‘Evil in the Stacks’ podcast haunts library’s horror collection


“Evil in the Stacks,” a new podcast, aims to attract more of the public to Pitt’s horror collection, particularly comics, to see what makes it so haunting — and to make the idea of visiting Pitt’s archives less daunting.

“The idea is to really get people a concept of what we have, how to access it and what to do with it,” said the podcast host and producer, Geneveive Newman, a Ph.D. candidate in Film and Media Studies who is also a graduate student assistant with Archives & Special Collections at the University Library System.

What they have includes classic horror comics and magazines such as the original “Swamp Thing” issue from the ‘70s and the second “Creepy” magazine from the ‘60s, featuring your host, Uncle Creepy, tying the stories together. He and Cousin Eerie of Eerie magazine, for instance, are there “to hold the readers’ hand through the horror,” Newman explains — and to help the comic get past the comics code (similar to the old Hayes Code that sanitized movies) and provide a sop to conservative forces that insisted on stories having “morals” and the good guy always winning. There’s also “Tales from the Crypt,” “Haunt of Fear” and “Vault of Horror,” from the 1950s, and on and on.

Pitt’s horror collection overall — which the podcast also covers — is decidedly Pittsburgh, with its Chiller Theater collection from Chilly Billy Cardille, the WPXI broadcaster and host of the late-night sca-a-a-ary moviefest. It houses everything from Cardille’s planning notes for the series to the promotional magazine from when WPXI was called WIIC and Cardille hosted studio wrestling and had his photo taken with the likes of Dolly Parton.

Don’t be afraid of coming in to take a look at these wonderful items, Newman says: “I didn’t walk into an archive until I was in my Ph.D. program. I want people to feel like they can use this space and materials.”

The first two episodes of “Evil in the Stacks” are already out. In the first, Newman talks to Ben Rubin, the horror studies collection coordinator in Pitt’s archives. Newman’s Ph.D. research is on sexual violence in horror films and literature, and there’s certainly a lot of that to study in these old comics. It’s important that we look at them through modern lenses — from feminist and queer points of view, she says — because comics had a big impact on the culture in their time, as well as today.

And yet, Rubin says, also “it’s important for us to have that history exactly as it was” — to understand its context in its own time.

In the second episode, Newman talks about the Chiller Theater collection with Avery Hoover, a master’s student in developmental psychology who has been working in the Cardille archives for eight months now. Cardille was, in essence, a descendant of Uncle Creepy, introducing the night’s feature and offering a few comic sketches to boot, and a cousin to the auteur hosts, from Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock to Jordan Peele and Guillermo Del Toro, who still guide viewers through the eerie and inexplicable. Hoover’s favorite piece in the collection is the script to the last Chiller Theater show, but she also found it very satisfying to see the host’s resume and college courses outlined, showing his journey through radio and TV.

Episode three, set for February, will talk about “Tales from the Dark Side” — the comic and the movie — although Newman says to look soon for a bonus episode interviewing Johnny Walker, British scholar of horror films and cult cinema, talking about indie and underground horror comics.

The podcast will have a limited run, Newman says, but she is enjoying producing it in the basement of Hillman Library, where they have a relatively soundproofed “whisper room” for her mics and recording equipment.

One of the particular targets of her podcast is academic users of the archives, and many of the interviews will feature academic experts on the subject. Comics as literature, and as reflections of the changing times, are not new notions, of course: “They are a reflection of the way we think about the world,” she says. “Culture produces the way we think and the way we think produces culture.

“That’s how in our formative years we learn how to see the world,” she adds about the attraction of horror to many people, including kids. “Horror is about anxieties” and comic books let us visualize the things that scare us, “in a way that is first and foremost safe.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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