All the World’s Mythical Beasts, (Eventually) Illustrated

This just in from Atlas Obscura:

Every culture has its own distinctive mythological beasts. In Brazil, there’s the Headless Mule, a cursed creature whose decapitated head hovers above a fire-spewing neck as it gallops across the country. From Japan, the Kotobuki is a Zodiac Frankenstein’s monster: it consists of all 12 signs, from the nose of the rat to the tail of the snake. Peru has the Huayramama, which looks like a vast snake plus the billowing hair and face of an old woman.

With such rich and broad source material to draw from, the artist Iman Joy El Shami-Mader has lately found herself on a mission: she wants to illustrate as many mythical beasts as she can find. Since October 2017, El Shami-Mader has been illustrating one such creature a day, which she then features on her Instagram account. To keep up a steady supply of beasts to draw, El Shami-Mader initially worked from books. “It all started with the book Phantasmagoria—which is great—but there are many creatures that are only mentioned in passing or without any description at all,” she says. So she ordered more books, researched online, and tried her local library. “I’m from a tiny town in the Alps, so other than local creatures, there was little to be found.”

Lately she’s decided to try to crowdsource ideas to keep her project going. Through Instagram, she’s asked her followers to send stories and descriptions of mythical beasts she’s still missing. Her illustrated bestiary now spans mythologies from around the world and across a variety of time periods, and even includes the odd fictional character (she has a porg from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and an Owlbear from Dungeons & Dragons).

Atlas Obscura spoke with El Shami-Mader about her project, the challenges of depicting mythical creatures, and the appeal of the lovable Squonk. If you’d like to suggest a creature, email her at

The interview features several illustrations. And, of course, there are plenty more on the artist’s Instagram account.


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