Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Penguin Perps in Megacity One, at least in the bit that's in Belfast.

One of the reasons comics fans love the net so much is that their hobby is basically a solitary one.  Its also an interest that isn't shared, or even understood, by the vast majority of people.  In many cases it's an addiction that our families and work mates do not fully understand, shuffling off awkwardly, or mentioning the fascinating shape of the clouds outside if we try to talk about comics to them.

That's why its so good to find people who share our enthusiasm and actually like talking about the stories, the artists and the writers or complaint about the most recent Marvel or DC reboot.  This past Friday I went along to a regular get-together of a group of 2000AD fans and cos-players in the Parlour Bar in Belfast.  They are there on the last Friday of each month from about 7:30 and very welcoming and friendly they are too.   There were one or two faces I knew, but it did not take long to get into conversation with some of the others.  They knew their stuff, some real experts on the subject of Dredd and 2000AD, but mainly it was just a very comfortable, welcoming and relaxed group to be in.  Nice people who liked to chat and who made it very clear that newcomers were more than welcome.

Grumpy Penguin on his way to raid KFC
I'm not up to date in my reading of either 2000AD or the Megazine, over the years I've tended to drop in and out of each but I have been reading quite a few back issues recently for another long post or series of posts in Splank!
 So I did wonder if I qualified to go along at all.  I'm was going to claim some kinship with the cos-players, having appeared in costume on my own main street, dressed as that totally unknown comic-book character, "The Grumpy Penguin!"    That's the logo above for an as-yet unpublished strip featuring the character by sixties cartoonist for Odhams cimics Pow! and Smash!, Mike Higgs.  There is also a Davy Francis strip in the works and another by Mr Higgs featuring one of Grumpy Penguin's friends, Ninja Monkey.  But more of that in time.

I needn't have worried, I reckon if anyone from the Belfast area, or who can get up to Belfast one night a month is interested in coming along to join the happy band they would be made welcome.  I'd suggest searching out the "Sector House 13" Facebook Group and making yourself known.  It was a great night, one I thoroughly enjoyed and I will be back.  And if you come along and you happen to see me, come on over and say hello.  I won't be wearing the Penguin Suit though.

Ninja Monkey and JoJo the Monkey Boy

Next time another 2000AD related post.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Big Tasches and Mysterious Splashes - Space Men and Monsters from the Deep

Two of the Kickstarter projects I'm been most looking forward to seeing come to fruition arrived recently, including a new issue of one of the very best self-published comics coming from the UK and the first part of a four issue mini series with some fantastic artwork.

I'll start with "Ness" from the ever-reliable Chris Welsh, writer of Wart and the Doc Dino comic I mentioned a couple of weeks back.  His partner on art this time round is Dublin illustrator Rob Carey.  Together they have just delivered the first issue of a four issue horror series set on the banks of Loch Ness.

Full page panel from Rob Carey.
On his campaign page Chris laid out his plans for the series, "I wanted to give the UK its very own giant monster (Japan has Godzilla, America has Cloverfield and, er, sometimes Godzilla...) because giant monsters are endlessly fascinating to me."   The first issue is more in the Lovecraftian mold. Less stomping on cities, more terrifying mystery and small scale personal horror, and, for my taste, much the better for that.  But we will see how the series progresses.

The set-up has many of the elements of the best Cthulhu tales.  There is a book, a strange priest a group of friends in a remote and spooky location and locals who may not be all that friendly.   Rob Carey's artwork captures the atmosphere beautifully, in a style that owes something to Mignola, but is at the same time quite distinctive, and he moves the story along skillfully.  Occasionally there are images that are stunningly good, including three full page panels that are spectacular, all helped hugely by Dee Cunniffe's colouring.  And it's always good to see a hand-lettered comic.  

Don't get me wrong, this is a solid entertaining book, with some superb artwork and I'm really looking forward to the next issue.  And in a way that the biggest problem I have with it.  It’s either a little too short or lacking some, 'substance'.  There are 22 pages of story, lots of action, but somehow the plot has not moved forward as much as I would have liked.  I found it a slightly frustrating read, in that the issue ended too soon or should have contained something more, perhaps a little more about the motivation of some of the locals or the lead characters. I understand that this is the function of a serial, to leave the reader wanting more, and my reaction could be seen as a sign that the creators have succeeded, but somehow this time I needed something more for this to be a truly satisfying read.

