Book #2 – The Ten-Cent Plague

Book #2 – The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu

I feel lucky to have grown up in the environment I did, at least reading-material-wise. My mom, though dismissive of fantasy literature, never disallowed anything I wanted to read. Granted, I never brought home The Joy of Sex or anything particularly racy, but I read plenty of horror literature. This was probably due to my mom being a reader of science fiction and some horror. I grew up reading what was around me. I never read too many comic books, but the attitude of my mom was that any reading was good reading. I also attended a Lutheran grade school and I don’t remember any "banned" literature. In fact, I seem to remember copies of Mad magazine being available. I might be misremembering and was generally oblivious, but I never had the feeling that anything was off limits. Again, maybe there was just never any challenge to the system.

On the periphery of my knowledge, I knew there was past controversy over comic books. I had no idea that it put hundreds of artists out of work, that it substantially changed the content of comic books for many years, or that the controversy had absolutely no basis. I had never truly understood the meaning of *panic*. Sure, I encounter and roll my eyes at alarmist headlines all the time. I know there are groups that take exception to many things, whether there is basis for the attitude or not. But I have strong faith in the freedoms that the US is based on. I suppose it is because of those freedoms that panics can happen.

David Hajdu provides a firm history of comics from the turn of the 20th century onward, placing the certain types of comic within their historical context. Comics are very much a product of what is going on socially and culturally. Until the late 40s and early 50s, there was the usual amount of objection to comics, but when juvenile delinquency started to rise in the late 40s, comic books took the blame despite no scientific evidence that comics caused delinquent youngsters. At the same time, comics had swung around to horror and hardcore crime. It was easy pickings for their attackers.

The one thing I would have like from the book is more emphasis on the second half of its sub-title: "How It Changed America." It certainly changed comic books, for a while at least. (Hajdu leaves off in the 50s. Via WikiPedia, it would seem that the Comics Code has, thankfully, eroded over time.) Instead, considering the book’s Epilogue, it would seem that the better subtitle would have been "How Changing America Changed Comic-Books." It would be nice if Hajdu had distilled down the lessons that might be applicable to current controversies like video game violence (speaking of influencing the young) or vaccines and autism (speaking of panics with no scientific basis). Maybe it’s the up to the reader to work that out for themselves.

As for other questions about reading this book:

Since I’m not a great fan of comics, why did I choose this book? I saw it, I think, on someone’s weRead to-be-read list, and it looked interesting.

Did I learn anything craft-wise? Hard to learn much from non-fiction. This history includes many names being thrown around and it’s interesting that I didn’t care about keeping track of them after a while. I suppose that says something about how much one should worry about a cast of thousands.

—###—

The Plan is going well. Next up: Tim Pratt’s Hart & Boot & Other Stories.

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