Ripley’s Believe It or Not! #29, October 1971, Western Publishing Company
When I was a kid, I was enamored by the unknown. My Childcraft encyclopedia set had a specific volume for “Mysteries and Fantasies, “with through chapters on aliens and UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, the Bermuda Triangle and the Egyptian pyramids. I remember this because the book is right here beside me as I type. Flipping through it, I remember wondering how so much of the world could still be shrouded in mystery, how so many creatures like the Yeti could still be officially undiscovered, considering how much of our fair planet has been explored and exploited. I still wonder about that. The Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchise has made a living of off it.
Like yesterday’s offering, this issue contains four distinct stories, although the Ripley’s format is a bit more formulaic, if only to retain its corporate identity, I reckon. Each of these stories immediately introduces an unknown creature, from ghostly elephants, to coalmine demons, to sea creatures, to death-inducing banshees. Other commonalities string these stories together, as well: the skeptic, the expert, the fearful townsfolk. The creatures’ methods differ, but supernatural terror is their general trade. I guess they can’t help it. Their survival depends on their ability to shun the public, lest they become a sideshow like the mythic Fiji mermaid. On the other hand, perhaps their intimidating lifestyle is just as natural to them as our inquisitive nature is to us. Unfortunately, as one seems to threaten the other, man and elephant specter could never really coexist. Shame.
Surprisingly, this entire issue was incredibly well drawn. Don’t get me wrong; this comic was by no means groundbreaking or a standout by today’s standards. Still, each story had solid penciling and inking, with expressive characters, detailed backgrounds, interesting perspective, and creative shadowing. The writers were smart enough to realize that their stories hinged on the reader seeing the unbelievable, and the creators pull that off cooperatively by letting the panels breathe. For all of the media Ripley’s has utilized to tell their fantastic stories, comics seem like the most natural and effective means, as it’s a forum that usually already features the impossible. Somewhere, other kids are just as fascinated by the unknown as I was. They may not have the Childcraft library, but they’ll always have Ripley’s Believe It or Not!