cover image Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

Meghan McCarthy, . . Knopf, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83518-6

In an era of fake news, reality shows and terror alerts on simultaneous channels, this volume reminds readers of the panic that greeted Orson Welles's unique radio hoax of Oct. 30, 1938. McCarthy (Show Dog ) alternates black-and-white illustrations, representing ordinary life, with full-color images from listeners' colorful imaginations. Initially, two parents and their children sit quietly in a living room, picturing "Ramón Raquello and his orchestra, playing a tango" in an aptly lurid purple cloud. Suddenly a CBS announcer interrupts and the violet backdrop gives way to a sulfurous hue. The family looks distressed; explosions have been observed on Mars, and a "flaming object, believed to be a meteorite," has fallen in Grovers Mill, N.J. "Good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow," reports newscaster Carl Phillips. In fire-and-brimstone shades, McCarthy suggests how frightened Americans trusted Phillips and envisioned sluglike, drooling creatures emerging from a flying saucer. Yellow, sci-fi–horror typeface demands, "Was this the end of the world?" while duotone panels picture stampeding citizens and traffic jams; policemen at the supposed crash site "find an empty field." McCarthy reports the unfolding situation, but her imprecise painting style doesn't allow for close detail or multiple perspectives. The bleary brushstrokes are atmospheric but unsuited to quick cinematic cuts between reality and fantasy; the high-anxiety spreads seem too spacious and unpopulated to be convincing. McCarthy nevertheless recalls a startling incident, and the listeners' naïve responses have an odd, unfunny resonance in light of today's moment-by-moment media hype. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)