I attended David Hajdu's excellent event at Town Hall last night, which featured (or so I gathered) a significantly different lecture from those given on the rest of his book tour. The lecture was to promote The 10 Cent Plague, Hajdu's excellent history of the crackdown on horror and crime comics of the 1950s, which promoted the Kefauver Senate Subcommittee hearings on juvenile deliquency and led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority.
This event was put on by Nextbook, a non-profit organization that serves as a locus for Jewish literature, culture, and ideas; as such, Hajdu tailored his Town Hall event to how the creators of the era of The 10 Cent Plague employed comics to express their Jewish experience. For the evening's talk, Hajdu culled exclusively from interviews he conducted for the book that discussed Jewish identity but didn't make it into the final draft. So it was a night of bonus tracks, basically, which was great. He shared anecdotes from Will Eisner, Al Jaffee, Bob Oksner, Arnold Drake, Harry Lampert, Al Feldstein and many others.
But the highlight was a rare film short Hajdu was generous enough to share, a piece of propaganda he obtained from the Library of Congress and filmed in the 1950s to promote the idea that comic books cause juvenile deliquency. Specifically (but not limited to), torture. I wish I could have shot the whole clip, but my digital camera can only film for about two minutes before running out of space.
The film only gets better after these first two minutes, which are mostly introductory. It later becomes a dramatization of a group of suburban adolescents, all boys, happily hanging out in the woods, reading and trading comic books. The voice-over paints a more grim picture (I'm paraphrasing):
"Look at these children. When I was a boy, we too gathered in gangs like this, but it was to roast potatoes or learn skills and build things, like a raft to put in the river. Never did we just sit around READING. And what are they reading?"
Well, you can imagine. Tales of "sexual depravity, adultery, murder, etc." The sheer trauma of reading such pernicious filth turns the boys into a raving mob of sadists who con a younger boy into the woods, tie him to a tree, gag him, hold lit matches centimeters from his head and hair while slapping him around and punching knives into the tree he's bound to, and laughing in a way that makes me think Heath Ledger might have studied this film as research for the new Batman movie. It was like A Clockwork Orange starring the Little Rascals.
Which is to say it was fantastic. I almost bought into it, it was so good. I might have thought going in that knives and matches contributed more to juvenile delinquency than comics, but screw that notion.
Anyway, here's the clip. Thanks much to Mr. Hajdu for sharing with us. Buy his book (even though we didn't even publish it), it's good. It even has a killer Charles Burns cover. Now excuse me, I need to go roast some potatoes.
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