I have just finished reading David Hajdu’s new book “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America”. Hajdu is not a comic book historian; most of his previous writings have concerned music. I have always meant to read his “Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina” which as I remember got great reviews. I think I should correct myself, David may not have previously been a comic historian but he certainly is one now. This is a great book describing the rise and affect of the anti-comic book sentiment. Most comic fans awareness of this subject is limited to Dr. Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” and the effect of the Comic Code but Hajdu probes much more deeply. I did notice a couple of small errors, for instance he mentions Bullseye and Western Scout as titles for Simon and Kirby’s Mainline Publications but Western Scout was used as a description for Bullseye and was never an independent title. As far as I can tell such errors are few and very minor, they never affect the subject of the book. The book has an appendix of comic artists who abandoned or were abandoned by the industry because of all the negative reaction and the drop in comic book sales that resulted. This list is impressively long and chilling in effect. In the serial post The Art of Romance I have already noted the presence in that list of some artists who had worked for Simon and Kirby.
I got a big kick out of some of the photographs in this book. One shows two young boys trading “bad” comics for “good” ones. The comic at the top of the pile held by one of the boys was “Justice Traps the Guilty”. Right next to that photo is another of a woman taping a small sign onto a store window identifying it as one that sells only “good” comics. You can see the comic book rack through the window and one of the titles being sold was “Fighting American”. Both titles were originally Simon and Kirby creations although they may not have been producing Justice Traps the Guilty at the time the photograph was taken. So Joe and Jack were both a corrupting and a beneficial influence on youngsters. Go figure.
I am sure that not only comic book fans will appreciate this book but certainly anyone interested in comics of the late ’40s and ’50s should read it. Is this book a one time entry by David Hajdu into the field of comic history? I hope not as he provides a great perspective on comics.