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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  3,082 ratings  ·  351 reviews
In the years between World War II and the emergence of television as a mass medium, American popular culture as we know it was first created--in the pulpy, boldly illustrated pages of comic books. No sooner had this new culture emerged than it was beaten down by church groups, community bluestockings, and a McCarthyish Congress--only to resurface with a crooked smile on it ...more
Hardcover, 434 pages
Published March 18th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2008)
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Understanding Comics by Scott McCloudMen of Tomorrow by Gerard JonesThe Ten-Cent Plague by David HajduMaking Comics by Scott McCloudComics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
books about comics
276 books — 85 voters
The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsBreaking Dawn by Stephenie MeyerThe Host by Stephenie MeyerThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferCity of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Best Books of 2008
1,600 books — 6,913 voters

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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
Paul Bryant
Feb 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Richard Derus
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not a real comic book fan, but I found this fascinating. The history & players of comics themselves were interesting with names of publishers, writers, & artists running together into the maelstrom of an emerging product. I recognized some, although not many. In a lot of ways, the early days of the Internet reads the same. A lot of big promises, bounced checks, fortunes made & lost, theft of ideas, & pretty wild characters. It was great to hear how many minorities were employ ...more
Jason Pettus
Jun 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
(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
Scott S.
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Before reading The Ten-Cent Plague I could sum up what I knew about this slice of American history in only a sentence or two - basically, Dr. Frederic Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent in 1954 and it killed 'The Golden Age' of comic books. (However, the industry's notable revival would be 'The Silver Age,' arguably beginning with Marvel's Fantastic Four by Stan Lee in 1961. In quick succession came Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Black Panther, etc., to name only a few.)

Well, here
Jun 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Mike (the Paladin)
Jan 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Allan Olley
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really engaging look at the movement to censor comics that lead to the comics code authority in the mid-fifties. It also includes a good introduction to the origin of the modern comic book in the 20s and 30s, including profiling efforts of pioneers like Will Eisner and this takes up a significant fraction of the book, setting the stage. The main focus of the book is the period after WWII to the mid 1950s as the campaign against comics coalesces around people like Fredrick Wertham. The ...more
Nicolo Yu
Sep 07, 2011 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
Michael Neno
May 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Can a crisis be fomented? Can fear, though possibly ungrounded, provoke changes in public policy? According to author David Hajdu, it can and it did. This story is well told in his book: The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America. According to Hajdu, it was essentially a compendium of "experts" (some legitimate psychologists, others scare-mongers) that arose in the early 1950's and frightened newspaper publishers, parents and educators with their own interpretatio ...more
Jim Marshall
Feb 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
John Porcellino
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Matt aka
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Ten-Cent Plague changed my life! OK, that was an attention-getting headline but let me explain what I mean. I have been a card carrying comic book collector for over 32 years now without stopping. I have collected Marvel and DC superhero comics books such as Avengers, Daredevil, Captain America, Justice League, and Superman back to the 1960s. But I never knew much about the history of the golden age of comics from the 1940s and 1950s.

This book tells a great story about the creators of the go
Jan 02, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I listened to the audiobook version. An informative history of the great comic book scare in the 1950s. The author did a good job providing the history opposition to comics, from the funny pages in the Sunday papers to "crime comics." These critiques reached its peak in publication of Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic Wertheim, which resulted in Congressional hearings and state legislation. I was generally familiar with the story, but was surprised at the attempts by many groups (the Catholi ...more
Bernardo Mozelli
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very well researched book, fantastic at painting how the comic scare was at the same time very pervasive and extremely empty and at demistifying the notion that comic books only became REALLY serious in the 70s (or even worse, the 80s). Giving this 4 stars because, once again, people writing about pre-CCA comics fail to realize a lot of the weirdness and subversion carried over to super-hero comics, my least favourite self-fulfilling prophecy of all time.
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting but as the title states the history covers the opposition to comics and the bizarre McCarthy type congressional hearings that took place in the early 50's. It's extremely detailed and so can be a hard read but if you are doing research this is great.
Jowanza Joseph
Apr 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
This book is just a bit too long and tries to drown the reader with facts rather than telling an interesting story. This is too bad because the content overall is pretty interesting. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but what It came down to was just finding it to be really good information, like reading an academic paper or encyclopedia.
Aug 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
In The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, author David Hajdu attempts to examine the birth of the comic book in America and trace its childhood and adolecense up to the point where people generally freaked out about how this wicked, perverted, and macabre art form was mauling the morals of this great country and how it had to be stopped. Or at least injured a bit.

We get incredibly detailed discussions of how these funny books started out as Sunday newspaper s
Jan 25, 2017 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
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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."
“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.” 1 likes
“Page-one news as it occurred, the story of the comics controversy is a largely forgotten chapter in the history of the culture wars and one that defies now-common notions about the evolution of twentieth-century popular culture, including the conception of the postwar sensibility—a raucous and cynical one, inured to violence and absorbed with sex, skeptical of authority, and frozen in young adulthood—as something spawned by rock and roll. The truth is more complex. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry added the soundtrack to a scene created in comic books.” 1 likes
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