Book Forum runs an excerpt from David Hajdu’s upcoming The Ten Cent Plague, a history of the persecution of comics books in the ’50s as the source of all juvenile delinquency.
The progressing crusade against comics on multiple levels provided Harry Wildenberg the opportunity to light many a cigar in satisfaction by 1949. In the final weeks of the preceding year, the National Parent-Teachers Association had issued a directive for a “national housecleaning” of comic books and had distributed a tutorial to help its local chapters spur municipal and state legislation to regulate the sale of comics, and thousands of PTAs around the country began following the plan. Around the same time, the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers distributed a set of guidelines for enacting comic-book controls. “The criminal and sexual theme of these tales have [sic] been the direct contributing cause of many incidents of juvenile delinquency and to the imbedding of immoral and unhealthy ideas in the minds of our youngsters,” wrote the general counsel for the institute. “It is inconceivable that a workable plan cannot be evolved. The police power can and must be exercised so as to eliminate the vice of objectionable comic books.” Shortly thereafter, the United States Conference of Mayors published a ten-page handbook, Municipal Control of Objectionable Comic Books, and the municipal-government trade journal, American City, reported, “Comic Book Control Can Be a Success.”
This looks to be an essential volume for the shelf on comics history. Oddly, we were checking out the Amazon page for the book and saw this plug from one Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University:
“Every once in a while, moral panic, innuendo, and fear bubble up from the depths of our culture to create waves of destructive indignation and accusation. David Hajdu’s fascinating new book tracks one of the stranger and most significant of these episodes, now forgotten, with exactness, clarity, and serious wit, which is the best kind.
“Now forgotten”? Ah, Prof. Wilentz, you must have never met a 40-year-old comic book fan. Fear of a New Wertham is a clear and present danger for those of us who grew up schooled on the Seduction of the Innocent Menace lurking around the corner. Hopefully reading this book will help us say “Never again!” and mean it.