Dale's Reviews > The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America

The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu
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's review
Feb 11, 2009

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bookshelves: comic-book-related, history
Read in February, 2009

I've read several books about the history of American comic books, some published by the large publishing houses who survive today (DC and Marvel) and others in a more independent vein, but they all tend to follow the same arc. They touch on the invention of the comic strip, its repackaging as a comic book, the ascent of the superhero and the proliferation of genres from romance to Western to horror. Then there's a breif mention about the comic books decline and near-demise in the fifties. Sometimes that's where the book ends, if its focus is the Golden Age; other times it's just a blip before the Silver Age begins and superheroes return to greatness and the kids who were comics' first fans become the second generation comic book creators themselves. I suppose those books regard the anti-comics hysteria and the winnowing of the field as negative space in the narrative, the antithesis to their thesis, and that's why the industry's travails and contraction get such short shrift.

So I was pretty excited about reading a book which would focus on what all the other books gloss over, and what I found was a decent enough study of what happened to comics in the 50's and why. Some good insights about post-WWII America and everyone's role in it (children vs. parents, adolescents vs. authority, conservatives vs. experimentalists, snobs vs. populists, etc.) and some interesting nuggets about comic books themselves and the people who produced them. Hajdu's style got a little too cutesy for my taste in a few spots, and his book doesn't really live up to its subtitle - the comic book purges of the 50's were definitely something that happened in America, but I wouldn't say the phenomenon changed the country in any appreicable way. (I am developing a serious mistrust of subtitles - see The Bonehunter's Revenge.) Still, as a pop-history survey it was a fair read and a worthy addition to my ridiculously nerdy library.

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