By: Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (writers), Nate Powell (art)
The Story: John Lewis shares his story and his history with non-violent resistance and social justice.
The Review: It may seem strange to think that Congressman John Lewis and one of his staffers attended this year’s San Diego Comic Con, stranger still to imagine they went there to speak, but I assure you that that’s exactly what happened.
Congressman Lewis and Andrew Aydin were there to discuss this book, the first of three volumes chronicling the Congressman’s story and the nation-changing events he was a part of. And while neither of them has ever penned a graphic novel before, the result is something special.
Congressman Lewis, if you’ve never heard him speak, is a talented storyteller and the comic reflects this. Indeed, the comic focuses around the congressman’s narration, diving into stories from his past as they arise. Sections of the book vary drastically in how important dialogue is to the scene, but there’s always a rich symbiotic relationship between words and pictures that helps you feel a part of Lewis’ tale.
As much as the book documents Congressman Lewis’ life, it’s also a meditation on social engagement, the start of the civil rights movement, and how far the legacy of that struggle has brought us. No matter how familiar you are with the racial injustices of the 1950s, seeing them illustrated, both literally and figuratively, can really drive them home. I expect that each reader will relate to March differently, depending on their thoughts, feelings, and relationship with the issues described, but the graphic novel makes a concerted effort to break though the history to the truth and to share that truth in simple, human terms.
Though the narration is the driving force behind much of the comic, the dialogue is sharp and cleverly delivered. In many ways the dialogue is as much as part of the art as it is part of the writing, if you subscribe to such distinctions. Swooping tails lead word balloons from one panel to the next as they snake around the action and words grow and shrink to represent volume and importance.
Nate Powell’s artwork may be in black and white, but he fills his panels with depth and vibrancy. Careful shading and impressive stylized expression-work make each panel lively and memorable.
Powell shows a real talent for abstraction, delivering some of his best and most striking images when called upon to render the writers’ metaphors or scenes from the perspective of the young John Lewis. Best of all, though, is Powell’s excellent use of darkness. Jet-black backgrounds and silhouetted subjects appear frequently and with tremendous power to express despair and hope. Even scenes as theoretically light as a boy preaching to his chickens, becomes a powerful moment under Powell’s dramatic lighting.
The Conclusion: 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 is an artful and important graphic novel; one that I expect will find its way into classrooms and comic collections alike. Congressman Lewis has given us a glimpse, not only into his life, but into an important time.
If you’d like to read some more detailed and personal thoughts about March, visit my personal blog.