In Glasgow, Scotland 1954, hundreds of children (some as young as four years old) poured into a local cemetery brandishing knives and stakes. The armed kiddie mob was in a panic and after the local vampire. According to local stories, the 7-ft. tall, iron-fanged vampire was responsible for the disappearances of two children, spurring school-age kids to set out on their own, Van Helsing style.
Next week, BBC Radio 4 will air the story of the hunt for the Gorbals Vampire and the moral backlash aimed at comic books after the hunts were dissembled by police and scared parents. Blame for the vampire panic run-a-muck was laid on American horror comics, with the likes of Tales From The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror becoming main targets. Word of the hunt only fueled the war against horror comics in the U.S., which the newly created Comics Code Authority had already pegged as potentially dangerous to the well being of children everywhere. All three titles were canceled in 1954, with the last issue of the original run of Tales From the Crypt printed in February, 1955.
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Horror comics were pegged for an increase in juvenile deliquency in the same way the graphic games of today are blamed for teenage acts of violence. But were they really to blame? Probably not, and the show will work to displace the blame. Academics are giving the Gorbals Vampire incident a second glance and claiming that it might be the Bible, not comics, that was to blame for the vampire hysteria. A monster with iron teeth is seen in the Bible, and according to the story’s sources, in a poem that was taught to children in school at the time.
“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.” – Daniel 7:7 (New International Version)
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Not convinced? Interviews with two of the kiddie mob members suggest that most children, themselves included, had never read a horror comic or seen a horror film, not to mention the fact that American horror comics were pretty tough to lay your hands on as a British school kid in the first place.
But will horror comics finally be vindicated for their role in Glasgow’s kiddie vamp hunt? I doubt it. Call me crazy, but I can’t see the blame shifting from an easy scapegoat like the entertainment industry to the good book.
Listen to the The Gorbals Vampire on BBC Radio 4 at 11 p.m. GMT (7 p.m. ET) on Tuesday, March 30, or listen on the BBC iPlayer.