I have a suspicion that subsequent issues will deliver all that I am asking for and this will be a series  that reads better as a whole.   But in the meantime I was fully entertained and Rob Carey's artwork is excellent throughout.  I'm being more critical than usual here and I don't want to put people off.  If you like horror comics then you will love this, I just have this one minor reservation over what is otherwise a really good comic.

Space Captain - Best Tasche in Comics

Part of my problem with Ness was that I sat down to read it immediately after I'd read the third issue of what I think is one of the best comics about at the moment.  I've written in glowing terms before about the first two issues of Michael Park and Chris Baldie's "Space Captain" and issue three is going to be no different.

Space Captain is the story of the last human in the galaxy (and incidentally, the owner of the best moustache in comics) and his quest to return to his home planet and find out what happened to his race while he was in suspended animation.  But as this issue goes on it becomes clear that that there is much more to the story.   We see more of the alien race who have been pursuing Space Captain in the first two issues, get hints about their culture and motivation and why they see him as being so valuable - or so dangerous.  
Space Captain no. 3
Overall, though, this is an issue for cinematic action, with an Indiana Jones type plan to be carried out by our hero.  And that is what I like so much about this series.  Each A5 issue has had a different feel to it.   Number one, set on a crumbling, frozen planetary outpost, had a tense claustrophobic feel.  Issue two was a space-based western and for the third issue we have a big-budget heist story with hints as to the whole back story coming thick and fast.  And all told with a sense of humour.

Michael and Chris handle each of these genres with aplomb, with great storytelling and, I'm tempted to say, ever-improving artwork*.  At forty pages they give themselves a lot of work between issues, but it pays off.  Each issue has been complete in itself, setting out to move the plot forward and set up the next issue

I'm tempted to follow another reviewer and suggest that Space Captain deserves to be seen by a wider audience and belongs somewhere like 2000AD, but that, in my view, is the wrong home for it.   Its good enough, that's for sure, but key to its quality is the space the creators have given themselves.  Chris and Michael use the forty page format to to pace each episode perfectly, to take the time to tell their story and give us light and shade.  The story seems to dictate the format, not the other way round.

Anything that required shorter episodes would impact on that pacing.  I just wonder what Grant Morrison would think, now that he's editor of Heavy Metal?

Not much from Splank! over the past wee while.  I'm afraid I started on a couple of rather ambitious posts, both of which have involved a lot of reading and research and a trip to the attic for some very old issues of 2000AD.   Plus I've a first novel by a Belfast comic creator that I've been reading and will review here pretty soon.    

* That's difficult, as I still think the first five pages of issue one are among the best I've seen anywhere.
Chris Welsh's Kickstarter Page for Ness is here and you can buy his other comic Wart here.

The Space Captain issue 3 Kickstarter page is here.  The Space Captain web-site is here

Are you bored yet? - Last Words on the Gorbals Vampire Hunters.

My last couple of posts on the Gorbals' Vampire Hunters have thrown up a few loose ends to be tied and word of more than one interesting work which have taken the story as an inspiration.

Colin Nobel, in his excellent Blog Nothingbutafan (the go-to-place if you are interested in the British Commando pocket library series), is not only kind enough to name-check Splank! in his most recent post, but also has some information on a play inspired by the story of the Gorbals Vampire Hunters.

He also reproduces an excellent piece of artwork by Frank Quitely which is being used to promote the play in Glasgow's Citizen's Theatre in October of this year.  I'm very tempted to look up flights and pay it a visit myself.

I've also been in contact with David Lucarelli, the writer of the two volume graphic-novel series "The Children's Vampire Hunting Brigade".   David's comic takes the events which took place in 1954 around the Southern Necropolis graveyard in Glasgow and follows the premise that the Vampire of the story was real.  I picked up the first issue from Comixology and then discovered that the two GNs are available from the DriveThru site.  Which, apart from having the awful "Thru" spelling of through in its name, is a pretty good way to catch up with some very interesting comics.  Each B&W volume comes in at $4.99 for a downloadable pdf. 

