The Big Book of Urban Legends: Adapted from the Works of Jan Harold Brunvand. – book reviews

Peter Huston

About the time I became excited by skepticism and the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER I stopped collecting comic books. My main reason for dropping the comics was simple: I had grown weary of the convoluted histrionics of a bunch of implausible superheroes and the maudlin mishaps of world-saving teenage mutants who ran around in long underwear. If comics had been a bit more interesting and a bit more mature (in a nonsexual way), as they are in Europe, then I probably would have accepted them on their own terms and stayed with them the same way I still enjoy other, less sophisticated forms of pop culture, such as television.

As for the skeptical literature, it often has its faults, too, but content is usually not among them.

One fault is that the bulk of skeptical literature lies at the other end of the spectrum from comics, and therefore lacks appeal for the people who need it the most. Nevertheless, the contents are so engrossing that I stuck with skeptical literature. I eagerly soaked up as much of the hard-to-find explanations for strange claims and unusual phenomena as I could. But I never once thought of the obvious solution to bringing together comics and skeptical literature. Skeptical Inquirer Comics!

Authors Robert Fleming and Robert E Boyd, Jr. also came up with this excellent idea and Paradox Press put it in print. It is an adaptation of the work of Jan Harold Brunvand, a CSICOP Fellow, author, and expert in the field of urban legends. In Brunvand’s many best-selling, educational, and entertaining books, he explains how urban legends are the false stories that we all have heard, believed, and told again and again as truth about strange, unlikely, and amazing events, often of a supernatural nature.

In The Big Book of Urban Legends, also subtitled 200 Stories Too Good to Be True, 200 interesting stories are told once again, but this time, in comic book form. The result is entertaining, informative, and engrossing. Not only did I enjoy the entire book, snickering and giggling almost constantly for two or three hours, but I also learned something. There’s an urban legend in the book about motherly looking smugglers hiding drugs in the corpses of babies in order to get them through customs checkpoints. I ran across this rumor two or three times while writing my recently published nonfiction book on Chinese crime groups. I didn’t believe it, so it’s not in my book. Brunvand didn’t believe it either, and so it’s now in his. The Big Book of Urban Legends also includes the legend about alligators in the New York City sewers, and the one about someone putting a wet poodle in the microwave oven to “dry” it.

Each of the stories is drawn by a different comic book artist. All of these artists are among the best in the field, so the art quality is top-notch, although styles do vary greatly and some are more cartoony and stylistic than others. Furthermore, the artists and book writers seem to keep in mind a key point: Urban legends are fun! Too often when artists tackle a “serious” subject they forget to entertain, and people stop reading and looking. For example, comic fans might remember “True War Stories,” the Eclipse peace-movement comic of the 1980s; good cause/bad comic, so nobody paid attention.

The Big Book of Urban Legends, which features an explanatory introduction by Brunvand himself, is just what we need, whether we care to admit it or not. As with the legends themselves, sexual content and graphic violence make this book inappropriate for children and teenagers, but it is sure to appeal to (and reach) many adults who need the book’s perspective.

All in all, it is a much needed addition to the skeptical literature and worth the price. Now if only we could get someone to make “False Memories Breakfast Cereal,” “Sleep Paralysis and Anomalous Psychology Trading Cards,” “Psychic Investigations Role-Playing Games,” and “Great Hoaxers of the Paranormal Action Figures.”

Peter Huston’s first book, Tongs, Gangs and Triads-Chinese Crime Groups in North America was recently published by Paladin Press. He is working on a second one, tentatively titled Scams from the Great Beyond: Hoaxing Psychic Phenomena, New Age Miracles, and UFO Sightings, also to be published by Paladin. He lives in Schenectady, New York.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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