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

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  2,613 Ratings  ·  305 Reviews
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 fi
ebook, 448 pages
Published March 18th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2008)
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America 1954

“Howdy there stranger. I’m Chester.”

“Hey, Chester. I’m Kemper.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, Kemper, your clothes look kind of odd.”

“Well, you’re certainly styling in your overalls. I’ll tell you a secret, Chester. I’m from the future. The year 2011.”

“Son, have you been drinking?”

“Well, yeah. But I’m not lying. I know it’s crazy, but I’ve got a time machine. A time mower, actually. It’s a long story. I haven’t used it lately after a bad experience running into some absolute morons
Richard Derus
Oct 10, 2012 Richard Derus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4* of five

Just read it. It's sixteen kinds of fascinating and a few more kinds of awesome.

Seriously. Just go get one and read it! Quit looking at reviews! Too much good stuff in here that anyone alive in this horrifying over-religioned right wing fucking nightmare country we've allowed to develop in our beloved USA should know about! Censorship and fear-mongering and lying sack-of-shit conservatives are not new developments...just more common than ever.

ETA This encouragement brought to y
Paul Bryant
Feb 18, 2009 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-life
Brothers and sisters, I take my text today from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, verse 41

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into TEMPTATION: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

That’s right, now I tell you some things you may not want to hear, you fall into temptation and you’re gonna go on the black diamond express train to hell, that’s right, yes you do. This train is known as the black diamond express train to hell. Sin is the engineer, pleasure is the headlight and the Devil
Jason Pettus
Jun 20, 2008 Jason Pettus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Fifty years after the fact, it seems that most of us have at least a general idea of the censorious, semi-fascist things that happened in this country during the 1950s, a time when the general populace became very interested in shrugging off the dark noir sweater of World War II and embracing the shin
Mike (the Paladin)
This book gives most of the story of "the great comic book scare" but it does it from a somewhat slanted perspective. Oddly in part I agree with the aversion shown to the control freak reaction to comics. I lived through it and while there was a time when comics got hard to find they never vanished. They did end up having to toe a line...and in a way that's not good. (At heart I'm basically of a libertarian mind set).

While I sympathize with the book's point of view I don't agree with all that it
Jun 02, 2008 Jim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I heard David Hajdu in an NPR interview discussing this book, and it sounded pretty interesting. I looked forward to reading this, but it was a bit of a disappointment. The central focus of this book is the public uproar over comic books in the late 1940s and 1950s. Relative to the American cultural mainstream of the period, comics could be graphically violent and sexually suggestive. Many so-called experts claimed that they were a primary cause of what was seen as a wave of juvenile deliquency ...more
4.0 stars. I am big fan of comics so I may rate this book higher than some because the subject matter is one that really interests me. This book tells the story of the origin, rise and downfall of the "Golden Age" of comics, focusing primarily on the horror/suspense comics (rather than superhero comics) and the efforts to have these books banned or restricted in the 1950s. In addition to being an interesting history of the comic books of the time, it is a pretty good examination of propoganda ca ...more
Mar 18, 2008 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all comic fans, anyone opposed to censorship
Shelves: 2008
When I think about all the uproar over the last few years over video game violence, about how they teach kids to kill and desensitive them, when I think of all the Jack Thompsons of the world (and thankfully there's only one) suing game publishers for what they purport to do, I am still glad to know that it could be worse - far, far worse. Jack Thompson may be a nut, but he never for one day held as much sway over parents and lawmakers as Fredric Wertham and Estes Kefauver held over America in 1 ...more
Michael Neno
May 06, 2015 Michael Neno rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't in a hurry to read The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America when it was first published. I thought I knew enough about the comics industry in the post-WWII era. I was wrong. Due to the diligent investigative work by David Hajdu, I've learned the comic book burnings were much more prevalent and widespread than I'd thought. The legislation on the books against comics was also more widespread. Hajdu not only interviews cartoonists who worked in the industr ...more
Jim Marshall
Feb 22, 2009 Jim Marshall rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the last two years, I've been reading graphic narratives with a small group of doctoral students, and I came to this book because of my conversations with them. We've been concentrating on 'serious' graphic narratives (Speigelman's Maus, Satrapi's Persepolis, Sacco's Palestine, Thompson's Blankets, etc.) as opposed to the 'classic' authors (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner) because we were finding that graphic narratives, though immensely rich and often deserving of the closest of readin ...more
Nicolo Yu
Sep 07, 2011 Nicolo Yu rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This would make excellent companion reading to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This is all non-fiction though and a well researched book on the history of comic books. Both books have a similar setting, during the period considered to be the “Golden Age” of the comic book.

