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Evolution of a Goatman

Goatman photo 1

The Goatman, c. 1973

The Goatman’s origins are hidden in the mists of time—or, rather, in the mists of Rob Shillady’s memory.

Back in 1970—or possibly before or possibly after—Rob, a long-haired art student, drew a cartoon version of himself and sent him off to hitchhike across the U.S. (as Rob himself had done, was doing, or would do, depending on where we are in the time-space continuum). Somewhere along the line, the cartoon version acquired a name—Medford Runyuin—and a sidekick, the Goatman.

Rob keeps saying he got the idea of a goatman from The Faerie Queene, a long, long narrative poem written by Edmund Spencer in the late 1500s. I know that there are goatmen in The Faerie Queene, but it’s hard to imagine Rob reading Elizabethan narrative poetry. Anyway, that’s his story.

Goatman photo 2

Medford and the Goatman’s adventures on courting postcards, 1979-80.

As the 1970s progressed, Medford and the Goatman appeared frequently in paintings Rob made for friends and family, usually to honor a birthday, wedding, holiday, or other special occasion. Friends who got married, for instance, received a painting in which they appeared as musicians in The Goatman Band.

Several days after we met, Rob sent me a hand-painted postcard titled “Medford Runyuin Plays the Claus”—a guy who looked just like Rob dressed in a Santa suit and standing on a rooftop with a reindeer. For Valentine’s Day, I got “The Goatman Steals a Heart.” And so on, until we were living together and postcards were no longer necessary.

In an early attempt to stop procrastinating about my writing career, I decided it would be fun to write a picture book about Medford and the Goatman for Rob to illustrate. Before I knew it the “picture book” was many thousand words long and inappropriate for a five-year-old.

When I started out, I knew three things about Medford: He was a nice kid, he was the straight man for the Goatman, and he had a funny name. I got thinking about names and about how so many New England towns and roads are named for a location or a function. (Easton, Weston, Norton. Stonington. Newport. The Poorhouse Road.)

I started imagining a place where things were named for their Use and humans were, too. Drop Medford in there as a foundling with a meaningless name, and you’ve got a conflict.

Goatman photo 3

Medford and a somewhat hairier Goatman, 1980.

When I first met Rob, everybody kept asking when he was going to “get a real job” instead of hanging around playing with paint all day. So, I thought, let’s add to Medford’s troubles by making him an artist among people who like things to be Useful.

How would a goatman fit into such an orderly place? By not fitting in, of course. So I resolved to make him as chaotic as possible—nameless, in fact.

Eventually, the place became an island, and the inhabitants the descendents of disaffected New England colonists. For added chaos, the Goatman now can call the wind but can’t control it. He says “bweh-eh-eh” a lot. He smells funny.

But he has the same purple robe and horns he had in 1970. Or before. Or maybe after.