Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Drawn by Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf
There were many heroes in the Civil Rights Movement. Representative John Lewis was at ground zero.
Growing up in the south was and still is tricky. I remember being hit from both sides by friends and family who believed things were better/worse before segregation. Still, I managed to grow into an adult and know that what went before was a great wrong. A great wrong that John Lewis had to face head on and my hometown of Nashville, TN was the backdrop.
March takes place on January 20, 2009, the day Barack Obama was sworn into office as President of the United States of America. As Representative Lewis is preparing to leave for the inauguration he stops to talk to a woman and her two young boys about how he became a leader in the civil rights movement. As he recounts the story of growing up in Alabama prior to the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling a very unfortunate history unfolds on the page. John Lewis’ story is no different from so many other African Americans in pre-civil rights America but what sets this story apart is the humanity and personal care taken to make all the stuff we heard in history class come alive; and not just with artwork but with a compelling story.
Throughout the book we see Lewis as he becomes aware of the differences in attitude between the north and south. He starts to want more from life than being treated less than human. He enrolls in college and starts corresponding with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He meets Jim Lawson and joins the Fellowship Of Reconciliation. They organize non-violent protests like the sit-ins at department store lunch counters. Slowly things changed and we have John Lewis along with many others to thank for that.
Admittedly a part of why I liked this story so much is because the setting is one I am familiar with. Nashville in the 1950’s was a totally different place than when I grew up but the landmarks remain, kind of. The department stores that hosted the history changing sit-ins are long gone but as a child I visited each one of these establishments. I heard the stories about the sit-ins and the marches but they didn’t resonate at the time. After reading March those long closed department stores have a different significance. History was written there and America changed at those lunch counters. That was no small feat and thankfully the resonating waves of those changes are still in motion today. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on it must be acknowledged that the election of Barack Obama was the culmination of all those brave men and women who risked their lives to make a better world for future generations.
I am a big fan of the black and white indie art style. Nate Powell really captures the mood and heft of the story with his use of shading and shadow. His drawings of historic figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi as well as Representative Lewis are not photo realistic but still convey the strength and earnestness of these great men and their struggle for the equality they deserved. So many times the artwork in comics fight with the story for attention, here it works alongside this harrowing story to draw in the reader and express the core emotions of the characters depicted. With a few pencils Powell conveys the fear and anger, the determination and ultimately the love these brave souls felt in their struggle. The raw emotion leaps from the page with little or no narrative supplied by the characters themselves. These are powerful images for a powerful story. My hat is off to Nate Powell for such beautiful art.
March Book 1 ends at a crossroad in history; one that was and still is significant to the civil rights movement. I loved this chapter and cannot wait to read the rest of this story. The general consensus is that comic books are for kids. If that is the case then every child should read March so that we do not repeat the sins of our past.