Ten Cent Plague Essay

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

David Hajdu, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $26 (434p) ISBN 978-0-374-18767-5

After writing about the folk scene of the early 1960s in Positively 4th Street , Hajdu goes back a decade to examine the censorship debate over comic books, casting the controversy as a prelude to the cultural battle over rock music. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent , the centerpiece of the movement, has been reduced in public memory to a joke—particularly the attack on Batman for its homoeroticism—but Hajdu brings a more nuanced telling of Wertham’s background and shows how his arguments were preceded by others. Yet he comes down hard on the unsound research techniques and sweeping generalizations that led Wertham to conclude that nearly all comic books would inspire antisocial behavior in young readers. There are no real heroes here, only villains and victims; Hajdu turns to the writers and artists whose careers were ruined when censorship and other legal restrictions gutted the comics industry, and young kids who were coerced into participating in book burnings by overzealous parents and teachers. With such a meticulous setup, the history builds slowly but the main attraction—EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines’s attempt to explain in a Senate committee hearing how an illustration of a man holding a severed head could be in “good taste”—holds all the dramatic power it has acquired as it’s been told among fans over the past half-century. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/10/2007
Release date: 03/01/2008

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“A vivid and engaging book.” —Louis Menand, The New Yorker

“David Hajdu, who perfectly detailed the Dylan-era Greenwhich Village scene in Positively 4th Street, does the same for the birth and near death (McCarthyism!) of comic books in The Ten-Cent Plague.” —GQ

“Who knew? The right was focused on the Red Menace and the left on the Red Scare. But, if you want to understand what was really going on in the mad, mad, mad world of the 1950's you should read David Hajdu's hilarious and harrowing account of The Great Comic Book Scare. Hajdu's tale is lurid, absurd, existential, weird, and scary, and contains real-life superheros and supervillains, and there is nothing funny about it.” —Victor Navasky, author of Naming Names

“THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE is about the best account yet of comics in America, an instant classic of cultural history.” —Geoffrey O'Brien, author of Sonata for Jukebox

“Every once in a while, moral panic, innuendo, and fear bubble up from the depths of our culture to create waves of destructive indignation and accusation. David Hajdu's fascinating new book tracks one of the stranger and most significant of these episodes, now forgotten, with exactness, clarity, and serious wit, which is the best kind. He illuminates the lives of his protagonists -- from pompous, on-the-make censors to cracked comic book geniuses -- with his own graphic powers, as well as his intense intellectual curiosity. The book i… More…

“A vivid and engaging book.” —Louis Menand, The New Yorker

“David Hajdu, who perfectly detailed the Dylan-era Greenwhich Village scene in Positively 4th Street, does the same for the birth and near death (McCarthyism!) of comic books in The Ten-Cent Plague.” —GQ

“Who knew? The right was focused on the Red Menace and the left on the Red Scare. But, if you want to understand what was really going on in the mad, mad, mad world of the 1950's you should read David Hajdu's hilarious and harrowing account of The Great Comic Book Scare. Hajdu's tale is lurid, absurd, existential, weird, and scary, and contains real-life superheros and supervillains, and there is nothing funny about it.” —Victor Navasky, author of Naming Names

“THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE is about the best account yet of comics in America, an instant classic of cultural history.” —Geoffrey O'Brien, author of Sonata for Jukebox

“Every once in a while, moral panic, innuendo, and fear bubble up from the depths of our culture to create waves of destructive indignation and accusation. David Hajdu's fascinating new book tracks one of the stranger and most significant of these episodes, now forgotten, with exactness, clarity, and serious wit, which is the best kind. He illuminates the lives of his protagonists -- from pompous, on-the-make censors to cracked comic book geniuses -- with his own graphic powers, as well as his intense intellectual curiosity. The book is a rarity, vividly depicting a noirish 1950's America but without a trace of irony or nostalgia.” —Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University

“Marvelous . . . a staggeringly well-reported account of the men and women who created the comic book, and the backlash of the 1950s that nearly destroyed it....Hajdu's important book dramatizes an early, long-forgotten skirmish in the culture wars that, half a century later, continues to roil.” —Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)

“Incisive and entertaining . . . This book tells an amazing story, with thrills and chills more extreme than the workings of a comic book's imagination.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“A well-written, detailed book . . . Hajdu's research is impressive.” —Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

“Crammed with interviews and original research, Hajdu's book is a sprawling cultural history of comic books.” —Matthew Price, Newsday

“To those who think rock 'n' roll created the postwar generation gap, David Hajdu says: Think again. Every page of The Ten-Cent Plague evinces [Hajdu's] zest for the 'aesthetic lawlessness' of comic books and his sympathetic respect for the people who made them. Comic books have grown up, but Hajdu's affectionate portrait of their rowdy adolescence will make readers hope they never lose their impudent edge.” —Wendy Smith, Chicago Tribune

“Sharp . . . lively . . . entertaining and erudite . . . David Hajdu offers captivating insights into America's early bluestocking-versus-blue-collar culture wars, and the later tensions between wary parents and the first generation of kids with buying power to mold mass entertainment.” —R. C. Baker, The Village Voice

“Hajdu doggedly documents a long national saga of comic creators testing the limits of content while facing down an ever-changing bonfire brigade. That brigade was made up, at varying times, of politicians, lawmen, preachers, medical minds, and academics. Sometimes, their regulatory bids recalled the Hays Code; at others, it was a bottled-up version of McCarthyism. Most of all, the hysteria over comics foreshadowed the looming rock 'n' roll era.” —Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

“A compelling story of the pride, prejudice, and paranoia that marred the reception of mass entertainment in the first half of the century.” —Michael Saler, The Times Literary Supplement (London)"

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