Torches and Pitchforks


Via Blog@: Here’s a nice long excerpt from a new book called “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America” by David Hajdu. It’s about, obviously, that pretty dang weird period in the ’40s and ’50s when comics were scapegoated for every bad thing in the universe. The conventional wisdom held that crime comics turned kids into juvenile delinquents, horror comics turned them into thrill killers, Superman made them jump off buildings, Wonder Woman turned them into lesbians, and Batman and Robin turned them gay. Some cities actually banned them, and Congress held hearings about them, which definitely didn’t turn out the way the comics industry wanted.

Here’s a short sample from the book:

The hearings on comic books and juvenile delinquency, like the earlier sessions on organized crime, came across as judicial proceedings rather than legislative inquiries. (At the 1951 crime sessions, one senator, Herbert R. O’Conor of Maryland, had accidentally referred to one witness as “the defendant.”) Not just Bill Gaines but the whole of comic books appeared to be on trial, and the phantoms of the crime hearings seemed to incriminate them by association. Foley Square, Estes Kefauver, cameras and lights, talk of murder and bloodshed and vice. Gaines soon realized what had happened. “It was a difficult experience, because all of a sudden you find that everyone you know kind of regards you as a criminal,” he recalled. “There had been the famous Kefauver hearings before this, with criminals and the Mafia, and they were very big. So all of a sudden we comic publishers, and me in particular, find ourselves classed in with Frank Costello and all the other crooks dragged up before Kefauver. Kefauver technically was not the head of the comics committee, but Kefauver was pretty rough on me.”

Gaines, bedridden with stomach pains for days after the hearings, did not return to work until Monday, April 26. Having lost a good ten pounds during the previous week, he invited Feldstein to lunch and found an unexpected benefit of his Foley Square ordeal. The waiters at Patrissy’s seemed especially attentive, and they brought a full plate of biscotti for dessert, on the house. Feldstein supposed that word of the hearings had spread around Little Italy, and Gaines was now presumed to be in with the Mob.

Much more at the link, of course. Go read it all.

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