Since we’re approaching Halloween, I’m reviving Out of the Vault for some monstery goodness. First up: Ripley’s Believe It or Not #14, which bears the subtitle on the cover “True Demons and Monsters.” The issue is dated June 1969, and it’s not only heavily spine rolled, but several of the middle pages have torn away from the staples.
But here’s the thing that surprises me. I had always felt growing up that Gold Key comics and the like were quite simply inferior products to the Big Two comics publishers. Looking back at this issue, though, the art compares quite favorably with what the majors published in most of their issues. I mean, there is nothing here that has the flair of a Neal Adams or a Berni Wrightson, or the energy of a Kirby or Ditko monster story, but compared to the general run of artists who usually worked the horror books (which due to Comics Code restrictions were never all that scary), this issue of Ripley’s stacks up well. And that cover painting is awesome.
The first story in the issue is the cover story, “The Demon of Beachy Head.” Seven-year-old me was very disappointed that we didn’t get the giant demon rising out of the surf as promised on the cover, but the story is pretty good nevertheless. It tells the tale of a nobleman, Sir Robert, who betrays the monks from a local monastery who are being hunted down by Henry VIII. The abbot curses Sir Robert as he is being led away in chains.
Not long afterward, due to a series of misfortunes befalling the town, the locals declare that Sir Robert is the source of the evil and hurl him over the cliff at Beachy Head. Sir Robert’s spirit rises as a vengeful demon, luring people to their doom on the rocks, until 1952, when spirit medium Ray De Vekey conducts an exorcism. The art during this sequence is really dramatic, splashed with blacks, giving an ominous cast to the action.
The next story is “The Horror of Lincoln’s Inn,” about a bird-like phantom that kills a man and terrorizes two newspaper editors sent to cover the story.
After that is “The Foxes of Doom,” about a nobleman, Viscount Gormanston, who cruelly kills a vixen and its kits on a fox hunt. Later, the Viscount’s servants find his body in a field, apparently dead from a fall off his horse. But his body is surrounded by hundreds of foxes. From then on, hordes of foxes congregate at Gormanston Castle to presage the death of each generation of Gormanston.
The final story in the volume is “The Monster of Croglin Grange,” about a young woman who is attacked in the night by a monstrous manlike creature. Her brothers drive the creature away, after which the family goes abroad to get over the shock. They return several months later and live in peace until it happens again. This time, the brothers wound the beast and follow the trail of blood to a cemetery, where they find an open coffin with a shriveled body inside–a shriveled body with a broken thigh bone, just where the brothers shot the fleeing beast.
It was a nicely creepy coda to the issue, with once again, some pretty decent artwork, although I must admit, I found this story a lot more interesting in my early teens.
Notice the coloring in this story, with large swaths covered with a single color. Gold Key did this a lot. I think it might have been a time-saving measure, but it also works with the mood of this story really well.
But here’s the really interesting part that I hadn’t known at the time. See, even though the title of the comic is Ripley’s Believe It or Not, I just took these stories as the same type of horror fluff that you saw in any other horror book from the other comics companies. But now, with the help of the Internet, I could check to see if any of these were supposedly true, and what do you know?
Ray De Vekey did conduct an exorcism at Beachy Head in 1952, although he said the spirit he struggled with was dressed in monk’s robes, not a nobleman cursed by monks. And it didn’t seem to change anything, since lots of people still kill themselves by jumping from the cliffs there.
The Lincoln’s Inn story matches this account of the “phantom bird” almost verbatim.
The Gormanston foxes were a real thing, although this page describes them as paying their respects to the family, perhaps because of an act of mercy by the Viscount or his wife, rather than vengeful omens.
And the many accounts of the Croglin Grange story that I could find plainly depict the creature as a vampire, not the werewolf pictured in the story. Here’s a very readable one.
Believe it or not.