David Hajdu

In his The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26), David Hajdu finds (comic) book burning mobs in the Midwest, censorship at the newsstand, and a self-promoting 1954 congressional hearing on this pulpy menace by an ambitious politician. Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee hoped to use the issue to become vice president under Adlai Stevenson (they were subsequently trounced by the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket), but he succeeded in destroying half the comics industry in the process. His chief prosecutor was a German-born psychiatrist, Frederic Wertham (né Wertheimer), and his chief victim was the publisher of EC Comics, William Gaines (né Ginzberg). It’s a great story, and Hajdu—the Catholic-raised pop-culture chronicler of Lush Life and Positively 4th Street—will elaborate on its Semitic underpinnings in this NextBook-sponsored event. He didn’t tell it first (see Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Danny Fingeroth’s Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero), but he tells it best—with fine detail and compassion for all parties. Wertham might today seem a quack, but he was a passionate liberal who defended Richard Wright and even Ezra Pound. And Gaines was no simple martyr—he alienated many of his best artists, several of them Jews, who went onto thrive at Playboy, Marvel, and DC Comics. And in the cartoon carnage, he founded Mad magazine, which has survived even as TV (and now video games) lure children away from those supposedly corrupting comics. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., 744-2289, www.nextbook.org. $6-$8. 7:30 p.m. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., April 17, 7:30 p.m., 2008

 
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