Announced last summer for publication in August 2013 by Top Shelf Productions, March is a three volume graphic autobiography of longtime Congressman and legendary Civil Rights veteran John Lewis, that will be co-produced by Andrew Aydin, Lewis’ co-writer, and award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell. In a phone call from his Congressional office in Washington, D.C., Lewis discussed his interest in comics, his desire to reach a new generation of young people with his story and plans to visit the San Diego Comic-Con to promote the work of nonfiction comics.
Lewis and his new graphic autobiography March will be featured at a Book and Author Breakfast at this year’s BookExpo America and Lewis will appear at the American Library Association convention and the San Diego Comic-Con this summer. Considered a key member of the Civil Rights leadership of the 1960s along with such historic figures as Martin Luther King, Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins, John Lewis is a Civil Rights legend. Lewis was a key organizer and leader during the Civil Rights Movement and as at the core of many of the most famous, important and often deadly violent protest marches, fighting to register black voters in the face of violent and hostile racist mobs, mobs supported and unrestrained by the local police.
He was a key figure at student organized sit-ins throughout the south protesting segregated public facilities and he suffered violent beatings, often putting his life on the line while demanding equal rights for all Americans. In 1965 while leading a group of marchers across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, during one of the most famous marches of the Civil Rights movement, he was brutally beaten by the Alabama State Police in one of many heroic episodes from an illustrious life dedicated to social justice. He was first elected to Congress from the state of Geogia in 1987.
In a phone call with Lewis, he expressed enthusiasm about producing the graphic autobiography, though he acknowledged he was skeptical at first, noting that it was originally proposed to him by Andrew Aydin, a member of his staff who will also cowrite the story with him. “Andrew had the idea and I said, ‘maybe,” but he kept asking me about it, so I finally said let’s do it.” But Lewis was also quick to note that he was inspired by a comic book may years ago. In the early 1950s, Lewis said he first read Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story, a much acclaimed comic book from the period that was commissioned by the pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation with permission from Martin Luther King, that outlined King’s nonviolent philosophy and its application to the boycott to protest the segregated bus system in Montgomery Alabama.
“I read the Montgomery Story,” Lewis said, “and it was moving. I followed the drawings and it made it all real and explained the philosophy of nonviolence. I talk to thousands of kids every year and I think the graphic novel I’m doing can be used to get that message out to people.”
Lewis said the book was originally planed to be a single volume but after, “we tried cutting it here and there, there was just so much to tell. We decided to do three volumes so we could tell the whole story.” Lewis said he hoped the book will serve as reminder of how far African Americans and the country as a whole have come from the days of racist segregation. And the book will also document the contributions of Civil Rights veterans who may not be as well known today. “this book is not just my story, it’s the story of what I witnessed with a lot of people who may not be known to this generation. For instance a lot of people think Martin Luther King was the only person to speak at the 1963 March on Washington.”
Lewis was also chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an instrumental student organization during the Civil Rights protests and the book, “will look at my involvement with SNCC and the white, black, asian and hispanic youths, youth who came from all over the country to challenge segregation.” And he also said the book will document the horrible violence—the beatings, vicious police dogs, bombings and lynchings--directed against the Civil Rights activists at the time. “We try to tell the complete story of what happened,” Lewis said, “Nate is a wonderful artist. I’m so impressed by his work. He can really a tell a story with his pen and his ability to draw is a powerful tool.”
The Congressman will also pay a visit to the San Diego Comic-Con in July, the biggest convention on comics and pop culture in North America and a wild festival of crazy marketing and promotional stunts. Not the usual stop for a politician, but Lewis was enthusiastic when asked about his plans for Comic-con. “I look forward to it,” he said cheerfully, noting that he had been to a comics convention in Atlanta. He also noted that the mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, was veteran of the Civil Rights Movement—he was a Freedom Rider, among the group of integrated students that rode together on buses through the south at great personal risk.
“I know the mayor of San Diego well,” Lewis said, “I’ve known him since 1961, he went to jail with us in Mississippi. He’s a wonderful man and we plan to have a reception in San Diego and we will be together on the floor of the San Diego Comic-con.”