The Ten Cent Plague

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America is a terrific history of the comic book industry and the role it has played in American culture. Most of my readers are too young to remember the ’50s, when comic books were corrupting American youth and were deemed agents of the worldwide Communist conspiracy; this very readable book by David Hajdu will be a revelation to you. As the author’s summary says:

The Ten-Cent Plague shows how — years before music — comics brought on a clash between children and their parents, between prewar and postwar standards. Created by outsiders from the tenements, garish, shameless, and often shocking, comics spoke to young people and provided the guardians of mainstream culture with a big target. Parents, teachers, and complicit kids burned comics in public bonfires. Cities passed laws to outlaw comics. Congress took action with televised hearings that nearly destroyed the careers of hundreds of artists and writers.

Hajdu has fleshed out all the personalities and politics of this controversy. From Superman to Mad Magazine, there’s a lot more here than meets the eye. Even though I was only seven years old when Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent came out, I very much remember my psychiatrist father talking about Wertham’s theory that comic books caused juvenile delinquency. Scarily, there were not only Congressional hearings but even book-burnings. If you remember the ’50s, read this book, as you probably never had Hajdu’s perspective. If you don’t remember the ’50s, it’s even more important for you to read this book, as you will definitely learn something about American history, culture, and politics.

Categories: Books