Rep. John Lewis brought his young collaborator to the Alabama bridge, to where he long ago spilled his blood, because it wasn’t enough to simply see it in photos. The artist, hired to render the congressman’s memoir, needed to listen to the history right where freedom was forged through the fear and tear gas — and to stand where John Lewis stood on that day he thought he was going to die. ¶ That infamous incident on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, on that Bloody Sunday in March 1965, opens Lewis’s graphic-novel debut, “March: Book One,” a riveting and beautiful civil-rights story that hits stores Tuesday. ¶ Created with award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell and Lewis staffer Andrew Aydin, “March” fittingly lands two weeks before the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28 March on Washington. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech as the final featured speaker to step to the Lincoln Memorial lectern; Lewis, then a 23-year-old leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the day’s youngest speaker.
Now, poignantly, Lewis is our last.
(Top Shelf Comics) - \"March: Book One\" the new civil-rights graphic novel by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
The congressman is scheduled to attend the anniversary ceremonies as the march’s sole surviving featured speaker. Which is why this graphic novel should be embraced as a gift to history; “March” digs in with the compelling perspective of someone who lived it — who could see eventual victory even through the beatings and the jailhouse bars.
The sickening krak of the police batons. The rolling klink of the tear-gas canisters. And the bone-crushing thud of bodies hitting the ground beneath men on horseback. From Page 1, Lewis and Aydin’s words, and Powell’s deft pen, put you squarely in the bruising maw of a movement.
At 73, the Georgia Democrat is living history, and he knows that a graphic novel holds unique storytelling powers. “It’s another way for somebody to understand what it was like and what we tried to do,” Lewis told me. “And I want young children to feel it. Almost taste it. To make it real. . . . It’s not just the words but the action and the drama and the movement that bring it alive.”
Lewis consented to “bring it alive” through a comic because five years ago, when Aydin told fellow staffers in Lewis’s office that he was headed to San Diego Comic-Con, he was met with some “geek” teasing. Not from the congressman, though. Lewis, many decades their senior, proved to be the hippest voice in the room in the ways of comics. The staffers stopped joking when he told them it was a comic book that had helped persuade him to join the fight for civil rights.
As a young man, Lewis got his hands on the 1958 comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,” which, he said, with its poster-colored lesson of nonviolent protest, inspired many student activists. “It was about the way of love,” Lewis says. “We were beaten and arrested . . . and that comic book inspired me to make trouble. But it was the good kind of trouble.”
Lewis, in turn, has written a graphic novel laced with life lessons. And to his credit, in penning “March,” he has hewed to King’s advice on preaching from the pulpit. “Make it plain, son,” Lewis remembers King saying. “Make it plain. And make it real.”