Civil Rights campaigner Senator John Lewis may be an unlikely hero for a graphic novel, however his autobiographical account of the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1960s is as emotionally charged as any superhero adventure. Find out why March Book One and Two is destined to be a future classic of the genre.
Senator John Lewis’ autobiographical graphic novel about the civil rights movement and the freedom rides in the American Deep South is one of those books that make you proud to be a comics fan. It may seem an odd combination – civil rights and comic books – however the use of images to tell the story rather than just words gives the book a depth and significance that makes it truly stand out from the crowd.
In a genre where we are often used to reading about fantastical adventures and larger than life characters, Lewis and co-writer Andrew Aydin’s portrayal of the grotesque realities of the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s the story have no need for dramatic license to make their story work. The simple act of telling the story is enough. Just as Lewis’ non-violent protests at Nashville lunch counters would reveal the abhorant bigotry of the segregationists in the south, the simple retelling of these events gives them the emotional resonance they deserve and make you cheer on Lewis’ cause and not put down this fascinating account of such a key moment of modern history, even though hindsight tells us the outcome!
Of the two books currently available, March Book One is a bit of a slow starter with a much more worthy tone. It concentrates on Lewis’s early days on a chicken farm in rural Alabama and covers his early involvement with the student protest movement in Nashville as well as the formation of the freedom riders and the lunch counter sit-in protests. This is then juxtaposed with the present day and Lewis telling his story to a young boy on the day of inauguration of President Obama which gives the book a nice cyclical feel to the narrative. Although it makes a very intriguing read it lacks a certain drama, but be prepared, that is to come in Book Two.
March Book Two is without doubt one of the most emotionally charged comics we have read in years. A truly extraordinary piece of work which you will not be able to put down and cannot help be moved by! As the Freedom Rides and Civil Rights movement shifts up a gear, so too does the reaction from the bigoted locals in Alabama and Tennessee. Reading this story and seeing these pictures of discrimination and oppression and realising they happened within the last 100 years in the world’s most powerful country is appalling and horrifying and reminds you just how important the Civil Rights movement was and how significant the actions of men like Lewis were. By visualising the story instead of simply reading the words it make’s the whole thing hit home in a truly unique way and although Lewis’ story and Aydin’s script are the back bone, the true heart of the tale is the art of Nate Powell.
Powell’s work combines superb draftsmanship with smart and sophisticated layout. Using a stark monochrome style, it gives the whole story a visual polish that makes it work on so many levels. His artwork is simple and sylish giving the book a timeless feel, while his brilliant use of lettering on many of the pages give the book a very European sensibility, making it more than just a comic book style pastiche of a serious story.
As such, it deserves a place alongside books like Maus or Persepolis as one of the very best and most emotionally rewarding graphic novels around. It is one those graphic novels you can give to non-comic book fans in order to show them that comics are more than just far-fetched tales for kids. That in fact, comics can tell sophisticated and intelligent stories just as well as prose can, and in cases such as March, they can actually do it better than with words alone!