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Bat Boy: The Millennial Superstar Created By Weekly World News

1990s | June 15, 2021

Cover of Weekly World News featuring Bat Boy. (Weekly World News via the13thfloor.tv)

The term "fake news" may be thrown around a lot these days, but there was a time when hilariously unreal stories were celebrated in grocery store pulp tabloids like The National Enquirer, The Sun, and of course, Weekly World News. The notorious magazine got its start when the Enquirer, owned by tabloid mogul Generoso Pope, Jr., upgraded to color print, leaving the previous black-and-white print machinery sitting in the corner, collecting dust. As Pope was not a man to let opportunity go to waste, he put the old press to use on a smaller, more niche magazine that focused less on celebrity stories and more on bizarre international "news"—the more shocking, the better.

Initially, the paper was more of a collection of strange but verified stories already printed in reputable newspapers, but as time went on and the writers grew more desperate for freaky stories, they began publishing whatever strange tales people wrote in, taking their word at face value rather than wasting time on silly things like fact checking. Even that wasn't enough to boost the paper sales, so over time, the writers began to formulate their own stories, sometimes twisting a sliver of a true story until it was larger than life. By the mid '80s, the paper was selling a million magazines full of stories of alien abductions, Bigfoot, and Elvis sightings every week. They still ran the occasional verifiable report, like that of Hogzilla, a 12-foot-long hog hybrid beast, which lent just enough credibility to the publication to plant reasonable doubt in the reader's mind.

The J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI Headquarters. (Aude/Wikimedia Commons)

On June 23, 1992, the paper's most famous headline graced its cover for the first time. Sprung from the minds of cartoonist Dick Kulpa and writer Bob Lind, Bat Boy was reported to be a two-foot-tall, 19-lb. "hybrid beast-child" who had allegedly just been found hiding in the caves of West Virginia. He became an instant sensation, and sales soared every time the magazine published "updates" on the ferocious kiddo, who seemed to cause mayhem and mischief wherever he was spotted. Who wouldn't love a rambunctious tyke who steals cars and drinks human blood through a crazy straw? It wasn't just gullible adults: Children, too, connected with the fanged prankster, which made sense. Several of the illustrators and writers responsible for Bat Boy also worked in comic books.

His eerily adorable features also brought out the protective instincts of the public, however, to the point that the F.B.I. asked Weekly World News to retract the story because they were getting flooded with calls from people who demanded that Bat Boy be released from their custody. Hilarious as that was, the writers were gracious enough to run "Bat Boy Escapes From the F.B.I." the following week to appease the concerned callers.

Dick Kulpa, creator of Bat Boy, at the Magic City Comic Con in 2016. (Super Festivals/Wikimedia Commons)

Although Bat Boy was a quintessential relic of the '90s, his legacy remains strong. In 1997, the pop culture icon became the subject of an off-Broadway production called Bat Boy: The Musical, which was fairly well received and even went on to be performed in Europe and regional American theater. Bat Boy also made his way into cartoons, featured in episodes of The Simpsons and American Dad. Like many publications, Weekly World News struggled to compete in the internet age and went out of print in August 2007, but a September 2020 Kickstarter campaign raised enough money to bring the beloved tabloid back into circulation, so Bat Boy's bulging eyes and tiny fangs may once again return to the checkout lines of America's supermarkets.

Tags: 1990s | literature | Weird Historical Facts

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