24.3.17

PICTURE PERFECT

Jack Womack. Flying Saucers Are Real, Edited by Michael P Daley, Johan Kugelberg and Gabriel Mckee. Anthology Editions, 2016.

Jack Womack is an American author of dystopian science fiction based on urban decay who has had a hobby of collection UFO literature, the wilder the better and his collection is the basis of this large coffee table book of odd images and even odder text, documenting the folklore of the space age.
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A large portion of the illustrative material in this book consists of reproductions of book covers from a wide range of books, booklets and pamphlets and is perhaps best seen as homage to the art of the book cover. These covers are both works of art and contributors to folklore themselves, presenting images of flying saucers, but not only presenting them but standardising them. In the first UFO booklet of all, Kenneth Arnold’s The Flying Saucer as I Saw It the flying saucer has swept back wings and looks rather like a flying ray fish [right]

Later Fate and Arnold and Palmer’s Coming of the Saucers it is a sort of oval with the back bit chopped out [left] The first commercial UFO book, Donald Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers are Real showed a sort of foreshortened disc, but the later works by Scully and Heard present standardised discs, which is followed by later illustrators.

The dust jackets vary from the bland to the outright garish and their imagery is reinforced by the various, fairly obviously faked, UFO photographs. At their more sophisticated level, these become quite iconic pieces of art in themselves. George Adamski’ s photographs for example influencing not just book and magazine illustrations but 'eyewitness testimony' and form the basis for more book illustrations, some of which claim to tell in detail how 'flying saucers' operate.

The texts from the books show how UFO literature ran from the urbane to the barely comprehensible and the physical text from coffee table productions with lavish illustrations, down to the most basic mimeographed or duplicated stapled pamphlet. Their contents range from the secular scientific to the evangelical. Much of the latter seem to be among the worst written of all the material. Themes of almost Trump-like populism run through many of them, and one can see how some of them transmitted pre-war populist tropes into the modern age. The societies portrayed by the contactees from allegedly highly technical worlds are essentially pastoral visions of society organised in very conservative and traditional ways.

Other UFO writers, particularly in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s presented more disturbing images, ranging from the feared invaders of Keyhoe’s later works, through the invaders, colonisers abductors and cattle mutilators. All of this is featured here. Some of the pamphlets will tell social historians of the future of the lost art of the stapled, duplicated pamphlet and magazine.

Nigel Watson’s book Portraits of Alien Encounters gets a favourable mention, though the same is not true of its dust jacket. David Clarke and Andy Roberts Phantoms of the Sky is also favourable contrasted with material produced in the USA.

Womack’s vast collection of UFO literature has been donated to the University of Georgetown and it would be nice to see it added to and remain a living collection. – Peter Rogerson


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