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The Big Book of Urban Legends. Adapted from the works of Jan Harold Brunvand by Robert Loren Fleming and Robert F. Boyd, Jr. Introduction and commentary by Jan Harold Brunvand. Illustrated by various. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. 223p. (A Factoid Book). $12.95pa. ISBN 1-56389-165-4.

Nonfiction (sort of), folklore, reference

Adults, teens; some adult situations; some graphic scenes, but little direct gore; little profanity.

This book adapts some 200 urban legends into comic form. The legend forms are divided into "Moving Violations" (car-related legends), "Wild Kingdom," "Campfire Classics" (the horror stories we told one another around the campfire and at sleepovers), "Comic Calamities," "Caught in the Act" (sex and scandal), "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Occupational Hazards" (business, government, and professional legends), and "FOAF-a-Rama" (miscellaneous). Most legends are told in a single page of eight or nine black-and-white panels; only a few legends earn two pages.

I love urban legends and am pretty well versed in them. This book is amusing but disappointing. The legends themselves are worth reading (and you have to wonder how anyone can be stupid enough to believe many of them). Some I’ve heard told as jokes, not as true stories. However, the sameness of the artwork began to get on my nerves after a while. You’d think that with "200 of today’s most popular comic artists" there would be a lot of artistic variation, but relatively few of the adapted legends stand out from the crowd. There seems to have been an attempt to emulate the old EC horror comics style (down to the "Good lord! <choke>"), but most of the contributions are too artistically bland to succeed at this. The storytelling is occasionally ham-handed, thanks to the attempt by the adapters to turn some legends into first-person or third-person narratives. Finally, in some pieces the story is not clear; the combination of art and text fails to explain why some things worked out the way they did. Some stories, in fact, are confusing if the reader doesn’t read their titles.

For the more scholarly among us, this publication has little in the way of interpretation or evaluation of the legends. The introduction by Brunvald, the man who popularized the study of urban legends, is just a quick history of his involvement with the legends, his publication history, and his approval of adapting the legends into comic form. Nor is there any real organization (subject or title indexes would have helped) within the book. Overall, a lightweight effort, pleasant enough in small doses.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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