March Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Every so often a book will come along that will challenge you, that will make you think, and that will hopefully leave you a bit better after you’ve read it. And this is just one such book. Yes that seems weird to say about a graphic novel, but trust me…this one deserves such praise. This is a book that everyone should read, and then reread again. And then pass on to others to read. This is a part of history that we should not let die, remember, and honor those that created it.
Congressman John Lewis is an iconic figure within the Civil Rights movement, and the last surviving member of the “big six leadership.” He rose from being the son of sharecropper, to marching with Martin Luther King, and to the halls of Congress. This first book in a planned trilogy covers John Lewis’s youth in rural Alabama, his first meeting with Martin Luther King, the birth of the Nashville Student movement, and the battle for desegregation on the steps of City Hall. And it comes to an end all to quickly. I finished the book saying “but, but…I want more! I need the rest of the story now!” And that’s such a great way to leave readers, clamoring for the next part of the story. It’s a powerful and moving story to see a firsthand account of the triumphs and sorrows of being involved in this time period in history.
Now I’m sure the first question many are asking is…why a graphic novel? Couldn’t this be done in written form and come out just as well. And the answer would be…no. It’s one thing to read about the horrors or having water tossed on you, or being beaten, all because of the color of your skin. It’s a completely different matter to see it illustrated. The illustrations are masterful and you can imagine the smoke being blown in your face, someone standing over you and spitting upon you, and others throwing water or hot coffee in your face. It’s a powerful image that you won’t be able to shake. And one that you won’t be able too, or want to forget.
One of the problems that I normally see with autobiographical stories, is that they often try to give the reader to much information or even sometimes not enough information. They forget that we aren’t all familiar with the history of an individual. But this book doesn’t suffer any such problem. We move expertly between past and present, as John Lewis gives a tour to children from his district and explains his past. It’s a great way to set up the story. And more importantly you don’t ever feel like you’re missing out on something.
Nate Powell’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. It’s done in his typical grace/style of capturing the human form oh so perfectly and it seems like this time he’s gone even further in his use of shading to give us the beauty of all different types of skin tones, each character’s is unique. His artwork is perfectly suited for this story capturing the range and intensity of emotions–the sorrow, the joy, and the fear that sends chills down your spine. That intensity, that feeling of life that he captures in their faces really makes them come alive.
You can’t help but feel moved by this story and you can’t walk away unchanged. The combination of story and art works perfectly in capturing this event and this time period. I’m predicting this book will be one of the best graphic novels of the year, perhaps even one of the best books of the year. I started recommending it to my faculty as soon as I heard about it. And one that I can’t wait for them to teach from. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.