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text 2014-05-10 21:07
Friday (oops Saturday!) 56: Ten Cent Plague
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America - David Hajdu

What's silly is that I remember reading page 56 and thinking "oh yeah, I'll need to use that one next Friday." What's nice about this excerpt is that it's a great example of the author's use of detail and description, in this case of New York city tenement houses.


"...One of [Charles] Biro's childhood friends, Rudy Palais, lived with his five brothers and sisters in a sizable German-Austrian building on Eighty-first. Most of the families in the area were Catholic, and the children who did not attend parochial school went to P.S. 157, where Biro and Palais (following Cagney by a few years) met.


"It was a rough-and-tumble kind of place," recalled Rudy Palais. "It wasn't like you see in the movies, really - it was rougher. You had to know how to fight. The thing for me was art, and that didn't go down too well, unless you were quite good at it, and then it earned you a degree of respect. You didn't have to fight as much. That's what brought Charlie and I together. He wanted to be an artist - as a matter of fact, he told everybody what a great artist he was, but he couldn't draw a thing."


Which then goes into a story about how Palais found out many years later that Biro couldn't draw - Biro was using a pantograph to trace drawings, and had used it throughout his career, but managed to get by because "he was a talker, and that gave him an edge."


And here's another story in the book, which I have to share because you can't read this and not think "wow, now THAT'S some controlling behavior." But I do love how it ends (and yes, I've added all of it, you'll see why.)


p 214:  "...Janice Valleau Winkleman, whose father hatched a plan to liberate her from comics, late in 1953. From time to time, when her husband, Ed, was away on business, her father would drive her from her house in suburban New Jersey to Manhattan so she could deliver her artwork to Busy Arnold. One morning, he drove her to Wall Street, held her by the arm, and brought her to a finance company, where he had set up a job interview without her knowledge. She was furious, and not only because she was wearing slacks, flats, and no makeup. "He practically kidnapped me," Winkleman said. "He said, 'no daughter of mine has to do that such and such - that crap.'


"I said, 'But I like it. What's wrong with it?' He never saw a thing I ever did. He just heard something about how terrible...comics [were]. He thought he was saving my life." Winkleman went through the interview, with her father standing behind her. She was offered the job and said, as she recalled, "Thank you very much. It sounds great. I'm sure my father would be happy to take the job." Declining a ride uptown to Arnold's office at Quality Comics, Winkleman walked to the subway with her artwork in hand and picked up a couple of magazines to occupy her during the ride. As she flipped through one, she realized why her father decided suddenly to enact his intervention. The November 1953 issue of Ladies Home Journal, a magazine her mother read devoutly, had an article titled "What Parents Don't Know About Comic Books," an excerpt from an upcoming book by Dr. Fredric Wertham."


So did you have a WTH moment with that story too?! I thought Winkleman handled it well. (Ok, that's the mild, me-as-retold-for-this-post response - actual response while I was reading it? I said "yay!" out loud.) She's the artist that the author begins the book with in a prologue - as an example of one of the many that didn't stay in the art business after the Comic Book Scare. Which I'll go into in the eventual book review, and probably write way too much because hey, I had lots of this in grad school and tend to get way too into it. (Also I've found a great example of a comic presented as an example of the "War on Christmas" from that era, which I find wildly amusing. Because, fun parallel in that. Heh.)

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