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The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America Hardcover – March 18, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374187673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374187675
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Significant Seven, March 2008: I may be alone here, but when I read Michael Chabon's The 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's The Ten-Cent Plague to come along and show me the contours of this world. Anyone who remembers Positively 4th Street will recognize in this new book Hajdu's peerless ability to weave first-person recollections with an acute perspective of America at a pivotal moment in its cultural timeline. The rise of comics as a mode of expression, an outlet for entertainment, and, rather tragi-comically, as a target for censorship, couldn't be more compelling in anyone else's hands. In deft narrative strokes Hajdu creates a colorful, character-driven story of our first real--and lasting--counterculture (if the burgeoning popularity of graphic novels is any indication) and shows why we embrace it still.--Anne Bartholomew

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
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Customer Reviews

It's a good book - and thought provoking.
Robert Frost
Editorials raged against them, politicians speechified against them, the Senate held hearings, and schools and churches sponsored comic book bonfires.
Kerry Walters
Here, Hadju does a wonderful job laying out the history and development of the comic book industry in early 20th century America.
M. Strong

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

119 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on March 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So thundered psychiatrist Frank Wertham in his 1954 Seduction of the Innocent, a book which accused comic books of breeding juvenile delinquincy (quoted on p. 6 of Hajdu's book). Today, Wertham's comparison between Hitler and comic books seems ludicrous. But at the time, millions of Americans took it seriously, and it brought down the comic book industry.

David Hajdu's wonderful The Ten-Cent Plague is a history of the culture war over comics that spanned the decade after the second world war. By the mid-40s, he claims, comic books were beyond doubt the leading form of popular entertainment, selling an astounding 80 to 100 million copies each week. Some 650 titles were released each month, and the industry employed around 1,000 writers, artists, and editors. The leading comic book publisher was EC, headed by the genius William Gaines.

The genre in those days, lead by EC, focused primarily on horror and crime, and some of the covers, interior artwork, and story lines could get gruesome: pools of blood, severed heads, stony-faced and scary killers. The artwork and storylines could get sexy too: heroines in filmy negligees, the occasional cleavage or bare foot showing. Middle class parents, egged on by a few religious leaders and political conservatives, began to express concerns, and those concerns grew into a national crusade against the "corrupting" influence of comic books. Editorials raged against them, politicians speechified against them, the Senate held hearings, and schools and churches sponsored comic book bonfires.

In an effort to salvage what it could, the comic book industry organized the Comics Magazine Association of America in 1954, and promised to watchdog its product by promoting "wholesomeness and virtue" (p. 319).
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci on March 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
With THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE, David Hajdu does for comic books what his previous books did so brilliantly for music. Hajdu's research is exhaustive without being exhausting to read; THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE has the readability and vivid characters of a great novel as Hajdu tells his entertaining, thought-provoking account of the censorship debate over comic books in the 1950s, and how it trickled down into other aspects of pop culture and generation-gap clashes between youths and their parents. Instead of simply rehashing what comic fans already know, Hajdu digs deep into other areas, talking in-depth to the first-hand witnesses to these events, like the early comic creators who lost their jobs once people like Fredric Wertham and Estes Kefauver denounced comics as a corruptor of America's children -- you know, before heavy metal and video games and Fill In Your Favorite Bad Influence Here came along. :-) Hajdu brings the era and its struggles to life in a page-turner brimming with insight and affection. THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE is a must-read not only for fans of comics and pop culture, but for anyone intrigued with how censorship and power struggles shape society.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on May 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Probably one of the greatest evils in society are the self-righteous moralists who want to rid the world of what they perceive as sinful, usually saying it's "for the children". Usually, the things they want to actually get rid of are merely items that encourage free thought or seemingly contradict their own narrow dogma. Thus today, we get those who want to ban Harry Potter books not because of any proven harm, but merely the fact that they don't fall into their own interpretation of good and evil. It's not enough to choose to ignore the items, but also to deprive others of their joy.

David Hajdu's The Ten Cent Plague details one such situation that occurred in the early 1950s and focused on comic books. This was an era when comics were at a creative and commercial peak, dealing with not only the superhero genre, but also horror, crime, war and romance. While some of it was over-the-top, it also provided entertainment and occasionally delivered a message as well.

The main villain in this piece is Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, a book that alleged links between comic books and juvenile delinquency, links that were often weak at best, and completely fabricated in other cases. In this Legion of Doom, however, Wertham is merely the biggest name, but there are others as well, driven to hound the comic book industry out of existence. They would use book-burnings, boycotts and the police to get their way, and to a large extent, they would win. Due to their efforts, the Comics Code was instituted, resulting in comics that went from being fun (if edgy) to watered-down pap fit for only the youngest kids. It was like replacing Bugs Bunny and Homer Simpson with Baby Huey and the Care Bears.
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Format: Hardcover
Here's something truly "Weird," "Scary" and "Amazing!" It's a history with a gripping-but-true story of American hysteria that most Americans probably have forgotten - or perhaps never knew -- until Columbia University journalism professor David Hajdu thoroughly researched America's crazy crusade against comics.

In the growing literature about Americans' love affair with comic books, Hajdu has staked a major cultural landmark with his new, "The 10-Cent Plague." As a journalist myself for more than 30 years, I've closely watched the ebb and flow of American comics and graphic novels. I can tell you this: Hajdu's cultural history is so fresh and so solid that, henceforth, anyone interested in understanding the strange twists and turns of our post-World War II culture will have to include his history of comic hysteria on any "must-read" list.

If you haven't heard Hajdu on NPR or read any of the growing number of magazine and newspaper articles about his book, the use of the term "hysteria" may sound - well, "Insane." But the tragic truth is that, starting in the late 1940s only three years after the defeat of the Nazis in Europe, Americans in towns across our nation felt it was their sacred duty to build comic book-burning bonfires, encouraging and sometimes compelling students to stand up for virtue at these conflagrations. Hajdu points out that this showed a terrifying blindness to world history - eerily reminiscent of the zealous book burnings in Germany in the 1930s.

A few wise American observers in that era recognized this historical irony - but, as shocking as this sounds, Hajdu documents that the mainstream of American media amounted to a frenzied mob in some Grade-B horror film.
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