsaw puzzles, chick tracts, posters, and endless bins of plastic trinkets intended as Sunday School rewards. The floor boasted a thick, green shag carpet perfect for plopping down upon, so as to examine their wares at length. They were also the most extensive Hallmark dealership in our little town, so once a year the whole place turned orange and black with the brand new line of Hallmark Halloween offerings. (Mind you, this was before American church culture mysteriously and collectively turned on Halloween a decade or so later.) Having deliberated over all of my possible purchases— greeting cards, wall decorations, centerpieces and party favors, it was a booklet that ultimately won my fancy.

(all pictures super size when clicked)

The 24 page volume is indeed a maze book, but to me it functioned more like a text book considering the hours of daily study I invested in its pages. In my pre-Where's Waldo world, few of my kiddie books served up this kind of detail, and I devoured it. I questioned the motives of every beast and I was frightfully intrigued by the consequences that met any careless maze traveler. I grew genuinely chilled at the thought of accidentally wandering into an open grave, or unintentionally awaking a sleeping ghoul.

One of my few memories of preschool is submitting this book when it was my turn to pick out the story to be read aloud in class. All morning I'd been anticipating the moment my teacher would share the mysteries of the monster mazes to my classmates, undoubtedly earning me their pure gratitude. I sat grinning as my teacher held it up and read the title. But then she hesitated and flipped through the book before announcing that maze books were unreadable. This sent me into an uncharacteristic outburst of tears, and I fled the room.
Later, after I'd choked down the replacement story with a damp face and raw eyes, the instructor took pity on me and revisited Monster Mazes, doing her best to describe each maze as cross legged students squinted to see the pictures. Her gracious actions had a healing effect.

The book fell apart, yet remained a favorite of mine for a number of years. And then it vanished. There are family theories surrounding its fate, the most plausible being a box of books that were unintentionally sold in a garage sale. No matter, it was gone; and I actively missed the booklet throughout my remaining childhood.

When I discovered ebay in 1998, recovering this treasure was among my first intentions. But its rarity (it was purely ephemeral, meant to be a value add crammed behind a greeting card, and discarded at seasons end), and the fact that I didn't know the official title (I always just called it my monster maze book, and there are tons of monster maze books) delayed my crusade. Until now.

Recently, a series of book related memories triggered me to scour ebay once again. When I saw that forgotten cover pop up (the very last entry of the last page of results, of course) I made an involuntary guttural sound and my heart started to pound. Four Buy-it-now dollars (plus shipping), and a week later it showed up in my mailbox.

So now that I posses it once again, what have I learned?
-It's still fantastic. The illustrations have aged extremely well, and it has lost none of its appeal in my eyes.
-Though they are uncredited on the cover, the book is written by Edward Cunningham, designed by Rick Cusick, and masterfully Illustrated by Tim Kirk. I've learned that Mr. Kirk started as a Hugo award winning fan artist...

...and after a seven year stint at Hallmark he became a Disney Imagineer.

-I've also learned that the imagery from this book never stopped rattling around my subconscious, and has influenced me artistically. Case in point: an illustration that I did right after college...

My (inferior) piece not only echoes the detail and scope of Monster Mazes, but it shares similar elements such as the starry sky, the hilly skyline, and the haunted house with the following maze (which happens to be my favorite)...

Notice how the placement of my rollercoaster echos the maze's path.  I drew a road leading into a cop's mouth while the original features a road running into the jaws of a monster mountain.
The tell tale orange cyclops cinches my theory...

Also note the vehicles near both of them.

And later when I translated the drawing into a Flash animation I even shuffled the cyclops into the upper left corner where he belongs...

I did the initial drawing at least 15 years after my last contact with Monster Mazes and I hadn't recalled Mr. Kirk's one-eyed creature until I saw it again yesterday. It's as though my mind was desperately trying to recreate the missing book without my knowledge. Awesome.

Anyway, as reward to those of you who have braved my tedious recollections, I offer the entire booklet scanned at a printable resolution. Let's give the kiddies their monster mazes once again.

Download Amazing Monster Mazes via Megaupload (87.4 meg zip file)


Jamey Clayberg said...

ZOINKS! Great post. No question the art and ideas in that have the quality and special-tasticness to stay in your head for 15 years, it's awesome.

Gene said...

Absolutely fantastic! There are certain books in everybody's life that has this kind of impact, and it's always the art that stays with you. I even had a hand-held "pinball" game with a haunted house for a background, and I spent HOURS studying that thing. Whether the people who create these things realize how carefully their drawings will be studied, I couldn't say... but I'm thankful for them either way.

vrbnks said...

Oh my, I can hardly express how happy it makes me to have this book again via your own recollections. I LIVED in this book when I was a kid, scrutinizing its pages for hours. I was in the attic looking for it the last time I visited my parents house a few months ago. This made my whole year. Thank you so much!

The Renzntzman said...

Somehow my brain finds this very familiar. Did I have this book? I can't remember.

Anthony said...

have you ever played the board game, "Fantasy Forest"? that's what that cyclops reminds me of. the game is totally amazing, and my grandma has it. we've pretty much worn through it.

Anthony said...

oop, here's a link

Another Todd said...

Thankyouthankyouthankyou thankyouthankyouthankyou

I had this book as a kid and pored over it for HOURS at a time. I KNOW I still have my copy around somewhere, but it's been years since I've seen it and I've been really anxious to look at it again for the longest time now, especially around Halloween.

I like the Lovecraft references in the monster zoo. Never would've gotten those as a kid.

This made my day!!