I've read the first and its a good read.  It owes a little to Buffy, in that there is a recognisable 'Scooby Gang' building, but it's not played for laughs and the pace of the story is good.  Most impressive is some very convincing Glasgow slang, if the written word can be said to have an accent, then these guys have a pretty good Glasgow accent.   Pretty good for an American writer.   The story is set in the present day, but the first issue retells the tale of the Gorbals' Vampire of 1954, with just the odd addition for dramatic purposes.  As good a self-published comic as I've read for a while and I'm delighted to hear that Dave is working on vol 3 at the moment. 

In the single issues version from Comixology, David changed artist part-way through the first issue
before settling on Henry Ponciano who has a little of the Mignola vibe to his work.  Mike Mignola's influence shows up especially especially in his use of sold blacks and as his art seems to improve issue by issue.  Previous artist Christopher Matteson's style was looser and more shaded.   Personally, I liked both, but the decision to have Ponciano re-draw the first seventeen pages of issue 1 for the collection was probably the right one, if only to retain some sort of visual consistency.

In a very brief Facebook conversation Dave brought up a couple of interesting points on the whole Gorbals' Vampire Incident.  Firstly, considering that there is ample evidence that these Children's crusades against the supernatural were, if not actually common, then at least not unknown in the Glasgow area, what was it about the area that made the children so much more likely to hunt the un-dead and the like than their comrades in other parts of the country?
Two takes on the same scene, Christopher Matteson's Original on the right and Henry Ponciano's on the left

I've done a little research, and looked at where the evidence for the previous hunts came from.  In their article "Hunting the Monster with Iron Teeth" in Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Volume III, Sandy Hobbs and David Cornwell spoke of how they obtained the information that these 'hunts' had taken place.        

Our appeal in local press and radio for people who either observed or took
part in the Gorbals vampire hunt had only limited success as far as our
original aim was concerned. However, what did emerge was that a number
of people had memories of similar events. From interviews with these
people, with the addition of a case which was reported in the press during
our investigations, we have compiled a table of 'hunts'.

With the exception of the 1954 Vampire with the Iron teeth hunt, none of the eight cases they were able to identify had been extensively reported in the press or were well known.  It was the reporting, and the scale of reporting, that was unique in the 1954 incident.  And from the account of how the story came to the attention of the press, a joking aside to a reporter, it is obvious that the Police thought little of these incidents.  It was only by chance that the story became well known, and only because of the, probably invented, link to horror comics.  The other incidents would probably never have come to light had not the researchers asked for the public to come forward with details.  Who knows how many other incidents have been forgotten or never reported across the country, across the world.   The possibility certainly exists that these Children's hunts were not limited to Glasgow, that they happened much more frequently than we think and may simply have gone unremarked.

Obviously evil.
That being said, a few years later, in 1964, Liverpool saw another case where 'thousands' of kids besieged a local park.  This time in search of Leprechauns.  Theories as to the origin of this hunt range from a pissed-off Irish man who was being bothered by kids in the park and claimed to be a Leprechaun to chance them off, to the antics of performers of short stature from a visiting circus in a nearby guesthouse.  Me, I blame the Ken Dodd and his Diddymen strip in TV Comic (Even if the strip didn't start to appear until a few years later).

Secondly Dave mentioned the "Iron Man of the Gorbals", a bogeyman myth used to keep Children out of the Southern Necropolis which was building a reputation for being a spot where crime and drinking were taking place.   Stephen Barnes aka Mr Karswell, editor of a number of the excellent IDW books reprinting pre-code horror comics and curator of the highly recommended "The Horrors of It All" Blog makes mention of this in the introduction to vol one of Dave's graphic novel. 

I must admit I left the Iron Man out of my list of possible factors contributing to the hunt, simply because everything I could find out about the Iron Man seemed more of an effect than a cause.  In other words the Iron Man appeared to be the name given to the Gorbals' Vampire after the event.

I think that's all I'm going to write the Gorbals' Vampire for a while.  I'm still reading and researching some other aspects of the campaign against Horror Comics in the UK so you may see some future posts on that. 


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Those Pesky Kids, more stories of the Schooolyard Vampire Hunters'

I'd always intended to follow up my previous Splank! post with some more information relating to the Gorbals Vampire Hunters, but thanks to Oscar Dowson, a fellow member of one of the Facebook comic Groups I've even more to report.  If you havn't read the previous post I'd suggest you start there before reading this.    Link to previous post.

