Allegedly true tales of treachery from the Information Underground!

Author: Doug Moench
Illustrators: 39 top comic artists
Introduction: Ivan Stang
New York, Paradox Press, 1995.

Paradox Press began publishing Factoid Books in the 1990s. Thick, slick, comics bound like books, they use the medium to depict tales related to a particular topic. They've included The Big Book of Urban Legends, The Big Book of Death, Big Books of various decades, and possibly the most consistently interesting, The Big Book of Conspiracies, written by Doug Moench and narrated by a fedora-wearing, sunglasses-shrouded MiB character.

Each chapter turns the spotlight on a different category of conspiracy theory, beginning with certain unsettling assassinations from the 1960s, and moving through "Big Brother's Greatest Hits" (government conspiracy), "Trouble in Weirdland" (really, really odd conspiracy theories), "Paranoia Potpourri" (stuff they couldn't fit anywhere else), "Odd Passings and Other Assassinations" (suspicious deaths not covered in Chapter 1), "Historical Hysteria" (historical conspiracy theories), and "The Conspiracy Conspiracy" (large-scale conspiracies). The book presents an overview of each alleged conspiracy, illustrated in comic-book form, cites some facts, and leaves it to the reader to draw conclusions, or to do further research. A chapter-by-chapter bibliography appears at the book's end, to assist those who must investigate further.

The overview format permits them to present the more dubious allegations while claiming that, hey, we're just presenting what someone believes. At times, the established facts, allegations, wild surmises, and verifiable nonsense become entangled-- but such is the nature of any examination of conspiracy theory. At the same time, bias becomes apparent in some cases. Our narrator presents as fact some unverified information regarding the John F. Kennedy assassination (as if the established facts aren't wonky enough) without any suggestion the information is suspect. Elsewhere, he notes that he personally can't see some of the structures Richard Hoagland claims he sees in lunar photographs.

The comic-book approach permits for some terribly amusing pages. J. Edgar Hoover condemns Martin Luther King Jr. as a "moral degenerate"-- while clad only in a babydoll. Witness to the J.D. Tippit slaying, Warren Reynolds, who chased the officer's assassin for a block and claimed the man was not Lee Harvey Oswald, runs after the assailant saying, "This guy *puff* does not look like *huff puff* Oswald!"

The art also evokes more sinister moods. A sizable portion of the cars depicted are black, early-1960s Lincoln Continentals. This detail, incidental and deliberately fanciful, contributes to the sense of paranoia. Many of the artists make heavy use of shadow. Randy DuBurke and Dunan Eagleson use a pointilist-influenced style. Both techniques suggest concealed knowledge and uncertain events, forever obscured by shadow.

The book has dated somewhat. An article on the U.S. government's possible involvement in the drug trade clearly grounds its perspective in the early 1990s. The account of the Face on Mars seemed overly credulous even in 1995; now that more accurate images of the Cydonia region exist, the account verges on the asinine. Again, however, Moench only presents what people have claimed. Nevertheless, The Big Book of Conspiracy would benefit from some revision.

While not as good a conspiracy primer as Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen's thoughtful yet often hilarious tome, The 80 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (Previously published as The 50, 60, and 70 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time), it makes for a quicker read. It's not the best source on the topic, but Moench manages better than many authors who communicate through more respectable media. It goes without saying he's more reliable than a number of online sources. In a subject where the truth becomes slippery and the terms "credible source" and "credulous ass" can at times be interchanged at random, interested readers could do a whole lot worse than this book-- and a few grains of salt.

I regard skepticism as a virtue; sometimes, however, a little paranoia can be healthy. Of Paradox Press's many Factoid Books, The Big Book of Conspiracies ranks among the best, and makes for fun, engrossing, paranoia-inducing reading.

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