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

By Bill Kohlhaase

Posted May 1, 2008 in Arts & Culture

Before slasher films, rap music and Internet porn, even before rock & roll, self-righteous America found cause for juvenile delinquency in comic books. Columbia journalism professor David Hajdu unearths the forgotten 1950s campaign against illustrated pulp and discovers larger issues of censorship and Puritanical scape-goating that continue in one form or another to this day. Hajdu, whose previous book Positively 4th Street explored the dysfunctional side of modern folk music, traces the rise of comics from its birth as a marketing tool used to build newspaper readership among lower and immigrant classes to its position as leading culture medium in the pre-television world. As cold war paranoia reached its zenith, alarmist forces armed with dubious studies accused often-seamy crime and horror comics of putting the wrong ideas in young people’s heads. Boycotts, comic burnings, Senate hearings and a standards code followed. Hajdu’s meticulous research and engaging story telling reflects on larger culture issues relevant to this day. A must for contemporary culture nuts and comic fans. Subtext: Hajdu explains how pulling up on the free reins of comic books led to one of America’s great cultural icons: Mad magazine.

–Bill Kohlhaase

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, hardback 435 pages, $26 


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