London in the 1830s was a truly weird and terrifying place. The city and surrounding villages were plagued at large by a menacing and mysterious figure who not only lurked in dark alleys, but had the gall to occasionally go door-to-door frightening people. Detailed attacks were reported as early as 1838, in which the assailant was said to have “deprived seven women of their senses”, spit blue fire in many a passerby’s face, and generally freak many folks out based on appearance alone. However, among the many of the fiends horrific traits, that which was noted the most was his inhuman ability to… hop.
To hop over fences, in front of horse-drawn carriages causing them to turn over, down long stretches of road while stopping to slap onlookers across the face, etc.
Hence, horror was given a name, and it was Spring-Heeled Jack:
Although police reports were filed and many a news article written at the time, the real Spring-Heeled Jack was never caught, and so inspired over a century of urban legends. Among the earliest of pop culture formats that Spring-Heeled Jack could be found in was the penny dreadful, a large collection of which we have here at the Cartoon Library in our San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection. These publications, sold for one penny each, were marketed toward working class adolescents, and their feverish fan consumption served as precursors to the modern comic book.
Featured here on the blog today are some of our favorite covers from the collection, where appearances of Spring-Heeled Jack lay somewhere on the border of horrifying and hilarious.
Over the years, the legend of Spring-Heeled Jack has gone from evil to good, to evil all over again. Could his winged visage be a Victorian era inspiration to our 20th century Batman?