Stan Manoukian saw his first monster at age thirteen. Out for an early morning fishing trip with his father, the fog loomed heavily above the water at the edge of the lake. With his rod in the water, the young Manoukian waited patiently for a tug on his line. But nothing came. And soon, he noticed everything around him had stopped. The sing-song of nearby birds, the rustling of leaves on the breeze; time, he said, seemed suspended.
The boy looked back in search of his father, who was still fussing with his fishing gear at the car. Stan turned his attention back to the dead calm of the water in front of him, and that’s when he saw it. A ripple, a big one, disturbing the glassiness of the water about 10 meters away, where the fog was heaviest. His eyes grew wide. He inched his toes closer to the water, but found he was already at the edge. The ripples approached. Stan could only watch. As they grew closer, the giant head of an unknown aquatic creature broke the surface of the water. Its skin was smooth, the gaze of its one eye arresting.
“Hughmee” 9.6″ x 7.6″ mixed media on lithograph paper
“It wasn’t dangerous looking at all,” Manoukian, now 43, recalls. “It was a mix between a fish and a human, with two big arms and tentacle fingers. We watched each other for probably only a few seconds, but the exchange felt interminable. My father came back from his car and nature returned to life; the creature disappeared in the blink of an eye and suddenly I had a big fish on my fishing rod! I guess it was a present from this creature as proof of our meeting.”
Since then, the Parisian artist sees monsters all the time, and everywhere. Even in the shower. “But you know, they don’t care about nudity,” he laughs, “nudity is liberty!”
“Groundogs” 10.75″ x 8.25″ pencil on 90gr cream paper
Having drawn monsters all of his life, the encounters became something of a sign: was it possible that he was chosen by these otherworldly species to tell their story?
“We see so many monsters and creatures in movies or other media, but we’re never told much about them,” Manoukian says. “They’re always the catalyst for fear or something mysterious happening, but you never know if they have a family, how they live in nature, or all the little details about what makes them real creatures. Can they feel pain, love and all that we do as living beings?
“I want to delve deeply into these monsters’ lives … to tell a story with them, to make a documentary.”
Fast forward to 2007 and the Diary of Inhuman Species was born: a monster-a-day project where Manoukian illustrated a creature he had encountered, and documented key facts about the species, science journal-style. His goal with this project — and his work in general — is two-fold: show these creatures in their natural environment, complete with habitat, other existing species, predators and how they interact with one another. Then, show how these creatures exist in our world: their survival tactics, environs and how they interact with human beings, wildlife, and so on.
“In both ways, I’m like a zoologist who studies and tries to understand something unknown from elsewhere,” Manoukian explains. “I imagine the creatures’ stories as I draw, each with their own way of walking, feeding and reproducing. Some are aggressive, others peaceful. But I also like the idea of letting the spectator use their imagination.”
The mammoth, 416-page tome released in early 2009 following the encouragement of long-time friend, Run, a comic book artist and publisher at Ankama in France. The book is based on the premise that Manoukian was abducted by these aliens and is now sharing his findings upon returning to earth.
Manoukian’s “Kondo” sofubi toy, released through Ankama in 2011.
“Since then, I’ve done more than thousand monsters and the project has become more and more ambitious. Now I’m doing full colour illustrations, toys, and am trying new mediums. In six years I went much further than expected; I’m totally free to do what I want with this monster universe as it’s grown in multiple directions. I’m really happy with them!
“Forest Monsters” 12.25″ x 9″ black pencil on newsprint
To see just a sampling of Manoukian’s most recent discoveries, be sure to check out Circus Annual at Stranger Factory, on now until Dec. 31. Stan will also have new work on display in August 2013 at Stranger Factory as part of a major monster marathon featuring the likes of Paul Kaiju, James Groman, Josh Herbolsheimer, Joe Merril, Goccodo and Mutant Vinyl Hardcore!
“Janv2008” original photograph manipulated in Photoshop