I mentioned in my previous post that no specific comic story could be pointed to at the time that related to the story of the Gorbals Vampire.   A local councelor did make mention of Startling Terror Tales no 1, a British reprint of a fairly lurid title with sub-standard art from Star comics in the US.  However there seemed to be nothing in the comic that related directly to the incident.  Earlier this year The Scotsman newspaper, in an article published on the 16th March claimed that there was an American comic called "The Vampire with the Iron Teeth" available at the time.  While this is not quite accurate, I think we can assume that the Scotsman is referring to Dark Mysteries 15, published by Story Comics and cover dated December 1953.  It had been identifed as a possible direct link between comics and the hunt, but no evidence has ever been produced that the title was seen in Glasgow or indeed that it was available in the UK at all.  And nothing was said of it at the time.

The comic in question contains one of the silliest stories I have read in any comic book.  Entitled 'The Vampire with the Iron Teeth', it tells the tale of Duke Manfred and his wife, the beautiful Duchess Ailine.  In the midst of a series of vampire attacks in 1790 the Duchess begins to suffer from horrible toothache, the court sorcerer is summoned and  reveals that all of the Duchess's teeth must be removed. 

 In horror, the Duke asks how his wife can be saved from the shame of becoming toothless and losing her great beauty.  The sorcerer, in one of the most bizarre panels in comics history, reveals that his skills go beyond those of Doctor and a maker of magic and that he is he is also a dentist and can make a perfect set of false teeth for the Duchess. 

What is more he will make them out of Iron, to prevent the awful clacking noise that the wooden false teeth, more normal at the time, would make. 

Meanwhile the vampire attacks continue.   The vampire is tracked down to the nearby village of Halto and the Duke orders his men to kill every man woman and child in the village, thus destroying the monster.  Just a note here, no need for stakes or crosses to deal with this member of the undead, these vampires can just be shot.

That very evening, word comes to the Duke that an American minister is in town and that his wife has a remarkable set of false teeth and that everyone is admiring them.   Rushing to view them the Duchess discovers that they are made of Ivory and that everyone is now whispering and laughing at her shiny metal teeth, even if they don't clack.  The sorcerer is summoned and ordered, on pain of losing his job, to find a way of getting a set of Ivory teeth for the now distraught Duchess. 

His wife has an idea, and the pair exhume the body of Babette, a villager executed on the word of the Duke and steal her teeth.  But that night when screaming is heard from the Duke's bedchamber, his men rush in to find him dead from the bite of the vampire and a foul creature, that looks very like the Duchess, flying out the window.   In the final panel the sorcerer comes to the realisation that Babette must have been the real vampire and that he passed the affliction onto the Duchess via the false teeth he made for her.

Now there is a new vampire on the loose and the sorcerer's dilemma is summed up in the final panel of the story.

I have to ask, has anyone who has suggested that this story could have caused hundred's of school children to go to their local graveyard in search of a child-eating vampire ever actually read the story?  It seems such an unlikely trigger with the only link being the name of the story.   I'm afraid the Scotsman's story shows all the signs of the same lazy journalism that was such a feature of the original campaign.  In addition to misidentifying the name of a comic that was probably not involved int he first place there are other serious errors or ommissions.

The story implies that this incident kicked off a campaign to have "American-style" horror comics banned and started a full-scale moral panic.  At the time this event happened the campaign has been running for at least four years and in truth this particular story was little more than a seven-day wonder.  Indeed I would say that it was only in light of the ongoing campaign that any linkage to horror comics was made.

Alice Cullen, but not the MP
The article also claims that Alice Cullen, Labour MP for the area "championed" the 1955 Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act in its passage in 1955.   As far as I can tell,through an examination of Hansard (the record of the House Commons) and all the written sources I have,  Cullen's sole act in the debate was to make a rather lame joke in the form of a point of order and to later give her name to a pre-cog vampire in the Twilight Saga.

Fellow Glasgow MP, John Rankin, was the one who brought up the Gorbals incident during the debate and probably deserves to be mentioned in this context.   Its ironic that the lazy and sensational  journalism that led to the raids on the Southern Necropolis being linked to comics continues when the event is reported on today.

