Civil Rights Illustrated

by Chas Danner

Nate-Powell-March-Book-One

A popular new graphic novel, March: Book One, takes a look at the civil rights movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis. Aaron Colter explains why Lewis embraced the project:

Lewis — who spoke at the March on Washington, participated in lunch counter sit-ins, marched miles for social justice, and was jailed on several occasions — remembers another lesser-known but still influential tool for getting out the message of the movement: a 10-cent comic book. Titled Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, the comic told the story of Dr. King and the 1955 bus boycotts inspired by Rosa Parks while offering recommendations for non-violent protest tactics borrowed from Mahatma Gandhi. “We read the book in Nashville, Tennessee, and we started sitting in,” said Lewis at the recent Book Expo America. “[This book] has been translated into more than four languages, and it’s been read and inspired people in the Middle East, in Vietnam, especially in Egypt.”

In her review earlier this month, Hillary Brown raved about March: Book One‘s artwork, illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Nate Powell:

There’s no question that Powell is one of the most exciting visual talents on the scene, and part of what makes his illustrations a delight to look at is the ease with which he conveys complicated situations. His abilities are particularly evident with text, which skitters and whips around the edges of panels. Often, characters far away are talking, and we see their dialogue rendered so delicately that you can almost read it, but not quite. When action overlaps from one panel into the next, it’s done so seamlessly that it hardly calls attention to itself. Every once in a while, we get a big, dark night scene in the country, reminiscent of the 1930s WPA prints of the South, with a tiny house dwarfed by trees and encroaching black negative space. It’s easy to see the heroes of the civil rights movement as more than human, but the words and pictures work together in March (Book One) to put the everyday back into their lives and, in doing so, enrich the story beyond mere hagiography.

Browse a preview of the book here.