Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review: The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu

The Ten-Cent Plague
by David Hajdu

This book chronicles the early days of the comic book, from its inception as full-color reprints of the Sunday funnies to the madmen at E.C. Comics shutting their doors and closing up business. It's less about the good times than it is about the bad, primarily the medium being used as a scapegoat time and time again by the media, religious organizations, and overzealous PTAs looking to place the blame of society's ills somewhere. Comic books simply made an easy target, easier even than television and film, because as an art form it was still new, and geared primarily toward children. It was something, to paraphrase the Fresh Prince, that parents just didn't understand.

What started out as mere parental concern quickly grew out of hand, resulting in Fahrenheit 451-style book burnings and mass hysteria. There were judicial inquiries, which more resembled trials than anything else, and comic books were all but given the death sentence. The Comic Code Authority was put into effect with such a rigid code of decency that it was effectively impossible for some publishers to continue their work. Among the many ridiculous bans, the words "weird", "horror", and "crime" were no longer allowed to be used even in the comic book's title, which pretty much meant that everything EC Comics put out was contraband. Without the CCA's seal of approval, distributors wouldn't distribute, shippers wouldn't ship, and sellers wouldn't sell. Bill Gaines, the head honcho at EC, attempted to fall into line, but it was of no use. He and his cohorts were run out of business.

EC is but one aspect of this work, but perhaps the archetypal one. They stood for everything that the code was against, and so a good deal of paper is spent (rightfully) depicting their struggle.

It's a fascinating book, really, for anyone interested not only in the history of the comic book, but the history of America itself. And although a little bit more humor in the writing wouldn't have hurt, for those who lived through and suffered at the the hands of the Comics Code Authority, it's no laughing matter. For many of them, this was their passion and their livelihood, squashed by fascist censorship. So it's only fitting that the book ends with a lengthy list of those who never worked in the medium again--a memorial monument to those all but blacklisted because they weren't afraid of the word "weird".

This book is currently ranked #18,373 in books at Amazon.com. Visit David Hajdu's website, or purchase the book now!

Long live the weird.
--J/Metro

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