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A Year of Free Comics: Dr. Wertham paging Dr. Karen in SHELF IT

NATE POWELL’s latest for THE NIB is an unfortunately timely reminder of the dire state of censorship.

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In “Shelf It: Dr. Wertham paging Dr. Karen” by Nate Powell, a short comic posted to The Nib on Tuesday, February 1st, 2022, the current state of comic book censorship is apprised… And it’s an all-hands on-deck emergency.

“Shelf It”

Powell is the cartoonist who collaborated with the late Congressman John Lewis on the March and Run trilogies, and he draws on his experiences surrounding those books to discuss the sinister methods in which censorship takes hold – for example, he cites a 2014 incident in which a middle school library refused to purchase the nonfiction March: Book One, fearing retribution from angry parents (including possibly the loss of her job).

In addition to his personal experience with having his own work censored, Powell has long considered symbols, and how they are used to control meaning (see the “Pecking Order” chapter of 2021’s Save it For Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest, which you can also read online for free at The Nib).

This expertise is evident throughout “Shelf It”: note specifically the phone case clutched by the adult who is censoring the child’s eyes, for example.

Available to Read Now

“Comics are the most democratic mass storytelling medium,” writes Powell, which explains why fascists are so eager to ensure the people who need them most can’t get their hands on them. The only solution? To read the comics anyway!

Note the covers of Maus, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, and Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio.

Did you get a chance to read “Shelf It” on The Nib? What did you think of the urgent plea in protest of censorship? The Beat wants to hear from you! Share your thoughts with us, either here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat.


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1 COMMENT

  1. The reference to Fredric Wertham in the title is unfortunate.

    Perhaps the OP is unaware that Wertham established the first psychiatric clinic in Harlem, and was for example an advisor to Rosa Parks. The portrait picture of him most often used was taken by famed photographer Gordon Parks (later to direct “Shaft” and “The Learning Tree”).

    Let’s just say that his legacy is complicated, due to his part in having horror comics banned by Congress. Congress was not interested when he tried to follow up with a critique of television. I’m sure he would have been delighted with March, demonstrating the positive that could be done with the medium. When Jan Strnrad in the Amra fanzine claimed that Conan was full of latent homosexual signals, Wertham criticized him in a follow-up issue for misrepresenting the field of psychiatry. One wonders what Wertham in the 1970s made of Wertham in the 1950s.

    I’d say a re-appraisal of Wertham, with a more nuanced view, is long overdue.

    I have no doubt where Wertham would come down on the latest wave of book banning sweeping parts of the US.

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