|March: Book One|
|Page count||128 pages|
|Publisher||Top Shelf Productions|
|Date of publication||August 13, 2013|
|March: Book Two|
|Page count||192 pages|
|Publisher||Top Shelf Productions|
|Date of publication||January 20, 2015|
The March trilogy is a black and white graphic novel trilogy about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, told through the perspective of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. The first volume, March: Book One is written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated and lettered by Nate Powell and was published in August 2013, and the second volume, March: Book Two was published in January 2015 to positive reviews.
Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
When John Lewis was 15 years old and living in rural Alabama, 50 miles south of Montgomery, he first heard of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Montgomery Bus Boycott through James Lawson, who was working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.). Lawson introduced Lewis to Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, a 10-cent comic book published by F.O.R. that had a profound impact on Lewis. The comic book demonstrated in clear fashion to Lewis the power of the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. Lawson became a mentor to Lewis, and Lewis began attending meetings every Tuesday night with approximately 20 other students from Fisk University, Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, and American Baptist College to discuss nonviolent protest, with The Montgomery Story serving as one of their guides. The Montgomery Story would also influence other civil rights activists, including the Greensboro Four.
Congressman Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Lewis became a U.S. congressman for Georgia's 5th congressional district in 1987. While working on his 2008 reelection campaign, Lewis told his telecommunications and technology policy aide, Andrew Aydin, about the The Montgomery Story and its influence.
Aydin, who had been reading comics since his grandmother bought him a copy of Uncanny X-Men #317 off a Piggly Wiggly spinner rack when he was eight years old, found a digital copy of the book on the Internet and spent years tracking down an original print copy on EBay. Aydin explains The Montgomery Story's influence on March thus:
|“||Once he told me about it, and I connected those dots that a comic book had a meaningful impact on the early days of the Civil Rights movement, and in particular on young people, it just seemed self-evident. If it had happened before, why couldn’t it happen again? I think part of that impulse was born out of a frustration with the way things are in our politics and our culture. The election of Barack Obama seemed like it was opening a huge door, and I think perhaps we put all of our dreams and aspirations on him, and failed to recognize that we too have to rise up, and we too have to make our voices heard. He's one man and can't do it alone, and we did not make Congress, we did not make our state legislators do what we needed them to do to make the society we all imagined in that campaign. And when I look back on it, the Civil Rights movement was so successful at using non-violence in so many different ways: Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma in particular, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, all held different aspects, and when you look back at the comic book it was one tactic. It was the way they did it in Montgomery. But what if we took the broader story and showed all of the different tactics. Because what worked in Birmingham and what worked in Montgomery didn’t necessarily work in Albany, and there were different reasons. The Sheriffs started adapting. They were moving prisoners out of city jails and putting them in county jails, and things like that, so you couldn’t fill them up as fast. And we need to adapt. The tactics, the principles, they still work, but we need to adapt our use of them. And so showing how others had done that and how it had progressed seemed like such a natural way to sort of pursue those ends.||”|
Aydin repeatedly suggested that Lewis himself write a comic book, and eventually Lewis decided to commit to the project, on the condition that Aydin write it with him. Aydin, who was in the middle of writing his master's thesis on The Montgomery Story and how it helped inspire protest movements around the world, agreed to the project, which he calls a life-changing moment. Much of Aydin's work on the project was listening to Lewis dictate his life story, anecdotes of which Aydin had often heard Lewis relate to children, parents and others visiting his office, and transcribing it.
Illustrator Nate Powell
In the early 2010s, illustrator Nate Powell learned that Top Shelf would be publishing March, which Lewis and Aydin had finished writing. A few weeks later, Powell was contacted by Top Shelf co-founder Chris Staros, who suggested he try out for the assignment. Although he already had other projects lined up, Powell sent some demo pages to Lewis and Aydin, and over the course of their subsequent correspondence, they realized that Powell would be well-suited for the job. Although Powell had illustrated stories that were "true to life", such as the 2012 graphic Silence of our Friends, this would be the first time he would depict real-life historical figures, 300 of which Powell estimates are rendered in total in the trilogy. The scene in which Lewis meets Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time was the first page Powell drew for March, and although he found approaching that page difficult, he stated it made subsequent depictions of real-life people easier. Powell's approach was to develop a visual shorthand for each real person he had to draw, in the form of a "master drawing" to act as a reference template for that person's features, one that emphasized the person's skull structure, in lieu of referring constantly to photo reference in the course of the project, so that the characters would not look "too stale or photo-derived". He employed lifestyle and illustration books from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as Google searches, to depict fashion and automobiles of given time periods accurately.
