Paradox Press' "Factoid Books" Big Book of fill in blank is a series I have fond memories of, though I never bought any of them. I recall spending time flipping through them while hanging out at Barnes and Noble and Borders book stores, back when I was not really that into comics but intrigued by weird historical stories, legends, and mysterious events. This series was one of the sources that, I think, started to get me to change my mind on the idea of graphic novels. Full of "100% true" stories of aliens, gruesome murders, and drugs, it was like Ripley's Believe It Or Not for the nineties.
Over time, I've managed to gather a small collection of my favorites at various library book sales and stops at Half Price Books, and recently I read through a few of them. As products of an earlier period of pop culture, I can't say they really hold up. It was funny to see how rooted to the period they are. The series strikes me as being particularly, inescapably '90s in style, topics, and conception. Anthologies of comic vignettes depicting various topics, stories, and people, the Big Books reflected the pop culture interest in this stuff that was big at the time. Written in a tongue in cheek, overly "irreverent" style, little really sticks. All black and white, the artists included were, in general, pretty standard comic book styles, with some detail lost due to the lack of color in a few of them.
The Big Book of the '70s and the Big Book of the Weird Wild West were the most historical, focusing on the current 1990s nostalgia for all things seventies and all the over the top tall tales of the "Wild West" stoked by recent revisionist westerns. Both of them had some interesting, little known stories included, in particular the Big Book of the '70s, which did a pretty good job painting a picture of what American society was like at the time. The Weird Wild West occasionally got a little bit speculative for it's "100% true" billing, drawing strongly from period penny dreadfuls rather than vetted historical accounts. Still, both of them have some pretty good and comprehensive bibliographies to look into.
The "100% true" descriptor falls on even shakier ground with these two, which felt particularly dated to that period when everyone was watching the X-Files and 9/11 had not yet struck. There's something that just feels so quaint about the Kennedy Assassination and the Hopskinville Goblins after the events of the last twenty years. I have to admit feeling quite bored getting through these two, though perhaps its because I've seen these same stories repeated again and again in all this paranormal conspiratorial literature. Even the addition of comic Charles Fort narrating did not really save them. There were still a few good strips, though, like the entry on Chupacabras (appropriate, since the beast was only a year or so old at the time).
The Big Book of Urban Legends was, of course, my favorite of the lot, simply feature comic adaptations of famed folklorist Jan Harald Brunvand's popular urban legend accounts from his various books. From the funny to the horrifying, they're all here and in probably the best art of the series. On the other hand, this may be the most disturbing of the series as well, with frequent sexualized violence, misogyny, and racism, which of course reflects the fears of such "friend of a friend" tales. Still, the artists did a good job depicting a diverse cast of characters in many of the stories.
In the end, the Factoid Books are pure nostalgia, from a time in which Men in Black (the mysterious figures who show up after paranormal events, not the movie) and a hook handed killer were seen as scary. 100% true, maybe not, but 100% nineties!
*Theme music for entry: "Flagpole Sitta," Harvey Danger, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?, 1997