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

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

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


David Hajdu
Publish Date
February 15, 1999

The story of the rise and fall of those comic books has never been fully told -- until The Ten-Cent Plague. David Hajdu's remarkable new book vividly opens up the lost world of comic books, its creativity, irreverence, and suspicion of authority.

In the years between World War II and the emergence of television as a mass medium, American popular culture as we know it was first created—in the pulpy, boldly illustrated pages of comic books. No sooner had this new culture emerged than it was beaten down by church groups, community bluestockings, and a McCarthyish Congress—only to resurface with a crooked smile on its face in Mad magazine.

When we picture the 1950s, we hear the sound of early rock and roll. 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.

The Ten-Cent Plague radically revises common notions of popular culture, the generation gap, and the divide between "high" and "low" art. As he did with the lives of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington (in Lush Life) and Bob Dylan and his circle (in Positively 4th Street), Hajdu brings a place, a time, and a milieu unforgettably back to life.

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The Ten-Cent Plague changed my life!

OK, that was an attention-getting headline but let me explain what I mean. I have been a card carrying comic book collector for over 32 years now without stopping. I have collected Marvel and DC superhero comics books such as Avengers, Daredevil, Captain America, Justice League, and Superman back to the 1960s. But I never knew much about the history of the golden age of comics from the 1940s and 1950s.
This book tells a great story about the creators of the golden age comics. Comic books were the main source of entertainment for kids back then before TV and a billion other forms of online streaming entertainment. A kid would buy a comic for just a dime and share it with all his friends. Stories were raw and uncensored and included genres of crime, horror, romance, westerns, and more.
But in the early 1950s several influential people began speaking out against comics. Comics were believed to cause juvenile delinquency. Horrible crimes such as murder and attacks on other children were blamed on ideas that they got from reading comics. Comics were collected a burned and kids were told to denounce comics because parents said comics were bad for them. The world and comic books changed.
As a comic book nerd I loved reading this book and I give it five out of five stars. Why, because it gave me a whole new appreciation for comic books and where they came from. There are several detailed accounts about comic book publishers such as Lev Gleason and his Crime Does Not Pay crime comics and the amazing EC Comics titles. I have now begun seeking out some of these golden age comics and find them a refreshingly new way of enjoying collecting and reading comics. Superhero comics and now movie and TV shows may be all the rave now but there was a world of comic book stories, publishers, and artists that created the true golden age of comics long, long, ago. 


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