Review: March Book One

March-cover-100dpi.105340There’s been a media frenzy (deservedly so) over this graphic novel to be released soon by Top Shelf. March is a three volume graphic novel that tells the remarkable story of Congressman John Lewis. Cong. Lewis currently represents Georgia’s fifth district in the House of Representatives and is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. This is an accessible, relatable, and deeply emotional, first person account of our history. A perspective and voice we don’t get enough of when we’re taught our history growing up.

March is a brilliant accounting of Cong. Lewis’ story for new generations and those with similar struggles around the world. This amazing biographical graphic novel is written by Cong. Lewis in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell. The result is one of the best graphic novels in recent memory and an amazing depiction of history that’s accessible to all.

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. While many of us have no idea of the specifics of what Lewis went through, the story is a familiar one that we’re taught in school, though not with a first hand account such as this.

What’s more fascinating is the mechanism of the storytelling, bouncing back and forth between Cong. Lewis’ life and the recent modern day of President Obama’s first inauguration (hopefully that didn’t spoil it for folks, but it lays out the date and what’s going on in the present day clearly). But, what I found interesting in it all is the narrative thread of how far the country has come, when in the back in my mind I’d argue it hasn’t. The Congressman reflects on an early time in his life when he traveled to Buffalo, New York and saw what things could be like. Modern day Buffalo (where I spent most of my life) is anything but an ideal, deeply divided by race with an underlying racism throughout the region. This kept coming back to me in the back of my mind. With two more volumes to go, I think we’d find more on the Congressman’s thoughts on where we are today, but with this first volume, that stuck out to me. And that’s an issue in releasing this in three volumes, we have to wait to see the full story and perspective.

And that’s what’s fantastic about this graphic novel. Not only is it a great depiction of history, very important history, but it also helps better open a dialogue of race in our nation, from where we were to where we are today. The ease of reading, events depicted within and the beautiful art helps foster a discussion that is free from some more sensational aspects that can derail such important discussions. Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. Today that classic comic is being used to encourage fights for justice around the world. It’s a comic that is a part of social change for the better. March shares in that tradition by reminding us where we were as a nation not that long ago. And that’s part of the reason the graphic novel is seeing the rabid positive response that it is. The Congressman has been there and part of a movement whose actions still reverberate today and whose struggles sadly continue. This is a leader telling his story for us to learn from our past.

On top of the writing is artist Nate Powell’s beautiful artwork. His style fits perfectly to the narrative, a match made in heaven. The black and white art has you linger on each page as you move slowly make your way through the book picking out details in the dialogue as well as the art.  There’s a reason he’s one of my favorite artists today and to see him get to modern times down the road and how he depicts some of the real life people, will be a treat.

Top Shelf has put together a brilliant and beautiful hard copy with a cover that has a wear about it, the look of a book that children during this age might have used. The autographed copy I purchased had a card within the front cover exactly like you’d find at a library emphasizing the look and design. It’s an amazing piece put together and one of my favorite designs of a printed book this year.

This graphic novel is a piece of history, capturing the Congressman’s experiences testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations. This isn’t just a graphic novel for folks to pick up and enjoy, it’s a work of art and history that should be in every school teaching about our country’s modern struggles. Top Shelf has worked to make that happen with a teacher’s guide to help those that might want to use it for exactly that. Hopefully this graphic novel will serve as a guide and reminder not just for us, but for the many others around the world attempting to find their own justice.

With two more volumes to go, this first release is already a modern classic and strong contender for graphic novel of the year.

Story: Cong. Lewis and Andrew Aydin Art: Nate Powell
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy