Friday, April 11, 2008

What's on The IPod - The Ten Cent Plague

Speaking of horror comics, as I was in the last post, there's a new and really good book about the history of the four-color pages called the Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu. Everyone from Slate to the New York Times has talked about it so I know this is a news flash to all.

It's practically required reading for comics aficionados. I've certainly learned a lot listening to the audio version, authoritatively narrated by Stefan Rudnicki. (Listen to a sample at Audible.)

I first read of Fredrick Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent in the introduction to Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, purchased for its plethora of Golden Age reprints when I was a kid.

My parents--who lived through the '50s but missed out on the comics hoopla, probably focused more on concerns of Communism and atomic war--were appalled by the discussions and the suggestion Batman and Robin and Wonder Woman might have subtext on homosexuality and bondage respectively.

Historic Detail
The Ten Cent Plague offers great details on the history of illustrated narratives with quotes and insights from some of the early creators before it gets around to its examination of Wertham and the gasps about EC style horror comics.

I'm a casual student of comics history, but as I mentioned the book offers up great details and tidbits I'd never encountered, everything from tales early newspaper syndication to facts about Will Eisner, Bob Kane and William Gaines of Mad Magazine fame.

A few things I probably should have picked up before now:

  • Eisner's The Spirit--one of my favorites--had a lookalike rival named Midnight. That he had a different name was unique. Rights not being what they are today in the early days of pen and ink storytelling, you might have rival newspapers each running their own version of The Yellow Kid or the later tales of errant immigrant youth The Katzenjammer Kids.
  • Wonder Woman's creator William Moulton Marston really did have a thing for bondage and he had a wife and another woman living with him.
  • M.C. Gaines and his son William didn't get along all that well.
There's much more to learn as Hajdu follows the post war evolution of true crime stories, self-regulating boards and early cries for restraint in a day when everyone, not just kids with broken XBoxes, read funny books.


Charles Gramlich said...

That sounds pretty interesting. I'm woefully uneducated about comics but that connections to real lives of the creators is pretty fascinating.

Lana Gramlich said...

I never put the Wonder Woman/bondage thing together, but now that you mention, it makes perfect sense...How odd...

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