THE TEN CENT PLAGUE: THE GREAT COMIC BOOK SCARE AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA
By David Hadju
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
David Hajdu is an antidote to ersatz historiographers. He’s unearthed and analyzed formative but forgotten figures (such as Billy Strayhorn) and moments of 20th-century Americana. In The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America, the Columbia University journalism professor turns his attention to Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of the 1940s and early ’50s, when a cadre of young outsiders engendered a new and controversial artistic medium: the comic book.
Hajdu surveys Famous Funnies pioneer Harry Wildenberg, eccentric militant Major Nicholson-Wheeler, Crime Does Not Pay impresario Charles Biro, psychological activist Frederic Wertham, and Superman creator Jerry Siegel. But milquetoast EC Comics owner Bill Gaines, partly responsible for the horror and sci-fi craze that accompanied the atomic age, is at the center of the book’s narrative.
The Ten Cent Plague thoroughly documents the censorship struggles and creative flourishes of a subculture and revolutionary art form, but it lacks the freewheeling energy of earlier histories. For all of his rhapsodizing about the authentic juvenile experience within comics, there is a dearth of playful and existential perspective. Instead, the writing takes on an insipid encyclopedic tone, forcing cohesion on a subject matter renowned for random creativity. Large portions of text come across as just the kind of parental lesson comic book enthusiasts might shun. Nonetheless, Hajdu provides a necessary investigation into the moment when America stepped from a black-and-white past into a Technicolor future. (Erik Morse)
UNCREDITED: GRAPHIC DESIGN AND OPENING TITLES IN THE MOVIES
By Gemma Solana and Antonio Boneu
Initially, Gemma Solana and Antonio Boneu’s survey of credit sequences in movies sported the title The Art of the Title Sequence. But now it is called Uncredited: Graphic Design and Opening Titles in the Movies, a gesture of solidarity toward the legion of graphic artists, particularly in Hollywood, who have designed credits for movies without being acknowledged for their efforts. Early sections of this hardcover slab of imagery and text — which weighs a good five pounds, in case you want to strengthen your biceps — explore the white-on-black and title-as-logo roots of studio movies from the first half of the 20th century. The creators of signature sequences such as the umbrella-twirling opening of Singin’ in the Rain (1952) are praised while remaining anonymous. Even when credits were credited, as with Pacific Title and Art Studio’s splendorous text for Gone with the Wind (1939), it was under a corporate blueprint.
Uncredited‘s latter chapters right those wrongs committed by the film industry by exploring the efforts of Otto Preminger’s and Alfred Hitchcock’s frequent partner-in-design Saul Bass (probably the only credit specialist to receive exhibition and monograph showcases) and his wife Elaine, as well as Jean Fouchet (an influence on Jacques Demy?), Pablo Nuñez (who created the credits for Victor Erice’s 1973 The Spirit of the Beehive), Dan Perri, and others. A climactic section about current trends displays work that uniformly pales in comparison to the work by Arcady, Fernand Léger, and especially Mary Ellen Bute and Jean-Luc Godard in a central chapter devoted to concepts. Uncredited is lavishly, gorgeously illustrated (complete with a DVD) and playfully designed. There are errors galore in the informative text though — a sharper editorial eye was needed. And who exactly is that mysterious “QT” who seems to have provided captions for a number of the illustrations? (Johnny Ray Huston)