His Story

Of all the striking details in March Book One — and there are more than a few —
what I keep coming back to is this: At the age of five, John Lewis began preaching to
his family’s chickens.

Title; protesters with signs; John Lewis and others at a lunch counter

Lewis, an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963 and since 1987 the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s Fifth District, is a great storyteller. March is a great story. I’ve just left those sentences alone after too much time spent considering adjectives other than “great” due to how easy and vague the word is, but it’s apt.

March is a memoir in comics form told by Lewis and co-writer Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell. This first volume of a planned trilogy is at once expansive and intimate, powerful in its subject matter while engaging in its narrative. You can read
a preview at the website of Top Shelf Productions, which published Book One last summer in a handsome softcover designed by Powell and Chris Ross.

A boy with suitcase and man in suit walking to car as family members wave from house porch. 'I know now that Uncle Otis saw something in me that I hadn't yet seen.'

Despite this indeed being merely Book One of three, I expected to get to the March on Washington in its pages; we don’t. Yet that wasn’t a disappointment. On the contrary, I appreciated the larger breadth of Lewis’s story, and I look forward to seeing it unfold
in future volumes same as I look forward to rereading this volume when the second and third books are published. Martin Luther King Jr. is only seen briefly here but, as presented from Lewis’s own perspective, his appearance and references to such other icons of the African-American Civil Rights Movement as Rosa Parks and Emmett Till cast these figures in a new light.

Martin Luther King speaking at a lectern. '-- I came to Nashville not to bring inspiration, but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community. No lie can live forever. Let us not despair.' White and black patrons sitting at a lunch counter. Two black men walking to food joint. 'And at 3:15 on May 10th, 1960, those six downtown Nashville stores served food to black customers for the first time in the city's history.'

The book opens with a brief prologue set on March 7th, 1963, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, during the first of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, five months before the one on Washington, D.C. — which it’s worth remembering was titled in full The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Economic opportunity was as much a concern as, if not inextricable from, the kind of social parity whose absence across too much of America became the impetus for the peaceable sit-in actions at lunch counters depicted in the book.

March then establishes January 9th, 2008, the day of Barack Obama’s Presidential inauguration, as the present from which Lewis recalls the history of his story. The framing sequence of Lewis’s conversation with a woman and her two sons visiting his Congressional office that morning gives Book One an even more profound depth, especially in the passages describing his earnest, serious nature as a child.

A black man grabbed by shoulder, then several black men being held and shoved down by whtle police officers. 'All right, I'm placing you under arrest for disorderly conduct.' 'I was not afraid. I felt free, liberated.'

Just as its breadth and depth impressed me, so did the way March unfolds visually in Nate Powell’s capable hands. I recommend Tom Spurgeon’s interview with Powell, which explores many of the formal choices in layout, inking, and lettering that came to mind for me while reading the work — and which made me laugh out loud at the wholly appropriate but contextually dubious phrase “a significant use of blacks”. March displays really smart comics storytelling, although not I think in any fashion that would get in the way of the audience who doesn’t care about that sort of thing, simply one more reason to admire this celebrated reflection.

Excerpts from March Book One © 2013 John Lewis and Andrew Aydin.

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