A Journal of the Plague Year
by T. Hodler
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
As a lot of you probably already know, great writer-about-comics Jeet Heer recently got into a small disagreement with another great writer-about-comics, Michael Chabon, in response to a piece Heer wrote about David Hajdu‘s new cultural history of the crusade against violent comics, The Ten-Cent Plague. I don’t have too much to say about it, other than that in his Slate article, and in several other recent pieces, Heer has been making a worthy attempt to depict the complexity of the 1950s comic-book scare. (That second link, a discussion between Heer and Fredric Wertham biographer Bart Beaty, is particularly interesting.)
I wish the same could be said of the ongoing debate about the book between Hajdu and Douglas Wolk at The New Republic (to which both are frequent contributors). Wolk’s a smart guy, and as evidenced by the Jeet Heer links above, there’s a lot of potentially meaty topics to discuss in Hajdu’s book, so why waste this opportunity with a lot of talk about how comic books are too taken seriously!? Hajdu’s answers aren’t particularly enlightening, but I can’t really blame him after Wolk starts with that bizarre hobbyhorse tangent inspired by a stray Newsarama (!) interview question that has little or nothing to do with the subject of Hajdu’s book. Can we ever lay off this tired “are comics sufficiently recognized?” stuff? Anyway, the exchange isn’t over yet, so there’s time for things to get more cogent. It would be great if Wolk followed up on some of the questions obviously posed by Heer and Beaty’s writings.
UPDATE: The second round of questions is up, and it’s really not much better. I’m curious to see if Hajdu can make more sense out of them than I can. (And Bernie Krigstein‘s artistic accomplishments should be judged only by how many of his stories are famous? Really?) Oh well.
UPDATE II: Since Tom Spurgeon linked to this post this morning calling these comments “unkind”, I wanted to point out that I have found Wolk to be a very likeable person in all of my encounters with him — he very generously gave me advice before a panel I moderated at SPX (something I’d never done before), for example. This is simply meant to be friendly argument. That may not need saying, but I’m weak and can’t help myself. (I like Tom, too. I like everybody!) All the same, I really think that Wolk could (and should) have done a better job with this.
UPDATE III: In the final round, Hajdu gives it the old college try, and quite rightly defends Krigstein, but understandably gives up on answering Wolk’s weirdest question: “If there hadn’t been a conflict over morality in entertainment going on, how do you think the comic books of the ’50s might have been received at the time?” That one stumps me, too. Actually, upon further reflection, it doesn’t: I’d say about the same, but with fewer bonfires.