AHOY ComicsProject: Cryptid has a been a delight of a comic, using an anthology format to give creators the opportunity to tell tales of cryptid creatures from legend and folklore. This week, a brand new collection of yarns of the weird debuts with Project: Cryptid #5, and we’re so thrilled to be delve into the strange once again. One of the stories in the book is focuses on a perhaps lesser-known cyptid, the hodag, a horned critter with strong ties to Rhinelander, Wisconsin and to the legend of Paul Bunyan. In “Tall Tale Tour,” writer Melissa F. Olson makes the leap from novels to comics to follow unbelieving, obnoxious tourists who scoff at the idea of the hodag’s existence—to surprising results.

We spoke with Melissa F. Olson recently about the impetus for the story, why the tale of the hodag inspired her, working with a comics creative team for the first time, and what possibly is in store for her in the world of comics down the road.




FreakSugar: Before we get into your story, what can you tell about you became involved with Project: Cryptid?

Melissa F. Olson: My AHOY editor, Sarah Litt, was gracious enough to meet with me about a comic project even though I’m mostly known for fiction. I think I prepared three or four different ideas to pitch to Sarah, but we spent most of our meeting laughing over my attempts to describe the hodag, a bizarre, niche cryptid that originated in the lumber camp tall tales from the late nineteenth century. Today, the hodag is best known as the official mascot of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which isn’t far from where I grew up.

FS: On to your story itself, what is the conceit behind “Tall Tale Tour”?

MFO: A gangly teen boy leads a group of tourists on the last “hodag tour” of the season in Rhinelander. The tourists include a whole family of jerks– except for the daughter, Erin, who loves Paul Bunyan stories so much that her elderly dog is named Babe. The teenage guide takes a liking to Erin, and tells the group a Paul Bunyan story that most never get to hear.

FS: Of the cryptids you could use for your story, why the hodag?

MFO: The geographic specificity of the hodag intrigued me. Because of where I grew up, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Paul Bunyan and Fearsome Critters– but most people on the planet don’t know anything about them. At the same time, those people may well have their own folktales, for their own reasons. I wanted to tell a story about that.

FS: I think many of us have had experience with some of the same types of tourists as we see in your story. Are these based on any you’ve had encounters with personally?

MFO: I’ve definitely been on tours where I rolled my eyes at the obnoxious other tourists…and tours where I rolled my eyes because I can be kind of obnoxious sometimes myself. But the story in “Tall Tale Tour” is based more on my own experience learning about the hodag. I used to see Rhinelander’s commitment to hodag tourism as shameless manipulation – just like Erin’s family does in the story. But when I began to dig into the history of all those tall tales, I realized the value these stories had for the people who told them. Now I’m Team Hodag all the way.



FS: The art in “Tall Tale Tour” is so much fun and fits the story well. What was your experience like collaborating with illustrator Lane Lloyd?

MFO: When I learned that Sarah had paired Lane and me together, of course I went and took a look at some of their art. Their style is so distinct and original…and not at all what I had imagined for this story. I really love that, because I feel that the fun part of comics is making art with someone. I’m so happy Sarah paired me with an artist who could enhance what I wrote. I think that’s exactly what comics should do.

FS: Do you believe in any cryptids, or have you had any experience personally?

Yes and no. I’m agnostic when it comes to most cryptids. At the same time, there is a creature in my house who I believe may be a cryptid. His name is Frankie, and although his medical paperwork lists his species as “dog,” Frankie himself is perpetually bewildered by the behavior of actual dogs. He spends his time posing awkwardly on the arm of the couch, staring at me with what I fondly refer to as “resting tragedy face.” When people ask me about his breed, I always say he is a purebred North American Frog Goblin.

FS: This is a change for you, shifting from writing prose to tackling comics. How would you describe the experience? Is there a different set of muscles comics writing lets you flex that writing prose doesn’t?

MFO: The creativity muscles are all the same, but the process of writing comics feels more structured, because they’re more of a team sport. I imagine this is what it’d be like for a decent long-distance swimmer to suddenly join the synchronized swimming team.  Both styles have pros and cons, but at least you’re playing in the water.

FS: Past this story, do you have any other comic stories on the back burner you’d like to do?

MFO: Actually, I’m currently working with artist Sally Cantirino on an original series for AHOY. I’m not allowed to say too much about it yet, but it’s about a sentient island that functions as a preserve for the gods and legends of dead cultures, and the single mom tasked with protecting it.

FS: If you had a final pitch for the story and issue, what would it be?

MFO: Come for the lumberjack ass-kicking, stay for the subtle animal rights messaging.

Project: Cryptid #5 goes on sale tomorrow, January 24, 2024, from AHOY Comics.

From the official issue description:

Story: Hanna Bahedry, Melissa F. Olson, Zander Cannon

Art/Cover: Gene Ha, Lane Lloyd

In this cryptid-packed issue, we give you not one, not two, but three thrilling stories! Melissa F. Olson and Lane Lloyd take us to the wilds of Wisconsin, where we meet the fearsome Hodag. Newcomer and rising star Hanna Bahedry teams with Lloyd to give us a glimpse into a secretive Cryptids Anonymous meeting. And finally, Zander Cannon and superstar artist Gene Ha bring us a tale of interterrestrial love!