What happened when Americans discovered what their children were reading between luridly colored covers.
“The panic over comic books falls somewhere between the Red Scare and the frenzy over UFOs among the pathologies of postwar America,” writes Hajdu (Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña, 2001, etc.). The road that led from opportunistic moralists through a newly militarized and nationalistic society to paper bonfires was swiftly traveled during the 1950s, according to this sobering history. Hajdu begins by laying out the exponential growth of the comics industry in the early 20th century, covering some admittedly well-traveled territory with aplomb. A thick network of improbably talented and productive artists, writers and money men worked at dizzying speed, and outrage was nearly always snapping at their heels. Twice it seemed the industry was about to be submerged by a wave of indignation—pre-1917 moral watchdogs decried crude Sunday funnies for distracting the lower classes from the Sabbath; their 1930s counterparts critiqued Superman as a proto-Nazi authoritarian—but world wars intervened to divert people’s attention. The 1950s, however, were a different story. Superheroes had been shoved to the side in a fickle marketplace by lurid crime and horror pulps. By the end of 1954, with McCarthy on the wane and no great national crisis to absorb a country accustomed to witch hunts, scolds quickly whipped up an outcry over comics, quoting so-called experts who linked them (with no evidence) to a perceived growth in juvenile delinquency. A wave of Senate hearings and outraged editorials led to an ugly coast-to-coast parade of comic-book burnings and the end of a popular art form. Half the comics on newsstands disappeared between 1954 and ’56; five major publishers folded.
An ugly and hysterical episode in American history, vividly rendered by a dogged student of the era.