History is full of key flash points between generations - the late 50's rise of rock 'n'roll. The Summer of Love. The Vietnam War. The grunge movement.
Ok, maybe that's a stretch, but one of the key ideas behind David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Comic Book Scare & How It Changed America is that one of the first clashes between generations happened...around comic books (more specifically, crime and horror comics). Given that this period of comic history has often been glossed over, this is a book that helps provide some well-needed details, shedding light and providing greater insight into why comic books were seen as potentially harmful.
This is definitely one of those must-read books for fans of both comics, graphic literature, and those who are interested in pop cultural history. Much like Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow, Ten Cent Plague talks about the players behind the scenes (like Charles Biro) as well as the major players like William Gaines. In an era of heightened paranoia (it was, accordingly, in the midst of HUAC activities), the fact that comics at the height of their craft were simply seen as compendiums of highly violent and sexualized imagery and amoral storytelling - and, as a result, the "cause" of juvenile delinquency - seemed only natural.
But to Hajdu's credit, he provides a well-needed sense of balance to the proceedings - in many ways, revealing key pieces of hypocrisy from the "older generation." One key passage describes how certain adults "used" youth to sell an anti-comic message - one youth, in particular, who never even read or had access to comics. How the early Comics Code Authority, far beyond their mission, acted as a censorship body. But a key passage is how Hajdu, within four pages, tears apart Frederic Wertham's arguments in Seduction of the Innocent, revealing it as an amalgam of poor science, bad logic, and poor straw man arguments. Even though we have an "don't-we-know-better-now" attitude about that period of time...some of the seeds of youth rebellion seemed to have been sown during that time. (Of course, it also provides much greater insight into how Mad magazine not only came about, but how it seemed to carry a greater anti-establishment message to youth who later acted on it. Small consolation, but perhaps some good comes out of greater hard).
Much like it began, Hajdu's book ends with a listing of artists and writers who did not work after the Comics Code Authority instituted its changes. In a time when fans decry the Siegel family for suing Time Warner for rights to Superman, this is one of those books that desperately needs to be read...and cries out for a "mandatory" rating.
However, consider this - those who ignore history repeat it despite themselves.