The comic book is an original American innovation. A true melding of narrative and visual storytelling, sequential art has earned legitimacy as an art form and more often than not, they are now cal
John Porcellino
Oct 21, 2012 John Porcellino rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comics, history
A heartbreaking and in-depth look at the Comic Book Scare of the 1950s, when politicians and do-gooders took it upon themselves to cripple a flourishing industry. As a cartoonist, I knew the basics of this story (including information as found in broader histories such as Gerard Jones' excellent "Men of Tomorrow") but "The Ten-Cent Plague" really brings to life the characters involved, and patiently sets the stage describing the various witch-hunts comics underwent in the 40's and 50's-- culmina ...more
A better title for this book might have been "The Circumstances That Caused Bill Gaines To Create Mad Magazine"

It's not unusual to focus on a small group to make a larger historical point, but the details of the anti-comic book hysteria (and it did reach the point of mob panic) could have been covered in greater detail. As it is, the details that we do get, from a senator with presidential ambitions to the "doctors" who would use psychobabble to find the inherent dangers of this still new art fo
Nov 27, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-comics, history
I enjoyed The Ten-Cent Plague, but I have a significant gripe. If you're going to force the reader through the origins of comic books (the beginning of the story, and information I've been over multiple times), you ought to give them the end of the story as well. Horror comics didn't go away. Marvel, DC, and Warren were publishing many of them in the 1970s, and the ones I read as a kid were pretty gruesome. The Comics Code that was created to police the industry became a joke that was either ign ...more
Kent Winward
Jan 25, 2017 Kent Winward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable review of the hysteria that developed in the early 1950s over comic books, where it closely followed communism as a threat to the home and hearth. Congressional hearings and book burnings serve as a reminder that current societal fears are tired retreads of the same efforts of the establishment to maintain power. Fear and hysteria fueled by no facts, plus comics. I think the title a bit oversells the impact of the comic book scare, but it does show how even something as benign as a ...more
Aug 31, 2008 álvaro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to álvaro by: La Petite Claudine
"The Eisner and Iger Studio, the Chesler shop, and others to follow applied the industrial method to the creative process, producing comic-book pages by assembly line. Eisner (or, sometimes, Iger or someone else in the studio) would hatch an idea for a character -say, Sheena the Jungle Queen, whom both Eisner and Iger would lay claim to creating. Eisner would usually design the character, then pass on the development of that caracter and the crafting of a story to his chief writer, Audrey "Toni" ...more
Jan 25, 2017 Jacob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comics used to be big business. You might say to yourself 'Hey, wait a minute, random internet person! Comics are big business now!" It is here that I shake my head slowly and tell you that what you are speaking of is merchandising and that is a far far different thing that the comics medium itself. Comics, in their beginnings, were something different from the children's media that had come before. And as with any new popular new thing, it was only a matter of time before it pushed itself a lit ...more
Oct 31, 2007 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comics
During the 1950s, many creative institutions came under societal and governmental scrutiny: movies, books, and especially comics. David Hajdu recounts this troubled time in The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America .

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, these 10-cent illustrated pulp magazines – intended primarily for children – featured stories of superheroes, teen angst, crime, romance, and horror. Many individual issues sold in the millions of copies. To the
Lola Wallace
May 20, 2008 Lola Wallace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in the issue of censorship; comix nerds
Shelves: history, americana
In Positively 4th Street, David Hajdu examined how four individuals (Bob Dylan, Richard Farina and Joan and Mimi Baez), or at least their images, embodied the contradictions of 1960s America. The Ten-Cent Plague focuses on an earlier, more forgotten battle in twentieth-century American culture wars: the mass hysteria over and subsequent banning of comics. He traces comics from their inception in the Sunday funnies to the explosion of crime, horror and romance comics in the early '50s.

Hajdu is n
Dustin Reade
Oct 12, 2011 Dustin Reade rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an informative, well-written book about the history of the comic book, and its early persecution at the hands of misinformed people who feared their children were becoming juvenile delinquents.
For the most part, the book tells us about the people who created, wrote for, drew and painted for, and generally loved comics in the early days of the cold war and beyond. There were several interesting people that I instantly sympathized with, and there were yet more I could not stan
Mar 30, 2009 Scot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a thoroughly researched and carefully structured overview of the great censorship challenge to comic books that arose in the post-WW II era, as fears of juvenile delinquency, Communism, and a changing world coalesced to find expression in a social movement that blamed a range of social issues on comic books, most particularly those of the horror and terror genres. This cultural history would prove useful to students of the 1950s, to those interested in the history of pop culture, and to ...more
Jan 18, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A delightful history of comics, as well as a great introduction to one of the art forms that bolstered the growing culture wars in America, post-World War II.

Hajdu spends a great amount of time detailing the rise of comics as a medium for children and, therefore, their ability to subvert the accepted norms in an adult-dominated culture. And for that I'm grateful, because Hajdu clearly loves and has spent a good chunk of time with those original artists; he learns their motives and does not simpl
Apr 18, 2008 danny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, sociological
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but because of the writing style, it didn't blow me out of the water...