 One more post on the subject to come.  A look at a modern comic from Abacab Comics which takes the Gorbals Vampire Hunters as its starting point, maybe tomorrow.


Friday, 5 August 2016

Schoolyard Vampire Hunters of the Gorbals - A Tale of Devilish Dentistry

When Malcolm Nicolson, a crime reporter for Glasgow newspaper, "The Bulletin", called Lawmore Street Police Station on the evening of Thursday, 23th September 1954 in search of a story, he was told that nothing of any import had happened.  But Malcolm had heard laughter in the background to the call, and someone suggesting that they should "tell him about the vampire".

The Southern Necropolis
His nose for a story may have been twitching so Nicolson visited the station later that day, finally getting to speak to Constable Alex Deeprose about events in the "Southern Necropolis", a suitably gothic graveyard near the Gorbels area of Glasgow.   The story Constable Deeprose told him ended up on the front page of the evening edition of the paper, and led to national coverage.  It was even mentioned in Parliament and may have been an important factor in the passing of a law outlawing whole genres of comics in the UK.  A law that is still on the statute books today.

The story, "Police had to Clear 'Vampire Hunters"', told of an incident earlier in the day when hundreds of school children from the Gorbels and Hutchensontown areas of Glasgow had marched on a local cemetery armed with sticks, cudgels and stones.  They were hunting for a Vampire with iron teeth who had, they believed, strangled and devoured "two wee boys".  PC Deeprose told how he had been surrounded by a swarm of children, all eager to tell him the story of the Vampire.  “When I appeared I felt like the pied piper of Hamlin” he told the reporter, “All shapes and sizes of children streamed after me, all talking at once and telling me of a ‘vampire’ with iron teeth”.   He heard how the story had spread across a number of schools and once lessons had ended kids of all ages had joined on a mission to find and destroy the vampire.

The hunt tapered off as darkness fell, and rain finally brought it to an end for the evening.  Nicolson’s story drew no conclusions as to what lay behind the event, except to note that an “H” film (the equivalent of an 18 or R cert today) had been showing in the local cinema.

 By the next day the story had changed.  Once again the children were out searching for the vampire with some accounts claiming that at least one man, dressed in a long coat, was shouted at and abused and perhaps even chased but even at the time that story was only half-heartedly reported.  By now the other main tabloid newspapers in the city, the Evening News and the Evening Times, had picked up on the story and thanks to an un-named mother (or mothers) a new culprit had been found to explain the children's behaviour, American-style horror comics.

A campaign against “American-Style comics” had been running in the UK since 1949 led by the Teachers, Churchmen and a self-styled committee called the Comics Campaign Council.  Well placed articles by committee members in influential places like the incredibly popular Picture Post magazine, and the literature of teacher’s unions and head-master’s associations (Heads would not be members of unions, they were Management) had led to an almost universal view among adults, that American comics were bad for kids.   That they led to bad behaviour, a life of crime and even sexual deviancy.  The origins of the campaign and in particular of the Comics Campaign Council are fascinating and surprising and I’ll write more about them in a future post.

By 1954 the comics in question were mainly reprints of American titles produced by small publishers.  The original comics, once imported in bulk and aimed mainly at an adult audience had fallen victim to post-war import restrictions and a number of publishers had jumped in to fill the void.  

Many stuck to ‘harmless’ superhero, western and Science Fiction titles, but some reprinted the gory and 'dangerous' Crime and Horror comics that had become the subject of a similar movement in the US.   The British campaign made no distinction.  American-style comics were sordid, immoral and likely to corrupt youth and British comics were wholesome, informative and just the thing for a developing mind.  The founding of the Eagle, with its intention to combine excellence in artwork with uplifting and stories suitable for British children was a different and more positive approach to solving the same problem.

First UK edition of Wertham's influential book
It was in this context that the press looked at the Gorbels Vampire story.  Over the next few days the story spread to the national newspapers and the idea that comics were to blame grew to be the main emphasis of the journalists.    Within a week the headlines had changed from focusing on the strange event to looking for something, anything to blame.  The Bulletin's story on the subject a week later was headlined "Be careful How we Ban these Comics", while the Scottish Daily Record cried "Parents we must Stop this Seduction", echoing the title of Fredrick Wertham’s American book on the dangers of Comic Books,  "Seduction of the Innocent".

