Talking the Walk
Of all the striking details in March Book One — and there are more than a few — the one that I keep coming back to is this: As a boy, John Lewis would preach to his family's chickens.
Lewis, an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963 and since 1987 the United States 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 vernacular the word is, as well as how many dimensions it has, but those qualities actually make it the perfect word.
March is a memoir in comics form told by Lewis, co-writer Andrew Aydin, and 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, and just really, really good. You can read a generous preview — the cover and Pgs. 29-41 of the book — at the website of Top Shelf Productions, which published Book One last summer in a handsome softcover designed by Powell and Chris Ross [$14.99 US; ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2; also digitally at $7.99 US].
I wasn't prepared for the fact that we don't actually get to the March on Washington itself in Book One, although if I'd considered how it was indeed only Book One of three I might've been — but neither did it disappoint me. On the contrary, I appreciated the greater breadth of Lewis's story and I look forward to seeing it unfold in future volumes, just as I look forward to rereading this volume when the second and third are published. Martin Luther King Jr. is only seen briefly here, yet 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 for how they are seen from Lewis's own perspective.
There's 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 — which it's worth remembering was officially called The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Economic opportunity was as much a concern as, if not inextricable from, the kind of essential social parity whose absence across too much of America was the impetus for the peaceable sit-in actions at lunch counters depicted in the book. Following the prologue, March establishes January 9th, 2008, the day of Barack Obama's inauguration as President, as the present from which Lewis recalls his story and history. The framing sequence of Lewis's conversation with a mother and her two sons visiting his Congressional office that morning gives Book One an even greater depth.
Just as the breadth and depth of March surprised me, so did the way it unfolds artistically. Nate Powell is an acclaimed, accomplished graphic novelist, but thanks to several years of Internet exile and time away from the comics world I'm not familiar with his work. I recommend Tom Spurgeon's interview with Powell, which explores many of the formal choices that came to mind as I read the book myself — and made me laugh out loud at the entirely appropriate yet at the same time contextually dubious phrase "a significant use of blacks". Book One displays really smart comics storytelling, although not I think in any fashion that would get in the way of the reader who doesn't care about that sort of thing, simply one more reason to admire this justly celebrated reflection.
Cover and Pgs. 27, 63, & 77 of March Book One © 2013 John Lewis and Andrew Aydin.
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You can also purchase the book, in print or digitally through a variety of platforms, directly from Top Shelf. Dedicated comics shops and other booksellers should have it too. Plus there's always your library — not just a great place to borrow it, but a great place to donate a copy.
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