The creative team eventually realized that the story required 500 - 600 pages, and that it should be broken up into volumes. This allowed Powell to give certain sequences the length he needed to render them at a pace he felt their required, in particular scenes of anxiety or tension. The scene in which Lewis wakes up and prepares to attend the Obama inauguration, for example, was expanded from two pages to five. Other examples were the scenes in which the child John Lewis hid under his house to avoid doing his farm chores or attend school, and the scene in which Lewis took a trip to Alabama through the segregated South with his uncle, which was expanded from two pages to six.
The first book in the trilogy, March: Book One, was released in August 2013.
The second book, March: Book Two, was released January 20th, 2015. Both books are available in paperback as well as digital form for electronic readers such as the Amazon Kindle.
On March 7, 1965, John Lewis, a young man, stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with fellow civil rights activists during the Selma to Montgomery marches on "Bloody Sunday". They are confronted by Alabama state troopers, who order the protestors to turn around. When the protestors refuse, the troopers attack them, beating them and dousing them with tear gas.
The scene cuts to the book's framing sequence, set on January 20, 2009, with Lewis, now a U.S. congressman for Georgia's 5th congressional district, waking up and preparing for the first inauguration of Barack Obama. He is greeted at his office by a woman from Atlanta and her two young sons, who want to learn about their history.
Lewis begins telling the family his life story, beginning as a young boy taking care of his parents' chickens on the 110 acres of cotton, corn and peanut fields in Pike County, Alabama that his father bought for $300 cash in 1940. Though Lewis was fond of his chickens and took pride in their care, he really wanted to be a preacher when he grew up, having been inspired by the Bible that an uncle of his gave him for Christmas when he was four years old. By the time he was five, he could read it by himself, having been particularly captivated by the passage in John 1:29 "Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." As Lewis grew older, he began spending more time doing schoolwork, studying and learning more about what was happening in the world around him, which would later lead to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
Although his parents had raised him to stay out of trouble, other members of his family encourage his interests in civil rights, such as his maternal uncle Otis Carter, a teacher and school principal who had long noted something special in Lewis. Carter took Lewis on Lewis' first trip north in June 1951, driving through the segregated South to Buffalo, New York, whose busy and unsegregated urban life was an "otherworldly experience" for young Lewis. Though happy when he returned home, home never felt the same to him. When he started school again months later, he began riding the bus to school, whose segregated nature was another reminder of how different the lives of Lewis and his siblings were from those of white children. Though Lewis enjoyed school, it was sometimes a luxury his family could not afford during planting and harvesting season, when they kept him at home to work on the farm. Lewis responded by sneaking off to school, despite scoldings by his father. In May 1954, near the end of Lewis' freshman year in high school, when the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case ruled public school segregation unconstitutional, Lewis thought it would improve his schooling, but his parents continued to advise him to not cause trouble. He also noticed that the injustices against blacks were not mentioned by local church ministers, and that his minister drove a very nice automobile. One Sunday morning in early 1955, Lewis was listening to the radio station WRMA Montgomery, when he heard a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Profoundly inspired by King's social gospel and other aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis, five days before his sixteenth birthday, preached his first public sermon. This event was publicized in the Montgomery Advertiser, marking the first time Lewis saw his name in print. Lewis subsequently attended American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville while washing dishes to make money. Wanting to do more for the movement, he repeatedly applied as a transfer student to Troy University, where no black student was allowed, only to be rejected. Lewis wrote to civil rights leaders Ralph Abernathy and Fred Gray, who arranged a meeting between Lewis and King. King explained that to attend Troy, they would have to sue the state of Alabama and the Board of Education, and that because Lewis was not old enough to file a suit, he would have to get his parents' permission. Fearful for both their lives and those of their loved ones, Lewis' parents refused.
By March 1958, Lewis was attending First Baptist Church in Nashville, and participated in workshops on nonviolence organized by Vanderbilt University Divinity School student James Lawson, who represented the Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.), a pacifist group committed to nonviolence. F.O.R. published a comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, that explained how to implement passive resistance as a tool for desegregation. As the group prepared to conduct a sit-in at a department store lunch counter, the Greensboro Four, inspired by the The Montgomery Story, conducted one of their own in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960. On February 7, the Nashville group conducted theirs, occupying a lunch counter at a local Woolworth store, refusing to cease amid verbal abuse by whites and the closing of the counter by the establishment. The group repeated this at other stores, and remained steadfast even when whites began inflicting physical violence upon them. The group was eventually arrested on February 27, 1960, the first of many for Lewis, but the lunch counters continued to fill with activists, as did the jails. Declining the jail's reduction of their bail from $100 to $5 each, the police eventually released Lewis' group later that night.
