From the early days of comics, there have been people who claimed the art form to be “low art”, “a waste of time” and most critically “harmful to children.”
David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America
goes back in time to show how comic books of the 1940s and 1950s were subject to repeated Congressional hearings, legislative attempts (and successes) at regulation, and even widespread comics burnings by so-called “well meaning” individuals.
The book takes a special look at Fredric Wertham, who used the idea of comics making kids into deliquents to further his own career by using junk science and falsified information when writing SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. The Influence of Comic books on Today’s Youth. Wertham made appearances before Congress using panels from comics clearly removed from context while also having some strange ideas himself.
Wertham and others tried to tie juvenile delinquency in with readers of comics, which is the same as presently trying to tie delinquency in with video games, cell phones or television. There is at best no connection, as Hajdu shows.
The rise and fall of several genres of comics is covered (Crime, Detective, Romance and Horror) over many years, and some impression is made about the hundreds of (mostly derivative) titles that used to exist. There are a lot of interviews from people who lived through the times; and a lot of space is dedicated to William Gaines, who tried his best to save an industry only to be steam-rolled by the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
The end of the book has a long list of people who lost their careers over providing something that the buying public wanted, but that power-grabbing Church and Government officials didn’t want people to see.
My main issue with the book was the long list at the end. While it demonstrates the scope of how many lives censorship can destroy, it bordered on unneeded. I know these men and women had to find other work, but luckily (this time) nobody was thrown in prison or worse for the “crime” of drawing pictures.
The book was a little dry in places, but that’s what keeps it clinical. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.