Written by Jonathan Wojcik
My Thirteen Favorite
Monsters In My Pocket!
Some images from Toy Sector!
Released in 1990, "Monster in my Pocket" was a line of small, simple, unpainted rubber monsters that sent me and innumerable other children into a maniacal collecting frenzy lasting at least a couple years straight. Drawing from ancient mythology, recent urban legends and common pop-culture tropes, the series was actually my entire introduction to many famous legendary creatures like the Catoblepas, Baba Yaga, Tengu and many more, even if they often took some rather drastic liberties with their source material. Interestingly enough, these toys are also the sole reason why a certain little series called "Pocket Monsters" had to be renamed something that ultimately proved far more iconic.
Let's just cut to the chase, though; you want to know my very favorites because we're both geeks with nothing better to do right now. Go ahead and share your own in the comments, or even some of your favorite mythological monsters in general!
Finding really nice photographs of every figure is a little daunting, but luckily, the Monster in my Pocket Fan Wiki includes some scans of all the trading cards, which accurately portray the details and poses of each figure in such a charming art style. "Coatlicue" here was definitely among Series One's more interesting inclusions, pretty damn close to how this Aztec goddess was actually depicted. While the "real" Coatlicue was associated with pregnancy, death and pregnancy-related death, however, the "Monster in my Pocket" description just said it was a monster who "eats dirt, then breathes it as a weapon." Big deal, don't we all? You can see what I mean about liberties.
The Swamp Beast
This generic, sludgy bog-monster was the figure I was excited for in Series II, all of which had been previewed in the back of a comic book. Despite its advertising, however, the second series was absolutely never distributed in my area. Week after week, I'd hunt for them in every toy store I could, but to no avail.
I have a strange childhood memory of forcing a slightly older, completely unamused female friend to watch my VHS of the "Swamp Thing" cartoon show, then presented her with an image of "Swamp Beast" and asked her if she knew what it was. When she rolled her eyes and boredly answered "Swamp Thing," as I totally predicted, I was extremely smarmy about correcting her. This was Swamp BEAST, PLEBIAN. Fortunately, my people skills have almost improved since then.
Don't judge me, but Medusa was one of my top favorites back in the day because she was basically "the hot one." The figure toned down the chest, but the sculpt's slightly simpler face had a sort of cuteness to it. These days, I'm more into Medusas with horrifying ghoul-faces, though there's some evidence that Medusa was originally described as young and beautiful.
Oddly enough, the fourth series of figures - the large, semi-painted "Super Scaries" - actually did make it to my neck of the woods, though only in two huge packs that provided the entire series at once if you purchased them both. I didn't even know they existed when I suddenly received both one birthday, and I couldn't have been more excited. It's hard to narrow down the "Super Scaries" to only a few best, but their interpretation of a Poltergeist as a rambuncious, bony goblin is truly delightful. You gotta love the arm going through its own leg, and that menacing grimace as it simultaneously brandishes a hatchet and balances teacups on its big toe. This little shit is crazy.
This was another Series Two monster I was really eager to get, and I've still never owned one, but I've always been really fond of gnarly tree monsters. This was my introduction to the term "Dryad," and I was admittedly a little disappointed when I'd later learn they were more like cutesy tree-dwelling nymphs. I know which one I still prefer, of course. I just love those horrendous, knife-like bunny teeth.
The Fachen is a Celtic fairy simply described as having one leg, one arm and one eye, which this "Super Scaries" figure chose to interpret into this fascinatingly weird, lopsided horror with a shaggy mane and terrifying, shark-like jaws in what at first seems to just be its "chest!"
The Bishop Fish
"Bishop Fish" appear in a lot of old bestiaries and nautical woodcuts, thought to be fanciful misinterpretations of squid, stingrays or both. Whatever the case, this is an even cooler interpretation of one as a slavering sea-demon with beautifully freaky fish-eyes, though in the figure sculpt, it was hard to tell if those were the eyes or it had smaller, human-like ones above its mouth. I definitely prefer the big squid-eyes.
"Ghilan" is basically a less popular variation on the term "Ghoul" or "Ghul," which Monster in my Pocket decided should be a tangled mass of deformed arms and legs holding up an inhuman, jawless skull. Pretty freaking imaginative, honestly. I can't find a picture that shows it off, but there's also a second, human-like head on the other side of its lumpy lower body, just like I've got, only upside-down and seemingly screaming. Damn. At least I've got Ghilan beaten in the jawless skull department.
As I mentioned, many monsters in this toy line were completely new to me in 1990, before the internet made researching monsters so damn easy. The Kraken was one of them. The first time I spied its tentacled shape on the back of the packaging, I had to have it. It took three toy-store trips to finally find one, and it felt like its own self-contained Christmas. Up to that point, I truly had no idea there were ever ancient legends about cephalopods - it wasn't nearly as famous a myth as it is now, with you kids and your Davey Joneses and your Pokemansters.
There's not much else to say, except I always liked this Kraken's weird rat-like incisors. Actually, its whole face has a rodent sort of vibe. It's kind of like a big, hairless chipmunk, albeit with fewer tentacles.
By far the weirdest addition to the whole franchise, this finned, gnashing head with a funny nose was described by the included pamphlet as a beach-dwelling predator with a lure on its snout, and it wasn't until a few years later that I finally discovered what a "Haniver" really was; a mutilated, mummified stingray. Back then, I actually found this disappointing, because it meant there was no "real" ancient legend about a creature like this, but like any mature adult, I've since developed a deep appreciation for snarling, disembodied heads with any tenuous connection to a mangled fish.
The Ectoplasmic Phantom
They were really stretching the "mythological" origins with this one, being loosely based on the general concept of ghosts who produce "ectoplasm," but I'm glad they took such a big step outside their box just to make a crazy lopsided slime-man. That panicked looking face and huge, melting jaw are pure delight, and I actually happen to have this figure in my actual vest pocket, as we speak, riding around with me everywhere I go. I was never quite sure what that outgrowth on the left is supposed to be, though, just some weird, bent psudopod? It's certainly not where an Ectoplasmic Phantom's reproductive antennae is supposed to go, and it's not even properly barbed!
I somehow missed that this figure ever existed at all until I finally looked up the elusive Series Two on the internet, which probably happened the very first week I ever had internet, in case you're curious about my priorities when presented with the knowledge of the world at my fingertips. I was already a huge fan of this skinless, malformed sea-devil by then, and was pretty excited to know that it had a gorgeously accurate entry in one of my favorite toy lines! The way the "rider" outgrowth is so hunched over is amazingly disturbing, completely hiding its face under its filthy hair...if it even has a face. Years back, Bogleech hosted a Nuckelavee "art contest" you can see here, which more than duodecupled the amount of Nuckelavee artwork on the internet, and I daresay may have done the same for its overall popularity.
The Mad Gasser of Mattoon
Picking a single favorite would have been pretty difficult without this guy around, but if you ask me, when an insectoid mutant in a gas mask is anywhere on the table, there aren't a whole lot of other things that can come anywhere close to the same tier. Gassy is perhaps the most "modern" of the monsters included in the series, based on a brief, sensationalized panic from the 30's and 40's. Nobody ever described the alleged attacker as a hulking alien bug with metal tongs for hands, but I'm forever thankful to whomever conceived and sculpted this beautiful, beautiful lump of rubber. I have about four or five of these guys flitting around in my possession, and it's probably had a bit of influence on several of my own creature designs. If I could, I'd just be this thing. Forget all those other life's dreams I've prattled on about, this is the face of true happiness.
A smelly people-exterminator with grasshoper feet.