THROUGHOUT “MARCH,” Rep. John Lewis’s memoir of the civil rights movement, hovers the presence of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It is King who first reached out to the then-teenage Lewis in the 1950s, and King who spoke on the same dais as Lewis in 1963 Washington, and King who went to Selma to march alongside Lewis two years later, after Lewis was beaten by racist forces there till he thought he saw death.
And when Lewis decided more recently to write his National Book Award-winning graphic-novel trilogy with Andrew Aydin, it was a comic book about King published six decades ago — a comic that first launched the young Lewis on his heroic path of historic nonviolent protest — that helped illuminate his steps.
“When Andrew and I would work on the script for a scene with Dr. King, I would think back to that old comic book, ‘Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,’ and I would imagine Dr. King reading that script in 1957 when the comic book was just a dream,” the Democratic congressman from Georgia tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.
“I felt a kinship with him, like we were following his lead once more,” Lewis continues, “trying to keep the struggle moving forward and doing our part to continue building the beloved community.”
Aydin, a digital director and policy adviser on Lewis’s staff, worked with Lewis and illustrator Nate Powell to consider just how to present King.
“Dr. King’s presence was felt on nearly every page, whether he was in the scene or not,” Aydin tells Comic Riffs. “But at the same time, you couldn’t let Dr. King become deified. Dr. King was a real human being struggling to lead this movement — to be moral and ethical and tactical and love his wife and raise his children and mentor a generation of young activists to follow in his footsteps.
“Dr. King had to be real, and often that meant going where folks didn’t necessarily expect you to go.”
To that end, the graphic novel collaborators carefully placed King not simply high in the pulpit of oratory, but more often on the pavement of change.
“Dr. King’s scenes in ‘March’ are not giving great speeches or sermons, though those are certainly there,” Aydin says. “Most of Dr. King’s scenes are him working the phones and talking to people, trying to find solutions and common ground or avert crises, or channel other people’s actions in a productive direction.
“This comes from John Lewis’s perspective [as he] saw Dr. King from the inside,” he continues. Lewis “saw a different leader than most everyone else got to see — and that was the Dr. King we tried to bring to the page.”