Weeping woolly mammoths, buck-toothed Neanderthals and a fire-breathing North America — Manvir Singh’s ’12 new book, “Zoostalgia,” is full of quirky and inviting illustrations like these that draw in readers regardless of their background in biology. “Zoostalgia,” which is now available at a handful of small bookstores and on Amazon, is dedicated to Pleistocene megafauna, extinct large animals that lived from 12,000 to 2.6 million years ago. Singh, a self-proclaimed “animal nerd,” said he has always been fascinated by these creatures.
“They’re kind of like extreme, mutated versions of a lot of the creatures we have, like giant sloths, giant armadillos, like dwarf hippos,” he said. “It’s like an alternate universe.”
One appealing aspect of these fauna, Singh said, is their “recency” — geological recency, that is — and the stamp they left on the world.
“They are so alien in one sense, but you can still see the ecological effects,” he said.
The book is done entirely in black and white and catalogues the various fauna by continent of origin. The cover, which lacks any text, showcases the giant head of a woolly mammoth, complete with an angelic halo and a star balanced between its tusks. The rest of the book showcases Singh’s clean and detailed, if sometimes anatomically incorrect, line art. Each spread features an elaborately drawn animal alongside a handwritten description.
The lettering is also fanciful — Singh swirls the ends of his y’s and g’s and puts occasional serifs on the headings of his pages. Instead of italics, species names are done in a charming cursive. “Zoostalgia” is a book of small touches, from the tiny, turbaned human silhouette — added to provide a sense of scale for every creature — to the scrawled ISBN number above the printed barcode on the back cover.
A ‘logical little project’
The heart of the book-making process is one of “revelry,” Singh said.
Singh, who has been drawing since childhood got the idea for “Zoostalgia” last spring. He drew his first illustration for the book, a Glyptodon, or giant armadillo, in April. When he returned to Brown in the fall, he started mapping out the structure of the book and completed the book over winter break.
“I have a picture of an animal or a thought, and (I) doodle it,” he said, adding that he draws his pictures free-hand, without sketches or outlines. “I like celebrating eccentricity or spontaneity.”
“Zoostalgia” is not Singh’s first foray into publishing. His first book, “The Evolutionist’s Doodlebook,” was published last year and provided definitions of various concepts such as sexual dimorphism and Dollo’s law alongside his signature doodles.
Though the first book is “more whimsical and a lot goofier,” Singh said the final process of publishing the book was the same. After editing the drawings and lettering himself, Singh took his work to a printing press in Queens, N.Y.
Singh said he was first inspired to publish his work himself when he visited a bookshop in New York selling artists’ publications. “I was looking, and I said, ‘I think I can make something better than these,’” he said.
“I like books a lot. I like books as an object,” he added. “It just seemed like a logical little project.”
The book’s doodle-like style has been a draw for readers.
“They’re very whimsical,” said Guy Tabachnick ’12 at the book’s launch party Feb. 16. “But (they’re) also very well-done and informative.”
The launch event at Alumnae Hall featured live music and screenprinting of some of Singh’s designs.
“His projects are an expression of who he is ,” said Sandeep Nayak ’12, who has known Singh since freshman year and also attended the event.
For Singh, putting together the book was a way to synthesize his passions for cartooning and biology while exploring his own identity.
“It puts your personal self together,” Singh said.
Singh said he hopes to go into academia in the future and study animal behavior.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with animals,” he said. “It’s cool that we cohabitate with these things.”
After graduation, he plans on taking time off. “I want to explore and travel,” he said. Singh has applied to programs studying animal behavior in the Kalahari Desert, Copenhagen and New Caledonia, an island east of Australia.
In the meantime, Singh plans to write a third book.
“A project can be anything you want — it can be making a table, making a book,” he said. “It gives meaning to a lot of small things in your life.”