The Ten-Cent Plague

The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

David Hajdu


An Eisner Award Nominee
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of the Year
A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

In The Ten-Cent Plague, David Hajdu looks at the rise and fall of comic books, the art defined by creativity, irreverence, and suspicion of authority.
In the years between World War II and the emergence of television as a mass medium, American popular culture as we know it was first created—in the pulpy, boldly illustrated pages of comic books. No sooner had this new culture emerged than it was beaten down by church groups, community bluestockings, and a McCarthyish Congress—only to resurface with a crooked smile on its face in Mad magazine.

The Ten-Cent Plague shows how—years before the rock and roll music of the 1950s—comics brought on a clash between children and their parents, between prewar and postwar standards. Created by outsiders from the tenements, garish, shameless, and often shocking, comics spoke to young people and provided the guardians of mainstream culture with a big target. Parents, teachers, and complicit kids burned comics in public bonfires. Cities passed laws to outlaw comics. Congress took action with televised hearings that nearly destroyed the careers of hundreds of artists and writers.  Hajdu aims to revise common notions of popular culture, the generation gap, and the divide between “high” and “low” art.


Read an Excerpt

Sawgrass Village, a tidy development about twenty-five miles east of Jacksonville, Florida, is named for the wild marsh greenery that its turf lawns displaced. It has 1,327 houses, each of them pale gray on the outside. On the inside, the one at 133 Lake Julia Drive is a dream shrine—a temple not to the past, like many other homes of retirees, but to a life imagined and denied. All the walls in its eight rooms, as well as the halls, are covered with framed paintings by Janice Valleau Winkleman, who moved there from Pittsburgh with her husband, Ed, in 1982, when he ended his four-decade



  • David Hajdu @ KPL

    Hajdu discusses The Ten-Cent Plague at the Kalamazoo Public Library

  • David Hajdu talks about The Ten-Cent Plague at Google

    Writer David Hajdu visits Google's Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss his book "The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America." David Hajdu is the author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn and Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina. This event took place on March 21, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google program.



Praise for The Ten-Cent Plague

"Marvelous . . . a staggeringly well-reported account of the men and women who created the comic book, and the backlash of the 1950s that nearly destroyed it....Hajdu’s important book dramatizes an early, long-forgotten skirmish in the culture wars that, half a century later, continues to roil."--Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)

"Incisive and entertaining . . . This book tells an amazing story, with thrills and chills more extreme than the workings of a comic book’s imagination."--Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"A well-written, detailed book . . . Hajdu’s research is impressive."--Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"Crammed with interviews and original research, Hajdu’s book is a sprawling cultural history of comic books."--Matthew Price, Newsday

"To those who think rock 'n' roll created the postwar generation gap, David Hajdu says: Think again. Every page of The Ten-Cent Plague evinces [Hajdu’s] zest for the 'aesthetic lawlessness' of comic books and his sympathetic respect for the people who made them. Comic books have grown up, but Hajdu’s affectionate portrait of their rowdy adolescence will make readers hope they never lose their impudent edge."--Wendy Smith, Chicago Tribune

"A vivid and engaging book."--Louis Menand, The New Yorker

"David Hajdu, who perfectly detailed the Dylan-era Greenwhich Village scene in Positively 4th Street, does the same for the birth and near death (McCarthyism!) of comic books in The Ten-Cent Plague." --GQ

"Sharp . . . lively . . . entertaining and erudite . . . David Hajdu offers captivating insights into America’s early bluestocking-versus-blue-collar culture wars, and the later tensions between wary parents and the first generation of kids with buying power to mold mass entertainment."--R. C. Baker, The Village Voice

"Hajdu doggedly documents a long national saga of comic creators testing the limits of content while facing down an ever-changing bonfire brigade. That brigade was made up, at varying times, of politicians, lawmen, preachers, medical minds, and academics. Sometimes, their regulatory bids recalled the Hays Code; at others, it was a bottled-up version of McCarthyism. Most of all, the hysteria over comics foreshadowed the looming rock 'n' roll era."--Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times

"A compelling story of the pride, prejudice, and paranoia that marred the reception of mass entertainment in the first half of the century."--Michael Saler, The Times Literary Supplement (London)



Reviews from Goodreads



  • David Hajdu

  • David Hajdu is the author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn and Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña.

  • David Hajdu Copyright Michelle Heimerman


David Hajdu

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    The Ten-Cent Plague

    The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

    David Hajdu