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

1 rating: 3.0
A book by David Hajdu

Amazon Significant Seven, March 2008: I may be alone here, but when I read Michael Chabon'sThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a whole strata of American artists came to life for me. Ever since then I've been waiting for a book like David Hajdu'sThe … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: David Hajdu
Genre: History
Publisher: Picador
1 review about The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book...

Mad, bad, and lewd: why the comic books I knew were lame

  • Mar 5, 2010
As a boomer born in 1959, I missed the events described in Hajdu's fun history of comic books, but I didn't miss the aftermath. All of the comic books when I was a kid in the late 60s and on were lame and boring. Archie and Jughead? Except for Mad, which was crazy, antic, nerdy, fun that poked havoc at everything that poked its head over the horizon. And now I understand why because of Hajdu's excellent history.

Just days after a good copy of the 1938 Action Comics No. 1 that introduced Superman sold for $1 million, it is evident that these early comics still exert a powerful pull from so many years ago. Ahh, the power of the comic--the weird, the violent, the criminal, the lurid, the lewd--that was what all the fuss was about, wasn't it? Hajdu does a good job setting comics in context of time and culture. This wasn't just about bad, it was about "bad for youth"--like jazz music, then rock music, then movies, then television, then . . . . .

The debate really is about how much our influences--what we read, watch, listen to--shape our minds, our morals, and most specifically our behavior. Legislatures and opinion leaders, and a few prominent psychologists certainly thought that comic books (yes, even Archie--short skirts, tight sweaters) contributed to juvenile delinquency, and passed laws to regulate or eliminate the "worst" books.

And I must confess, some of the descriptions and pictures in Ten-Cent are unsavory. But darn if I don't wish I could read more! Its the lure of the weird if you will. Its what attracted kids to the books--and the artists to the form. One of the best parts of Ten-Cent is learning about the people who drew the comics. Their backgrounds, skills and interests were varied, but they become real people and real artists in Hajdu's account, working in a medium under fire, but creating some things that were worth admiring.

Several years ago I read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a fictionalized account of the early days of the comic industry with Chabon's unique touches of fantasy. If you haven't read it, you should after you have read Ten-Cent. It isn't historical fiction by any means, but it captures the manic passion and possibilities of the time.

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