The Ten-Cent Plague

Written by David Hadju
Published by Picador

Now more than any other time in recent memory is it important to acknowledging the fallacies of government as well as how incredibly easy and common it is to misdirect and misinform the public. With discontent and misunderstanding becoming commonplace in America, history plays an important role in helping us ensure change. It has been a trend in the last several decades (or longer) to blame juvenile delinquency and the slow disintegration of moral values and society in general on whatever the new and popular thing of the day is. From rock and roll to video games, something gets blamed for normal teenage rebellion and associated with the actions of very ill people. It seems that more than any other medium, however, comics suffered from the most from this ridiculous thought process.

In The Ten-Cent Plague, David Hadju explores the history of comics, from the popularization of the Yellow Kid in the 1890’s through the immediate effects of the Comics Code Authority and the shut down of EC Comics in the late 50’s. The book can be chilling, even surreal, in its descriptions of an America that was okay with burning books and blindly accepted the often blatant lies of men and government who may have meant well, but were more interested in something to blame than fixing anything. I often found myself angry or shocked, and had difficulty accepting the image Hadju paints of a post-war America in which adults told children that it was okay to burn and ban dubiously-dubbed “questionable” books.

Despite being somewhat disturbing in his descriptions of society at the time, Hadju remains impartial, allowing the facts to show how ugly this history really is.  The story unfolds with drama, rarely feeling dry or uninteresting. The explorations of the growth and evolution of the comic book industry in its early days are detailed, providing information that may not always seem relevant, but is always interesting. Being a book-without-pictures (Mom would be proud), there is obviously no art to discuss. However, the mental painting that Hadju creates is excellent, opening the readers eyes to the surprising depth of the comics industry and a very different idea of post-war America.

The America that Hadju describes is not one that is often talked about. It is something that is easy to look over--or just not acknowledge--when discussing the history of the country. Comic books play an important part in American history, as well as the history and evolution of censorship in the country. The Ten-Cent Plague explores this in ways that are always intriguing and interesting, and feel relevant when applied to some things that are happening today. Hadju chronicles a time that needs to be acknowledged and discussed while remaining impartial throughout. This is a book that draws frightening comparisons to the current climate, where blame is turned on all the wrong things/people, and should be required reading not only people interested in the history of comics, but for every member of our government as well.