UPDATE: Since this original 2013 column was published, Lewis released Volume 2 of his graphic novel and then in 2016 he published the third volume. All three volumes now are available in as a set from Amazon.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia already is famous as a living hero of the civil rights movement, still crusading in Washington D.C. against new threats to civil rights. He regularly appears in major news reports about the controversy over voting rights in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that erases many long-standing protections. As the August 28th 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington looms, he suddenly is appearing on front pages and in network TV reports as the sole surviving speaker at that historic event in the summer of 1963.
What’s more, he’s suddenly popular with younger Americans as the first U.S. congressman to write a comic book—a graphic novel. He made a personal appearance at Comic-Con San Diego where even celebrities lined up to meet him. However, as the New York Times reports: Lewis was far more interested in this comic book “as a way for him to reach young people and fulfill his duty to ‘bear witness.'”
What the NYTimes did not report was that Lewis was inspired by a comic book he read as an 18-year-old budding activist. The Washington Post did include a mention of that 1958 comic book in its recent coverage of Lewis: “As a young man, Lewis got his hands on the 1958 comic book ‘Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,’ which, he said, with its poster-colored lesson of nonviolent protest, inspired many student activists. ‘It was about the way of love,’ Lewis says. ‘We were beaten and arrested . . . and that comic book inspired me to make trouble. But it was the good kind of trouble.’ “
Now out of print, the original comic is available in various archives. It was produced under the auspices of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. You can see the cover of the comic book, at right today. You can read more about the history of the 1958 comic book, thanks to Comic Vine, a website that has emerged in recent years as well-respected haven of information on classic comics as well as reviews of current releases.
Read more about various key figures related to the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Daniel Buttry’s inspiring book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Buttry also has published online his entire chapter on the remarkably courageous career of John Lewis.
REVIEW OF ‘MARCH, BOOK ONE’
By David Crumm
As Editor of Read The Spirit online magazine, I am proud to say that we have published many stories about the importance of comics, comic books and graphic novels in sharing stirring stories about faith and cross-cultural issues.
So, I was eager to read John Lewis’s graphic novel and tell readers what you will find in between its brightly colored paperback covers.
The first surprise: While I understand that John Lewis is the first congressman to produce such a book, I still find myself stopping and staring at the book’s first page. Inside the front cover is one of U.S. Rep Lewis’s official Washington D.C. portraits. That juxtaposition alone—the 1960s civil rights movement on the cover and one of our nation’s top elected leaders on the inside cover—tells us a lot about this dramatic half century.
Of course, Lewis understands drama! The new PBS documentary film, The March, includes the story of how a very young John Lewis turned in an advance copy of the speech he intended to deliver at the podium in 1963—and discovering that his planned text was so dramatic that some of the more timid leaders almost bolted from the event.
In his graphic novel, Lewis opens his story on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Five pages of gripping scenes show the police violence unleashed that day on the steadfastly nonviolent protesters. Then—Lewis flashes forward to Washington D.C., as congressmen conduct the nation’s business these days. Visitors arrive at Rep. Lewis’s office and begin asking questions. Clearly, his concern as a storyteller is the important legacy of the civil rights movement. This isn’t a tale told for the sake of nostalgia; this comic book is an educational campaign to capture the imagination of young people today.
In fact, most of “Book One” is about Lewis’s own youthful days in the movement—especially dramatic scenes in the nonviolent protests that opened up integrated seating at lunch counters. Appropriately, readers meet other heroes of the movement, too: Diane Nash and James Lawson make courageous appearances in this first book.
Book One ends with the triumph in Nashville, when segregated lunch counters finally yielded to the moral force and fearless action of the young protesters. An actual section of one such lunch counter now is on display at the Smithsonian Institution—on the very Mall where, in later volumes of Lewis’s graphic novel, the tide of history will carry these heroes.
CARE TO READ MORE? Order a copy of March Book One from Amazon. You also can read much more about John Lewis in this excerpt from Daniel Buttry’s book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers. We also have posted online Buttry’s stories about Nash and Lawson. Enjoy!
Care to See John Lewis?
Below, you can click to watch what we think is one of the best video news reports floating around the Internet about John Lewis’s new comic book project. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, try clicking on the story’s headline to reload the page. (And note: The original poster of this news report on Lewis has included a 15-second commercial message that plays before the report.)