Sue said...

Great post! I didn't have this book, but would have stared at it for hours if I had. There's nothing like the thrill of a find such as this.

Kirk D. said...

vrbnks and "another todd"-
I was soooo hoping that some former (or current) Monster Mazes owners would see this!
Its good to know that it had a similar effect you guys.
vrbnks, I love that you were rummaging through your folks attic in search of it. I hope you both of you are able to find your copies. Anyway, you are very welcome, fellow brethren of the maze book.

jamey- totally; now my question is how can I make my own art that sticky?

gene- hmmmm, I must know more about this Haunted House game. got any pics?

rntzntzman- well, either way, now that you've seen it, your life will never be the same.

anthony- I've not seen that but it looks good. You need to get it away from your grandmother. As long as it's not in your care, bad things could happen to it!

thanks sue, yeah, it's funny that how I've spent more time with this book than I have on multi-million dollar motion pictures.

Gavin said...

I had the same book as a kid and I cherished it so much. Got it at a Hallmark store in Jackson, MS while visiing relatives. I have no idea what happened to my copy of it, but your post caused a rush of memory to come over me. Thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

This is great!!

-Tuure Koivikko

Kat Vapid said...

I am so jealous of that book!

Dimethios said...

Never saw this before, but I can surely see why you examined it for hours, as I would have myself if I had it. In a way some of the mazes remind me of the back of the Monster Mash record maze.

Thanks very much for sharing this gem.

Scythemantis said...

Oh wow, gotta love the SHOGGOTH in the monster zoo!

Amazing it's a "throwaway" sort of booklet, some of the coolest things in pop culture come and go with no fanfare. I wonder where the artist is now?

Chris Jepsen said...

Wow wow wow! I had forgotten about this book, but once I saw the cover scroll up on my monitor, I remembered about a million different details from it.

I had a copy when I was very young and loved it! Like you, I poured over it, again and again, studying every detail.

Thanks so much for posting it all for us to enjoy. I may have to find a way to re-interpret some of these monsters as decor for next Halloween.

I can't tell you how much this has brightened my day!

Kirk D. said...

Gavin makes three and Chris Jepsen makes four. Four Monster Mazes one time owners united on the web. Fantastic!

kat- print one out and your jealousy will melt away!

dimethios- I know that record! Very true.

scythemantis- Tim Kirk is still creating. His site is here...

Chris- you're extremely welcome. I'm happy to hear that seeing it had such a positive effect.
Halloween decorations would be a great idea! Some of those mazes would look amazing blown up on my wall.

Todd V. said...

This is amazing. I have looked for this book forever.

My mom got it for me at a Hallmark card shop in 1977 in Windsor Park Mall in San Antonio when I was six.

I had this thing for years as it came apart from the staples. And then, it just disappeared. No telling where and when it left, but I assume it was like the possible fate of yours and lost in a garage sale.

Looking at it again, it is shocking how much parts of it influenced design and illustration I do to this day. I have drawn something I assume evolved from a monster in this book within the last month.

I would try and assemble parts of it in my mind and try to remember elements of it, but now that I have seen its contents again... just wow.

I remembered an art gallery scene, a grocery store, a country road and a zoo.

I can't thank you enough for finding it and posting the contents. It was one of those hallowed cornerstones of my youth.

Absolutely amazing. I am feeling a sort of giddy pain in my chest and a massive sense of relief right now.

Many thanks.

Kirk D. said...

Ha, ha I'm sooo pleased that I could have a part in reuniting you with this book. Obviously, I can completely relate.

Oh, man before I found it I totally attempted to visualize the pages just like you said. As you mentioned, I had a few vague scenes in mind, (for me it was the haunted house) but I couldn't picture the details. I'd sometimes just close my eyes and dig around in my brain, but to no avail.

When I finally got it, I read the book in slow motion. I knew that every time I turned the page a new delight awaited me.

Anyway, you're certainly welcome and thanks for telling me how exciting your discovery was.

Todd Franklin said...

Yippee! I just found my own copy of this at the thrift store.

mm said...

Had this book. Lived it and loved it. For me it was the gallery scene. LIke others here, this and other artwork that appeared on games and toys (decals on the weebles haunted house anyone?) had a much bigger influence on my illustration work than anything else. Thanks for posting and thanks for the higher res scans so i can really take a look at this baby again. Has anyone attempted to contact Tim Kirk about this book?


Kirk D. said...

I haven't tried to make contact yet, but I've intended to. I'm sure he'd be interested to know how influential this piece of work has been.

meich said...

Wow!! Reading your blog is like a time machine for me... Yesterday I found this book in a forgotten box in my mom's closet and I was so excited!! I remembered how, when I was a little girl, I also spent a lot of hours analizing each picture... I don't know who gave me this book (I always lived in Mexico and it's not the one you find in common libraries) but I really thank him/her because it was an amazing gift...

Kirk D. said...

Two Monster Mazes rememberers in one week..nice! Thanks for sharing and I'm glad you were able to find your copy.

Patrick said...

I absolutely LOVED this book as a child. I brought it with me everywhere. I wish I could find it on Ebay for my kids. The Pyramid one always stuck out in my brain. Great find!

Anonymous said...

41 yo male living in Melbourne Australia , had this as a young boy !!
Totally legendary alongside Mr mystery ...
Word up

Lex said...

I've been looking for this for years, the pyramid and the grocery store always stayed with me.

Kirk D. said...

Glad you could find it here! I was just looking at it with my son the other day. I'm glad I'm so glad I've been able to wedge it into his childhood mind.