When comics were bad

51Pp7Xt+1Zl. Ss500 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.

Link via Bookslut


  1. Chris says

    “…In the final weeks of the preceding year, the National Parent-Teachers Association had issued a directive for a “national housecleaning” of comic books…”

    I guess now we know who to thank for making comic book rare and collectible items.

  2. Torsten Adair says

    Parental hysteria results from placing the blame on an aspect of teen culture not understood by adults. While there could be a firestorm over manga, similar to the Otaku murder case in Japan, it is unlikely the entire industry would be tarred and feathered. Instead, like the National Cartoonists Society then, certain publishers and organizations will distance themselves from the controversy.
    Libraries have written acquisition rules, so that beachhead is secure. People may protest a movie, a book, a show, but the medium survives. Eternal vigilance, sure, but not eternal trepidation.

  3. James Van Hise says

    About 15 years ago a guy in Orange County, Calif wrote a book (self-published?) which tried to do to modern comics was SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT did nearly 60 years ago. He largely targeted Image Comics and any book which featured violence and females in tights, though ultra-violent books like GRIPS which existed back then were easy targets for him and anyone like him.

  4. Torsten Adair says

    I thought someone would take offense over the Royal Family storyline in Hellblazer. Start there, continue onto Preacher, and add some tentacled anime for the nightly news. Simmer. To this base, add other media, statistics, shocking news stories from local newspapers, Serve this gumbo during February sweeps for maximum exposure, preferably during an election year.

  5. says

    I guess now we know who to thank for making comic book rare and collectible items.

    Well, that and all the paper drives during WW2.

    I guess the question is: are today’s moral guardians too busy with video games to go after comics en masse, or can they multitask?

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