This article considers the impact of the comic book on Ralph Ellison's concept of the novel form, tracing the comic book allusions scattered within Invisible Man as well as Ellison's work and association with Dr. Fredric Wertham, founder of the Lafargue Psychiatric Clinic in Harlem and instigator of a major crusade against comic books throughout the 1950s. Ellison's published writings and those stored at the Library of Congress make apparent that issues surrounding the comic book culture of the Cold War directly link up with many of Invisible Man's bigger themes: the rapport between violence and heroism, youth culture and leadership, Harlem and urban life.
Harlem and comics—in content as well as in their lurid and colorful vividness—seem to be intrinsically linked in Ellison's mind. This correspondence is explored through a reading of the Harlem riot episode in Invisible Man alongside Ellison's sociological writings on Harlem, most notably “Harlem's America” and “Harlem Is Nowhere,” Ellison's piece on Wertham's Lafargue Clinic. While Ellison does not unreservedly endorse the influence of comics on American youth, he does underscore the productive, imaginative dynamism comics possess as models of urban nimbleness and adaptability, qualities he regards as necessary for the promise of future leadership.