The narrative takes place primarily in post WWII America. The political and social landscape is greatly influenced and shaped by America's emergence as a military and political world power as well as the "hive mentality" communist/Soviet paranoia (which later morphed into the McCarthy-dominated House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings (HCUA)). That social environment bred a climate that
May 18, 2008 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So here's the thing about this book.

I enjoyed it. It was an excellent account of the conflict with comic books between about 1935 and 1952.

The author, David Hajdu, did a good job talking about the contexts and subtexts; he traced the line of important events well. He assigned Fredric Wertham the role of villain, dissecting his arguments to ban comic books. He made people like Eisner, Duker and Elder heros - it was almost to black and white for me. For example, he talked about the fallacy of Wert
Great detail of the history of the comic book with a focus on the fifties. Greatly disappointing book in that the author is pretty consistently snide about the concerns people might have about comic books. Even in the quotes he provides, people in the comics business are forced to admit that their comics had gotten pretty bad, and they were shooting themselves in the foot. Yet somehow throughout this book, every one of the consequences of their extreme ideas was nothing but a paranoid witch hunt ...more
Jan 02, 2009 Trin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, american-lit
A workmanlike account of the rise and fall of comic books, from their creation in the early part of the 20th century to their near-destruction at its midpoint. Hajdu provides ample quotage both from interviews with comic book creators and from the various writings of comic book detractors. Basically the two arguments can be summed up thusly:

Pro-comics: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION! Also, sex and violence really sell!
Anti-comics: THINK OF THE CHILDREN! Also, my anti-comics screeds really sell!

Hajdu (and
May 05, 2009 Damian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The 50s saw two waves of hysteria sweep the United States -- one, over the supposed infiltration of the US government by communist spies, and the second, over comic books. At the height of this national panic, comic books were burned in great bonfires reminiscent of the Nazis and repressive legislation all but destroyed the comic book industry.

Up to this point comics had been the creative Wild West -- flamboyant, irreverent and incognizant of any boundaries of taste, it's little wonder that the
Shanshad Whelan
While thorough with tons of research and detail, this reads slowly and was not quite what I was expecting, following more thoroughly the stories of crime and horror in comics and the personalities behind both the creation of and demonization of said comics. Little was said about the superhero set of comics, of which I'm more familiar and was more curious.

Biggest complaint was the lack of payoff for all the reading. I was hoping to see some perspective on "how it changed America" not just at the
Ryan Mishap
Dec 07, 2008 Ryan Mishap rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Mainly tells the story of the national hysteria over comics during the late forties and the fifties, but Hadju starts around the turn of the century and maps the start of comics and the first controversies. These have stayed the same for generations: they are crude, lower-class, prurient, violent, and cause juvenile crime.
This latter point is brought around again and again, and Hadju points out that the recurring panics over delinquent youth occurred with no rise in crime (similar to the scar
Thomas Edmund
The great comic book scare and how it changed america the byline promises. The first two chapters don't deliver nor start to deliver, instead we delve into the beginnings of the comic book industry itself. Most likely a worthy place to begin, however it left me wondering what I was supposed to be following - the people behind the comics, the comics themselves, society or politics?

Gradually the book improves, although characterized by slow moving objective yet dull prose its hard to really enjoy
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Bookstore Event in NYC on April 10th 1 15 Apr 04, 2008 09:45AM  
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DAVID HAJDU is the author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn and Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina. He is a critic for The New Republic and a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. He lives in New York City."
More about David Hajdu...

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“It was the strangest thing to me that Charlie Gaines was publishing all these Bible stories about love and kindness,” said Klapper, “and he was the nastiest son of a bitch on the face of the earth.” 0 likes
“Strangely, “Horror in the Nursery” never mentioned that the location of Wertham’s research site was Harlem. The first sentence of the piece set the scene: “In the basement of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church parish house in uptown New York … ,” evoking associations with WASPy Anglicanism without a hint of how far uptown the Lafargue Clinic was. The text never mentioned Negro culture or, for that matter, race or ethnicity in any context; and all the children in the photographs, which were staged, were white. Wertham, interviewed for the article prior to the Supreme Court ruling on Winters v. New York, anticipated objections to his criticism of comics on First Amendment grounds. Still, he called for legislative action. “The publishers will raise a howl about freedom of speech and of the press,” he told Crist: Nonsense. We are dealing with the mental health of a generation—the care of which we have left too long in the hands of unscrupulous persons whose only interest is greed and financial gain … If those responsible refuse to clean up the comic-book market—and to all appearances most of them do, the time has come to legislate these books off the newsstands and out of the candy stores.” 0 likes
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