The activists were later convicted of disturbing the peace, and when they refused to pay the fines levied against them, they were given prison sentences, outraging the country and inspiring more sit-ins. Nashville Mayor Ben West ordered their release on March 3, and formed a biracial committee to study segregation in the city, asking the group to temporarily halt the sit-ins while the committee worked, to which Lewis' group agreed. When Vanderbilt University threatened to fire Lawson, dozens of faculty and staff threatened to resign in protest, making national headlines. On March 25, the group, numbering over 100, marched to nine downtown stores. Within local churches, the black community organized a boycott of all downtown stores, and the group resumed the sit-ins, rejecting the committee's suggestion for a "partial integration", which they viewed as indistinguishable from partial segregation. On April 19, dynamite was thrown at the house of Alexander Looby, an acquaintance and lawyer of the activists, and in response, thousands of protestors gathered at Tennessee State University to march on City Hall. Confronted by activist Diane Nash, Mayor West stated that he would do all he could to enforce the law without prejudice, and appealed to citizens to end discrimination, but could not force store owners to serve those they did not wish to. The next evening, Dr. King arrived to speak, and on May 10, six downtown stores served food to black customers for the first time in the city's history.
After the success of the Nashville sit-in movement, John Lewis’ commitment to change through nonviolence is stronger than ever — but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they are be tested like never before. Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the movement’s young activists place their lives on the line while internal conflicts threaten to tear them apart.
But their courage attracts the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old is thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
March: Book One holds an average 9.4 out of 10 rating at the review aggregator website Comic Book Roundup, based on five reviews.
Jim Johnson of Comic Book Resources gave the book four and a half out of five stars, calling it "an excellent and fascinating historical account" of Lewis' life and "an absolutely wonderful story about one man who played a very important role in one of this country's most important social revolutions, and continues to play an important part to this very day". Johnson further commented, "Powell's washed-out greytones combine with Congressman Lewis and Aydin's captivating words and story to give the entire account the feel of a compelling, period documentary."
Noah Sharma of Weekly Comic Book Review gave March Book One a grade of A-, calling it "an artful and important graphic novel". Sharma praised Lewis as a talented storyteller, called the dialogue "sharp and cleverly delivered" and remarked that Powell "fills his panels with depth and vibrancy". Sharma concluded, "The narrative tools employed by March are simple ones, but they form together to create something moving and complex. Aydin and Powell know when to let their art support the congressman and when to let his experience speak for itself."
March: Book One received an "Author Honor" from the American Library Association's 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Awards. Book One also became the first graphic novel to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, receiving a "Special Recognition" bust in 2014.
- Cavna, Michael (August 12, 2013). "In the graphic novel 'March,' Rep. John Lewis renders a powerful civil rights memoir". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
- Hughes, Joseph (September 16, 2013). "Congressman John Lewis And Andrew Aydin Talk Inspiring The ‘Children Of The Movement’ With ‘March’ (Interview)". Comics Alliance.
- "GA District 5 – D Primary Race – Aug 12, 1986". Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- "GA District 5 Race – Nov 04, 1986". Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
- Herbowy, Greg (Fall 2014). "Q+A: Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell". Visual Arts Journal. School of Visual Arts. pp. 48 - 51
- "March: Book One #1 Reviews". Comic Book Roundup. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
- Johnson, Jim (August 14, 2013). "March: Book One". Comic Book Resources.
- Sharma, Noah (August 20, 2013). "March (Book One) – Review". Weekly Comic Book Review.
- "Coretta Scott King Book Awards - All Recipients, 1970-Present". American Library Association. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
- MacDonald, Heidi (May 21, 2014). "March Book One is first graphic novel to win the RFK Book Award". Comics Beat.
- "About the Book". City of East Lansing & Michigan State University. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
- "Fall 2014 Selection". Georgia State University. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
- "About the book". Marquette University, Office of Student Development. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
- Staeger, Rob (October 10, 2014). "The 10 Most Subversive Comics at New York Comic Con". The Village Voice.
Media related to March at Wikimedia Commons