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text 2014-07-09 07:40
Library Reconnaissance and Book Haul!
Berthe Morisot : Impressionist - Charles F. Stuckey
Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals - Steve Young,Sport Murphy
The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism - Ross King
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America - David Hajdu
What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions - Robert L. Wolke
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris - David McCullough,Edward Herrmann
Memory: Volume 2, Trials to Bear: A Tale of Pride and Prejudice - Linda Wells
Impulse and Initiative (Pride & Prejudice Variation) - Abigail Reynolds
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World - Abigail Reynolds

I posted previously that we were going to scope out how the refurbished 2nd floor of our library looked. It was beautiful! Some of the shelves got reused but much of it was lovely, light colored wood, a new desk area for the reference section, and great places to curl up with a book. We stayed until we were basically kicked out.


I also picked up some books I'm looking forward to attempting to read. Not sure I can get through all of them, but I'm going to give it a serious try. These will cover the books I picked up yesterday as well. I'm NOT planning to get through all these in two weeks. Most of these I'll renew the full amount possible.

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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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text 2014-05-07 21:15
Reading in Progress: The Ten Cent Plague
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America - David Hajdu

This is a book I'd wanted to buy since I read it was being published - which was back in 1999. I was waiting for the ebook price to come down under $10 and that just wasn't happening (it's still in the neighborhood of $9 now). So I gave in (thanks to someone's gift of a giftcard) and got a hardback copy of it used, and still felt badly that I wasn't giving the author a cut of my purchase, because this is an area of scholarship I really appreciate. And now that I'm actually reading it I still feel that way, because a LOT of work went into this book.


I'll have a much longer post about this later because I had some fun grad school classes where we studied Fredric Wertham, otherwise known as the main villain of the Comic Book Scare years, as he's a wonderful example of how not to practice social science research. And it's a really memorable case too - which is why his bad example sticks in my head to this day. Aside from Wertham, author David Hajdu has spent a lot of time researching the history of comic books in America, and specifically a large number of comic book artists and writers who haven't had their names immortalized via fan love at conventions and don't get a mention in wikipedia. And by research I mean specifically that the author tracked down people and interviewed them. A lot of them. Both the creators of the comic books and the kids who read them. And also the kids who, in the middle of the "comic books are causing youth to turn to crime" furor, gathered to burn those comic books. As you can imagine, those are some interesting quotes, especially when they look back and try to describe their feelings.


In grad school I did various interviews and then typed up transcripts, which I'd then whittle down into fodder for various projects. I really enjoyed doing that, and you learn a huge amount when you're working to both get someone relaxed and talking, and trying to learn about a certain subject. There's always a huge amount of content you end up not using for multiple reasons (time, space, off-topic, etc). Which is why every time I read a work with so many interviews I wonder about the parts of the conversations we aren't reading. Not that I think Hajdu is withholding anything - not at all - you have to edit, it's a necessity. It's just that I bet that those interviews had many fascinating parts off topic, and I'd love to read more.


Here's where the interviews turn this book from just interesting to being an important historical document. If you google the two writers I'll quote below - Kimball Aamodt and Walter Geier -  there's not much online for either, an obituary or two, a short reference, but no articles specifically just about them and their careers. (Here's an example, a post discussing Jack Kirby references them - but it's mostly about Kirby.) Many of their coworkers seem to be similarly forgotten. Hajdu feels it's important to document these people - in the book's appendix there's a list that takes up 13+ pages (two columns of names on each page), with this sentence on the first page:


"Among the artists, writers, and others who never again worked in comics after the purge of the 1950s were..."


I'll post more about the whole Wertham/Comic Book Scare history (and lots of links and updated research) with the review - but for now let me post a couple of examples of the kind of content that's from interviews (citations are in the endnotes, by page number).


p. 160, discussing one of the genres that started getting more notice in the time when crime comics were getting most of the complaints (around 1947-1950):

"...Kimball Aamodt, whom the artist Alex Toth called "the greatest of the romance writers" for the gentle natualism of his stories.

..."Juvenile delinquency was the big thing then [that] everybody was talking about," Aamodt said. The wild kind of boys in the love stories were the delinquent types, so when a girl went in that direction in one of our stories, she was really making a statement. We didn't try to get political, but we didn't go in for the idea that the boy from the wrong side of town was wrong in every way. We tried to be a little more democratic. It was boy meets girl, but we took the writing very seriously - I was a frustrated novelist. We knew that a whole lot of kids were reading the comics and taking them very seriously, so we tried to do the same thing."

p. 162, Walter Geier, writer:

"I wrote just about every kind of comic - romance, Westerns, crime, weird adventure, he-man stuff, everything, but superheroes and teen-age humor, not because I thought [those genres] were dumb, although I did, but simply because the superhero market was dead and the editor at Archie wouldn't hire me," said Geier. "I thought romance is a complicated subject, and the young girls are pretty smart, probably smarter than boys. So I tried to give them something worthy of their attention." In a rare instance when he received a response to one of his story-length synopses, an editor told Geier, "Don't overdo it - remember, you're writing for the chambermaid in the hotel." Geier ignored him.

"That really bothered me," Geier said. "I don't know about chambermaids, but I was still pretty young then, and the young girls I knew weren't stupid."


The interesting thing about the "don't worry, it's just for the working class" reference to the chambermaid - it was the same type of "we have to dumb this down" snobbish attitude publishers had in the era of the illustrated newspapers of the 1800s.


And of course the same cry of "we must censor this to save the children!" in the Comic Book Scare itself we've all read/heard before in relation to movies/books/popular music/television/video games/[fill in new media someone decides to freak out over here] - but more on that when I actually finish the book.

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review 2013-04-12 18:25
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America - David Hajdu

Less than two years after the publication of Ray Bradbury's vision of future bonfires, Fahrenheit 451, the comic-book burnings of 1955, like the many that preceded them in the mid-to-late 1940s, were an inversion of Bradbury's prophecy. In the philistine dreamscape of Fahrenheit 451, a fascistic government institutionalized book burning, banishing all publications that expressed ideas or had artistic merit. The only volumes left unscathed were those deemed of practical value or those beneath contempt: trade journals, pornography, and comic books.


This is the story of American comic-books' Golden Era and how those books were attacked by fear-mongering 'specialists' and self-appointed defenders of good taste. The scariest thing about this book is that the attackers actually succeeded in castrating the medium and censoring the artists for the sake of decorum and 'saving the children'. The descriptions of book-burning events organized by the children themselves (instigated by concerned parents and teachers) were especially hard for me to wrap my head around, specially in a post-war context, but this book makes it easier to understand. It also helps put the history of comics into perspective.


All in all, a recommended read for comic-book enthusiasts.

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review 2012-10-08 00:00
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America - David Hajdu Rating: 4* of fiveJust read it. It's sixteen kinds of fascinating and a few more kinds of awesome.Seriously. Just go get one and read it! Quit looking at reviews! Too much good stuff in here that anyone alive in this horrifying over-religioned right wing fucking nightmare country we've allowed to develop in our beloved USA should know about! Censorship and fear-mongering and lying sack-of-shit conservatives are not new developments...just more common than ever.ETA This encouragement brought to you by someone who has never liked comic books even when they're called "graphic novels" and got all pretentious and stuff. It's still an excellent read, and a hugely important subject.
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