Fifty years after the march on Washington, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” and the intense fight for civil rights, there are still more stories that need to be told. Representative John Lewis (GA-5) was on the ground in Nashville during the first lunch counter sit-ins. He marched alongside Dr. King in Selma, shed blood for the civil rights movement, and is one of our most astute historians. If there’s an American Dream to be had, John Lewis paid for his with sweat and turmoil, coming up from a poor farming family in Alabama to one of the most senior House members in Congress. Elevations like Lewis’ are still noteworthy because of the outdated tenets of hope and determination. While privilege and freedom has made complainers and dismissive partisans out of most of us (myself included), Lewis has seen enough to understand the barriers to freedom and the sacrifice that must come to break them.
March: Book One is revelatory for a number of reasons: it’s a graphic novel, it’s the only graphic novel penned by a sitting member of Congress, it’s the only graphic novel endorsed by a former U.S. President (Bill Clinton). Overblown political biographies and subjective historical retellings are the norm when it comes time for political leaders to write their memoirs. But for Lewis, the graphic novel format is prominent for two reasons: it’s visceral and tangible, something that can’t be conveyed with an endless stream of text, and the images are spilled out in stark black and white, highlighting a bleak metaphor of the civil rights movement.
March is framed by the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, a poignant start to frame against the struggles of 50 years earlier. At the time in 2009, there was a renewed sense of vigor in America; a feeling that despite the lasting oppression of social norms, it was (and still is) possible to defeat bigotry by looking past color barriers. That is March‘s greatest feat; by revisiting Lewis’ struggle and his childhood upbringing we are able to gauge how far we’ve come, and also, more importantly, how far we have to go.
Nate Powell’s art in March is exceptional. His portraits of rural farmlands and the tight expressions on faces are especially well rendered. Lewis’ boyhood farm is desolate and empty, a civilization lost to agrarian culture, while in Nashville, the lunch sit-ins are painful and striking to witness. They remind us that civilization doesn’t always live up to its name. And praise should also be heaped upon Top Shelf Comix, a industry leader in graphic novel publication that produces quality work and tells stories that need to be told, even when they’re unpopular. March: Book One is a story that needs to be told and it is the right kind of biography at the right time; a time when we need to be reminded of our humanity and reminded that we all fight the same battles for the same ideals.