In telling his life story in the pages of a graphic novel, U.S. Rep. John Lewis pays homage to a comic book that propelled him into the civil rights movement and, ultimately, into Congress.
The Georgia Democrat’s “March: Book One,” released Tuesday, was published by Top Shelf, co-written by Lewis staffer Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Nate Powell,
Lewis says the 128-page volume, the first in a trilogy, focuses on his early life — from raising chickens in Pike County, Alabama, to meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and holding lunch counter sit-ins and civil rights protests in Nashville, Tenn. A freedom rider and civil rights leader in the 1960s, Lewis was severely beaten while marching for voting rights.
“It’s all there,” Lewis said, from his “growing up” to his discovery of the 1957 comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.”
Lewis says the comic, which cost all of 10 cents, proved influential on him and others in their beginning struggles for civil rights.
“It was very inspiring ... and when I attended the nonviolence workshops in Nashville at a local church, we all had an opportunity to get a copy of this book we called the ‘comic book,”’ Lewis says.
“We were able to digest the essence of the book as we studied and participated in those nonviolence workshops.”
Lewis is hopeful the “March” trilogy will inspire a new generation to hold similar ideals.
Powell, whose art encompasses the words written by Lewis and Aydin, said he strived to bring “balance” to his illustrations of Lewis’ story.
“A lot of this has to do with tension, anxiety, dread,” Powell said. “Working but waiting is one of the major themes. There are a lot of silent moments.”
Aydin called the work, his first, a chance to reaffirm Lewis’ legacy and the civil rights movement for a new generation.
“I asked him ‘Why don’t you write a comic book?”’ Aydin recalled saying to his boss in 2008, who agreed.
The two worked together, often in the evenings, trading notes and thoughts.
“So much of the story is based on the congressman’s oral history,” Aydin said, adding that their work felt like a “master class in comics writing.”
Now, with the book’s release, Aydin said the graphic novel takes on a life of its own.
“It was our job to bring it into reality. Somewhere, up in the sky, it was always there,” he said. “It was just our job to pull it down and make it real.”