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Comix Revolution, Evanston

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Anne Elizabeth Moore

Moore is the associate editor of the great Punk Planet, whose site has recently undergone a redesign, with new features, forums, and other extras. Give them a visit.

In a strangely manipulative gesture, the national cryptozoologic society took as its symbol the okapi, the last-discovered large mammal -- horselike, lonely, unique -- on the face of the earth.

I have been caught before on the phrase "last-discovered": certain friends of mine, those who maybe perhaps have allowed themselves to be swayed by the manipulative nature of cryptozoologists' arguments, demand it be replaced with the phrase "most recently discovered." So let me be clear. I do not mean to imply that the okapi was the very last large mammal to have been discovered, ever, the last one in history extending out through all of time both future and past, only that it was the most recent. On a list beginning with humans and ending now, at this very moment, it is the last.

The okapi was stumbled across only about a century ago and from very far away vaguely resembles a hyena in that it is sort of equine but a little off, a tad ridiculous -- if you're partial to horses. Up close it appears, from the rear, a bit like a zebra although it has the head of a dinosaur. It is neither in the zebra family nor the dinosaur family, however -- well, no more than the rest of us are -- meaning specifically that if the giraffe were to throw a party and invite all of its relatives, the okapi would be the only guest. It would be a sad party, as would most parties to which you invited only relatives, but particularly in this case due to the standoffish nature of the okapi.

The okapi inherited a tongue from this relative, the giraffe, although not a neck, and thusly the okapi can eat something several yards away without straining itself. It is a deep, luscious brown, with a mane slightly spikier than that of a horse, although less so than that of a zebra who, mane-wise, is all spike. Additionally, if it desires, it can lick its own eyeball, or clean its ears with its tongue. The question has been posed: but why would it want to? I am forced to respond that if I could do that, I probably would. Especially if I were the only large mammal so skilled. After all, it is not that gross to touch your eyeball once you become used to it. Perhaps licking it is the same. I do not really know: to find out you will have to talk directly to the okapi.

But this is not as easy as it sounds. You cannot simply call one up on the phone, nor go down to the local okapi hangout to chat the animal up. They are secretive, elusive, tricky. After female okapis give birth they store their children far away from themselves to keep predators from knowing where the young can be found. Technically, they are abandoning their children, but it is really for their own good. Being what we normally think of as a good mother, in this instance, means putting your child directly in harm's way, exposing it to a society intent to do it harm. Certainly it means opening up your impressionable young okapi to the cruel assumptions and prodding questions of the cryptozoologists. Or any comer interested in that eyeball-licking thing.

And so they keep to themselves, mostly. They do not throw parties and invite giraffes. Indeed, okapis live abnormally long lives, which some scientists attribute to their near-complete isolation. It is true that their total disinterest in hanging around other okapis seems to be a major contributing factor in their health and well-being.

A lot of these mammals today, they wouldn't get that. They would think, hell, I'm gonna live a long life, let's party! They would change their style. They would become more social, have soirees and invite tons of giraffes and probably on more than one occasion drink too much and stick all sorts of things in their eyeballs with their tongues, too forcefully. They would eat things from rather far away, likely too much of them, make themselves sick. It wouldn't have the same effect. They'd die off, earlier and earlier. Predators would hear the parties and come crashing, or the mammals would feel constantly picked apart by the presence of other animals, their relatives, girls they were trying to impress. The okapi just doesn't roll like that.

Now back to those cryptozoological sympathizer friends of mine. You must admit it is a strange thing for the cryptozoologic society to have done, sort of like alienists proclaiming that Stonehenge was built by extra terrestrial life forms and immediately pronouncing the debate dead, but it also gives me a little bit of hope for the future. I would personally be thrilled if the Sasquatch turned out to have been roaming the Pacific Northwest all this time, or if the Mongolian Death Worm was verified. What would be even better: if a very very large mammal were discovered somewhere, in great giant herds, but had always been too shy to present itself either to cryptozoologists or more traditional scientists. That would be the best, I think: to surprise even cryptozoologists.

And this is what the okapi is supposed to symbolize: that we don't actually know everything. See? Only a hundred years ago the whole pantheon of large mammals changed. It can happen anytime. But it is manipulative to use the okapi this way. It is ignoring what is truly unique about the animal, steam-rolling right through the facts of this crazy large mammal to advance an agenda of secretive zoology, of non-traditional animal knowledge.

Also the cryptozoologists are acting as if for hundreds of years before the okapi was discovered (or as some naysayers would have it, invented) cryptozoologists had been hounding the traditional scientists to admit that, yes, there was a large mammal out there that could lick its own eyeball. They had seen it. It had the head of a dinosaur and the bottom of a zebra and was terribly, horribly antisocial. Seriously, you have to check this out right now. There's totally one in this clearing over here. And our white lab-coated friends with their clipboards and beakers -- the kinds of scientists that don't require symbols as identification -- were all, "I'm sorry, nothing in our findings supports such an animal. Now, if you call us again, we're going to have to inform the police." When really, no one thought there would be an okapi. Because, does it seem like we need one? Sasquatch, sure. Mongolian Death Worm, definitely. These things scare and intrigue us. They drive us to places and activities we don't normally participate in. We believe in them because it is better when we do. But no one believed in the okapi. Probably few do still.

Because one thing I forgot to mention about the okapi is that it sleeps only five minutes a night. Which doesn't even make sense, biologically. How can anything survive on five minutes of sleep per night? But nonetheless, there it is. The okapi. Stays awake most of the night worried about predators. Questioning its future. Wondering where its mommy is.

But the okapi probably has tons of hobbies that occupy its time. They are private animal pursuits, however, not requiring the presence of others of its species. Likely it considers itself something of a self-taught botanist, also a spy. It challenges itself to eat things further and further away from itself. It can eat almost anything that way by now. Also it does a special kind of performative art, a breed-specific thing that is something like a cross between interpretive dance and clowning. It is very subtle. They find it rather easy to get around, actually, since no one seems to know much about them. So they travel, see the sights. As long as they avoid crowds they seem to get by OK. They live a long time so they're pretty sure when a bad patch comes around that it, too, will pass.

Mostly, though, the okapi notices things. It worries about some of these other mammals, and whether the okapi line will retain its integrity into this new century. It tracks the evolutionary development of its predators, and their changing psychologies. It lives a less traditional kind of life, the okapi, a late-discovered, long-living mammal kind of thing, and it reads its abandonment by its mother not as neglect but as biological, sensical, forgivable.

It has no interest in the written word: thus the history of the okapi is entirely in the oral tradition. Not so much passed down from generation to generation, though: the okapi doesn't spend time with family. But when it comes across another of its kind-in the woods, on the veldt, near the trickling stream-it lets go of all its secrets. Even those the cryptozoologists never considered.