Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

Reading this book now by David Hajdu. The paperback just came out, can be found at Kino.

It was old crusty Bob Beerbohm who told me at San Diego last year that I should read this book. In fact, he brought me over to Bud Plant to look for a copy but it sold out.

Hajdu's thesis: comics as teenage rebellion predates rock n roll.

Some interesting facts:

"Invulnerable in the panels in the comic books, superheroes succumbed to common criminals on the newsstands. In the late 1940s, dozens of costumed characters, including Captain America, the Flash, the Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Human Torch, and the Submariner, were all discontinued by publishers quick to move on the new trend, crime. In 1946, crime had represented about 3% of all comics, in 1947, 9%; in 1948, 14%. 30 new crime titles appeared in 1948 alone." (p. 110)

"In 1948, the 80 million to 100 million comic books purchased by America every month generated annual revenue for the industry of at least $72 million. (The usual cover price was 10 cents, although some digest-format books sold for 5 cents apiece.)" (p. 112)

Not forgetting that around this time, some states were already legislating against the sale of crime comics to teenagers. The 'king' of crime comics then was Crime Does Not Pay (Lev Gleason, Charles Biro, Bob Wood).

Not long after that, "the frenzy over crime comics began to subside". Love comics became the next wave. (chapter 8)

A few years back, I bought alot of Jack Kirby and Wally Wood stuff from ebay. A review of Kirby's comics output in the 1940s and 1950s (pre-Silver Age) would reflect the trends described above.

This is one of my best buy:

Put out by Eclipse Comics in 1988 when the King was still alive.

[over the years, some of the romance comics have been reprinted by both DC and Marvel.

There's even a book about this genre.]

Picked this up as well:

which is not really from the 1940s but something Kirby did in 1971. Fascinating crime stuff that reflects the vibracy of the genre.

And the reason why this book is called the 10 cents plague - it's because comic books were priced at 10 cents from the 1930s all the way to the early 60s.

Found this out for myself when I picked up 70 Years of Marvel Comics Poster Book. The price of comic books remained the same at 10 cents from the late 1930s (Marvel Comics #1) to early 1960s (FF#1). Of course, the number of pages went down while the price remains the same.

The price slowly increased after that:

Amazing Fantasy #15 - 12 cents
Avengers #92 - 15 cents
Luke Cage #1 - 20 cents
Hulk #181 (1st app of Wolverine!) - 25 cents
Ms Marvel #1 - 30 cents
Howard the Duck #30 - 35 cents
X-Men #141 - 50 cents
(somewhere along the line, I know it went up to 60 cents and I remember Marvel was holding on to that price while DC raised theirs to 75 cents)
Secret Wars #7 - 75 cents

and then it went on to $1, $1.25 and so on.

On the same trip to the comic shop, I also picked up Astonishing X-Men #30 and that is cover priced $2.99.

Now it's the $3 plague.

1 comment:

B0N0V0X said...

Lotsa titles (e.g. Transformers, Marvel Dark Reign) are already priced in the $3.99 range. Already mutating to the $4 plague.