February means Black History Month, Black History Month means civil rights discussions and remembrance for battles fought, people lost, and societal progress (or the lack thereof). Being born in Baltimore, MD, civil rights and the struggles contained therein are commonplace in everyday education. MLK day isn’t just a day off from class, but a city-wide holiday.

Here, in the (rather conservative and primarily white) Midwest, greater knowledge of these issues takes a little hunting down. Granted, the bullet points are all part of most school curricula: MLK, Malcom X, Brown v. Board of Education, but other than that, it takes some seeking out. There are the conventional means: inspirational films, history lessons out of a textbook, etc. This week, with Dr. Ellington’s help, I discovered a means I wasn’t quite aware of before. The graphic novel, duh.

March by John LewisCopyright – Nate Powell

The Book

“March,” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, was quite the discovery, and quite the surprise. John Lewis was speaker #6 on the day of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the only one still alive. He is currently a politician, a representative for Georgia, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama. Needless to say, the guy has quite a pedigree. Andrew Aydin works under Lewis in his congressional office, and Nate Powell is a graphic novelist known for humanitarian work – he was featured in a collaborative book telling the tales of Darfur.

The tale alternates between the day of the inauguration of Barrack Obama as president, and Lewis’s participation in the civil rights movement. Lewis does his best to educate two younger black boys on, as their mother calls it, “their history.” It details Lewis’s upbringing on a farm, his tending / attachment to the chickens, his enrollment at a Baptists’ college, and subsequent push to be accepted into a college that doesn’t accept colored people.

I’m not sure how Lewis came across the idea to have his tale told in the form of a comic, but I’m certainly glad he did. The book is semi-biographical, semi-fictional, and since I’m an ignoramus, I hadn’t heard much of Lewis. I only knew about the aforementioned figureheads of the movement that everyone else knows about. The story is fantastic – thanks in no small part to it being true. I can’t come up with much to say about it. It’s always fascinating to get the perspective of someone who actively participated in the civil rights movement. It lends the tale real humanity, as opposed to being just another special on A&E or another textbook chapter.

SLJ1309w_FT_lewis_porch The Artwork

The artwork, done by Nate Powell and all black and white, is phenomenal. Each person is done in full detail, quite akin to their actual likeness (if they were indeed real people). As Scott McCloud taught us before, these are real people who had a real struggle. We aren’t meant to be able to insert ourselves into the tale – we’re along for the ride.

Powell’s attention to detail is the strongest point of the artwork. The memory of the run-down state of the colored buses, bathrooms, etc. etc. becomes starkly real.

Other touches that I wouldn’t have noticed without Scott McCloud is the different font styles Powell uses depending on the situation. When police / state troopers are harassing people, the speech bubbles are surrounded by spikes. When the activists sing their songs of victory, the font goes from a traditional one to one in cursive to emulate a hand-written letter.

My only real issue with the book iiiis the fact that I’ve only read the first. Until I continue my search and find the others in the series, I feel as though I can’t comment too much more on it, though I am enjoying it thoroughly.

So, to be continued.

Libertatem

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Comments
  1. Nice post! I hadn’t thought of a graphic novel for a historical story – now I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for them! Thanks!

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