Paul Bryant'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
Jan 09, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: modern-life
Read in March, 2008

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 is the conductor. I see the Black Diamond as she starts off for hell, the bell is ringing, hellbound, hellbound, the devil cries out “All aboard for hell!” FIRST STATION is Drunkardsville, stop there and let all the drunkards get on board, there’s a big crowd down there drinking jump steady, drinking shine, drinking canned heat, ALL you drunkards, you gotta go to hell on the black diamond express, express train start up and on to the next station. NEXT STATION is Jazz City Central, all you hep cats, all you swingers, smokin weed, stayin out late, co-habitatin, playin saxophone, playin clarinet, you think you’re creatin art but you’re fornicatin, you’re living in sin, you gotta go to hell on the black diamond express, NEXT STATION is Comics Town, all of those artists drawin all that stuff for the little kids, corruptin their ways, corruptin their minds with depictions of sex and violence, makin the little kids in to juvenile delinquents, yes, you gotta get on board, you gotta go to hell on the black diamond express train, that’s right, form an orderly queue, no shovin, no fightin, NEXT STATION! is Porntown, that’s right…..



Senate hearings on Comic Books held on 21 April 1954 :

Counsel Beaser : Let me get the limits as far as what you put into your magazine. Is the sole test whether it sells? Is there any limit you can think of that you would not put in a magazine because you thought a child should not see or read about it?

Gaines: No, I wouldn’t say that there is any limit for the reason you outlined. My only limits are bounds of good taste, what I consider to be good taste.

Senator Estes Kefauver : Here is your May 22 issue of Crime Suspenstories. This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman’s head up, which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?

Gaines : yes sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste for example might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.



1) First there were crude and bizarre strips in newspaper supplements aimed at immigrant communities – Katzenjammer Kids, Popeye. They could rise to the dizzy heights of Krazy Kat but mostly didn’t.

2) In the 30s along came Superman so then there were hundreds of ripoffs. Comics spun off from newspapers. They got big. Big! Some social commentators decided that Superman was a fascist! “We can only be grateful that there’s only a single S on Superman’s chest and not SS”.

3) The superheroes all wore out and the publishers turned to crime – crime comics! Very violent! Laughing sadists! Floozies who would plug you as soon as look at you!

4) Many citizens became concerned about the rising tide of filth and the comics mostly ditched gruesome crime and switched to LURVE! And the furore died away. Because lurve wins the day!

5) By 1950 the romance turned sour and like a bunch of fish the comics publishers all had another collective change of direction and suddenly it was HORROR! The comics writers and artists lived in their own New york bubble and just didn’t notice the crowd of peasants, magistrates and child psychologists approaching with burning brands.

6) You think I’m kidding? They had bonfires of comics! They burned books in America!

7) A direct link was discovered between Horror and Crime comix and juvenile delinquency. It was obvious. So in 1954 they had their hearings (see above) and by September of that year ALL the horror comics ceased trading and about 800 people in the comix biz were out finding work in the postal service, in bakeries, in garages and they never let on what they used to be for fear of immediate social ostracism.

8) It took five years for comix to revive – this book doesn’t cover the return to glory that was the rebirth of DC (Superman, Batman, et al) and the eruption of Marvel a few years after that.

9) Nowadays no one worries about what kids read. The very idea is absurd. Kids reading? They’re too busy listening to gangster rap and playing Grand Theft Auto.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Stacey (new) - added it

Stacey I've had this on my to-listen list for ages, ever since reading some articles about the destruction of comics, and censorship of comics. I think I picked up the recommendation from a link at Thanks for the review.

message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny FIRST STATION is Drunkardsville, stop there and let all the drunkards get on board, there’s a big crowd down there drinking jump steady, drinking shine, drinking canned heat, ALL you drunkards, you gotta go to hell on the black diamond express, express train start up and on to the next station.

Where do I change for Internet Chess Central? I am on the right train, I hope?

message 3: by notgettingenough (last edited Jan 09, 2011 12:34PM) (new)

notgettingenough When we were little my parents refused to let us read comics on the basis that it would lead to our mental retardation.

Are comics a boys thing? Is that why I just didn't care? I mean, you talk about 'kids', but does that really mean boys?

Paul Bryant Manny, watch out, you get on board any train from Internet Chess Central and you can find yourself on a one way trip into the hell of rook and pawn endings, but that should not be mistaken for the real hell. I admit it's similar.
NGE, there were always Romance mags (the ones Liechtenstein ripped off) , there was Supergirl and Wonder Woman, all of those were for girls. The horror and crime stuff may well have had a 99.9% boys readership, but that's just a guess.

Paul Bryant Hey, I finally managed to add an image to a review! (Thanks Mariel!) Expect future reviews to be festooned with kute kitties.

message 6: by Mariel (new)

Mariel Yay kitties!

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