Even then the newspapers were circumspect, the first assertion that comics had directly led to the incident came in the Catholic Observer in October, and was repeated in the Scottish Educational Journal a few weeks later.  What had started out as speculation had become cold, unassailable fact.

Indeed the following year the story of "the Gorbel's Vampire" was the only definite example of harm caused by American-Style or horror comics to be quoted on the debate for the act of Parliament outlawing them.     In answer to Roy Jenkins, who was opposing the passage of the Bill and who said:

We should be mindful of how little we really know about the direct causal
relationship between horror comics or anything else people may read and
people's actions, whether undesirable or not ... We should not jump too
quickly to the conclusion that, because two things happen, one necessarily
happens as a result of the other.

John Rankin, a supporter of the Bill said.

 'Generally that is true ... Nevertheless one can give many examples ...’

Yet the only concrete example he was able to give was that of the Gorbels Vampire Hunt.

Yet this seems to have been a conclusion with no evidence to back it up.   Nobody had identified any Children in the group who actually read horror comics and no-one had identified a specific comic which could conceivably led children to panic about a "Vampire with Metal Teeth".

Bailie John Mains, a Glasgow councillor, cited Startling Terror Tales number 1 as being involved.  But the comic includes no vampire stories, no hunts and certainly no mention of metal teeth.   It is possible that Mains was using this as an example of the type of comic that he was concerned about and was not claiming that this was the specific comic which caused the panic, but this was not made clear and is an example of the tendency of the anti-comics campaign as a whole to mix generalised examples with specific conclusions.  He might just have easily have pointed at Leo Baxendale's Bash Street Kids, with its frequent scenes of kids acting together in comical, if amusing, gangs that had started to appear in the Beano.  But that would not have fitted with the established narrative.

Early Bash Street Kids by Leo Baxendale.
So if not horror comics then what?  What was it that caused hundreds of children to go in search of monsters?   At the time newspaper reporters did not look at any other cause.   If it was good enough for Catholic Church and Teacher's journals then it was good enough for them.   It was only much later when academics looked at the case that alternatives began to arise.  In the third volume of the journal "Perspectives on Contemporary Legend", published in 1988, Sandy Hobbs and David Cornwell drew together a detailed examination of the case.  Perhaps most interesting was their research into previous examples of 'children's hunts' in the area, showing, perhaps, that this was a 'local custom' among school kids.

In the years from the early thirties through to 1969 there were seven separate incidents in the Glasgow area of large numbers of children banding together to seek out supernatural creatures.  In the earliest incident (no exact date is recorded) it was a banshee that was sought, later in 1934 it was a mythical White lady and a year later "Spring-Heeled Jack".  Jack returned again in 1938 in the biggest incident when thousands of children were involved.  Other hunts involved a Miniman, a Grey Lady and a loosely defined Maniac.

Clearly there was some sort of cultural tendency towards hordes of children hunting evil in Glasgow, but that does not mean that horror comics were not the spark that set of this particular incidence.   Other suggestions have been made. 

Horror films had been put forward as a possible factor, and indeed it was mentioned in the original newspaper story that an 'H' certificate movie was showing at the time.   But Hobbs and Cornwell have identified that the film in question was “Them!”,a movie about giant mutated ants attacking humanity.  It difficult to see how this could have caused a panic about a Vampire in a local cemetery.

Perhaps the most likely explanation relates to one of the two Allen sisters.  A "spinster lady" said to have lived near the site of the Southern Necropolis with her sister around the turn of the 20th Century.  The women had apparently complained about frequent raids into their garden by children as they passed along a public path outside her house.   One was said to have had metallic fixings left in her teeth by a dentist and to have been referred to as "Jenny with the Iron Teeth" by the children who she confronted.

It’s not known if her name really was Jenny, as this is likely a reference to an older story.  Jenny with the Iron Teeth was a Scottish boggy-man used by mothers to scare children.   The story was recorded, or perhaps invented, by poet Alexander Anderson in his poem "Jenny Wi The Airn Teeth" which appeared in Ballads and Sonnets in 1879.   The poem - reproduced at the bottom of this post - had been included in a number of anthologies intended for children and used in Scottish schools at the time.

