Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Where I grew up, every boy on the block had comic books “ stacks of them. Crime comics, war comics, horror, Westerns, even romance. We bought them, read them, traded them and collected them.
Our parents disapproved of certain comics, but we never dreamed our books might be confiscated because they were the principal cause of juvenile crime. After all, none of us were delinquents. Yet that very possibility confronted us in the spring of 1954.
As David Hajdu chronicles in “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America,” pressure built against comic books from the late Forties into the early Fifties. Parent-teacher associations, civic clubs, churches and schools condemned the reading material and encouraged children to organize comic-book bonfires, which some did. Hajdu reports that many of those kids later regretted the book burnings as entirely too reminiscent of Hitler’s Germany.
Hajdu’s narrative is totally compelling. His book is important not only to those who love comic art, but as emblematic of our capacity “ when threatened by juvenile misconduct “ to find cause and effect where it does not exist. Video games, anyone?
The irony of this episode is delicious. Gaines lost all his comic titles save one: Mad, which he converted to a magazine and made millions. Today, the comic books cited in Wertham’s discredited treatise are especially collectible and sell at a significant premium. Comics not only survived, but in recent decades matured into graphic novels and inspired dozens of fabulous movies.
To paraphrase Neil Young: “Hey hey, my my. Funny books will never die. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye. Hey hey, my my.”
“Eric J. Groves