Review: The Ten-Cent Plague

The Ten-Cent Plague is David Hajdu’s amazingly comprehensive early history of comics.  The book traces the medium’s development from its first days when it simply reprinted newspaper strips to its near death under the heel of the comics code authority.

The main focus of the work is on the anti-comics hysteria raised by Frederick Wertham, Estes Kefauver, and various community organizations across America.  Hajdu’s approach to the subject is fairly one sided, which is mostly appropriate.  But I have seen slightly more impartial portrayals of Wertham, ones where he was at least shown to believe in his own cause.  Hajdu on the other hand just seems to view him as an unrepentant glory hound.

But that aside the book is brilliant.  I knew a lot of this history going in and this book still taught me an incredible amount.  Besides the comic-book scare Hajdu goes into the history of EC (publisher of MAD and Tales from the Crypt), the birth of crime, romance, and underground comics, and the scary amount of public book burnings that swept America all too soon after WWII.

This history is a must for anyone interested in comics, censorship, or American life in the 40’s and 50’s.

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