There is, again, no direct evidence that children got the idea for their hunt from this poem, or from tales of the Allen sisters, but the linking of an already existing local legend with a 'tradition' of children hunting the unexplained in packs seem much more likely than an unidentified comic that may or may not have been read by equally unidentified children drove them to this behaviour.

And yet this event was a key part of the debate on the "Children's and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955" which banned horror and crime comics and caused publishers to abandon the genres overnight.

It became the single definite link between the so-called 'horror' comics and the corruption of British children.   This link became fact not through the gathering and sifting of evidence, but by simple repetition.  The press appear to have matched the story to an ongoing campaign and stopped investigating.  By repeating speculation as fact, Church and Teachers groups provided expert corroboration of the stories.   

British publishers stopped printing horror comics as soon as the act was passed.   A number went out of business while other turned to more acceptable western or mystery comics.  But in a single move, Parliament made it illegal to produce, import or sell any publication, likely to fall into the hands of children which "consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures, being stories portraying the commission of crimes of violence or cruelty or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature". 

Only one prosecution, in 1970, was ever made, but the act remains on the statute books to this day and is likely to have been the basis under which UK customs periodically barred the importation of, for example, certain issues of Warren comics from the USA in the seventies.  Indeed the act was renewed in the mid-eighties but requires permission from the attorney general for a case to be brought.  Only 2 prosecutions have been brought since the passing of the act, out of 48 referred to the DPP.

This very strange event was a big factor in the British campaign against American comics.   But the campaign itself was a strange affair, one aspect of a much wider movement to counter the impact of new American culture on the British.  In many ways the leaders of the campaign hid their true motives.  The anti-comics crusade was their most successful, leading to a real change in attitudes, one that persisted well into the sixties and beyond.    I’ll write a bit more about that in a future post.

Main Sources: 
Paranormal Glasgow – Geoff Holder, The History Press 2011.

Monsters with Iron Teeth, Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Vol III – Article - Hunting the Monster with the Iron teeth - Sandy Hobbs & David Cornwell.   Sheffield Academic Press, 1988.

Youth, Popular Culture and Moral Panics – John Springhall, St Martin’s Press 1998.

A Design for Depravity: Horror Comics and the Challenge of Censorship in Australia, 1950-1986.  Kevin Patrick, Script and Print 35:3.

30th Century Comics – Image of cover Startling Terror Tales no 1 taken from this excellent London comic shop’s web-page.

Jenny Wi’ the Airn Teeth

What a plague is this o' mine,
     Winna steek his e'e,
Though I hap him ow'r the head
     As cosie as can be.
Sleep! an' let me to my wark,
     A' thae claes to airn;
Jenny wi' the airn teeth,
     Come an' tak' the bairn:

Tak' him to your ain den,
     Where the bowgie bides,
But first put baith your big teeth
     In his wee plump sides;
Gie your auld grey pow a shake,
     Rive him frae my grup—
Tak' him where nae kiss is gaun
     When he waukens up.

Whatna noise is that I hear
     Comin' doon the street?
Weel I ken the dump-dump
     O' her beetle feet.
Mercy me, she's at the door,
     Hear her lift the sneck;
Whisht! an' cuddle mammy noo
     Closer roun' the neck.

Jenny wi' the airn teeth,
     The bairn has aff his claes,
Sleepin' safe an' soun', I think—
     Dinna touch his taes;
Sleepin' weans are no for you;
     Ye may turn about
An' tak' awa' wee Tam next door—
     I hear him screichin' oot.

Dump, dump, awa' she gangs
     Back the road she cam';
I hear her at the ither door,
     Speirin' after Tam.
He' a crabbit, greetin' thing,
     The warst in a' the toon;
Little like my ain wee wean—
     Losh, he's sleepin' soun'.

Mithers hae an awfu' wark
     Wi' their bairns at nicht—
Chappin' on the chair wi' tangs
     To gi'e the rogues a fricht.
Aulder weans are fley'd wi' less,
     Weel aneuch, we ken—
Bigger bowgies, bigger Jennies,
     Frichten muckle men.

Alexander Anderson