Dr. Frederic Wertham, the Dr. Strangelove of comic-book history, wrote in his firebrand sucker punch of a book, Seduction of the Innocent, that comics appealed to the reader “with the brain of a child, the sexual drive of a satyr, and the spiritual delicacy of a gorilla.”

Wertham’s campaign to discredit comics, freak out parents and make a name for himself is counterpoised in David Hajdu’s excellent book, The Ten-Cent Plague, with the voices, lives and careers of comics’ lifeblood, artists and writers for whom “low expectations” granted great personal freedom.

Eccentric, marginalized, extraordinarily funny (we meet Will Elder, who as a child took discarded beef carcasses, propped them up in old clothes at the railroad tracks and cried out to passersby that they had killed his friend Moishe) and weird (Bob Wood could tell the mood of Crime Does Not Pay artist Charles Biro by the emotional state of his monkey), Hajdu’s book is a thoughtful study of the comic-book scare and an exuberant evocation of a world that is gone gone gone.

Grade: A

The Ten-Cent Plague will be available March 18.