Tagged: March

Review: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell

I recently finished reading Book Three of March, the graphic novel autobiography of Atlanta Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. I had never heard of Lewis prior to encountering March, but having now read it, I’ve gained a better picture of not only his life, but of the internal and external obstacles that the Civil Rights movement navigated in the 50s and 60s. Living today at a time when white supremacists have actually managed to gain an inexplicable foothold back into the mainstream—something I never thought I’d ever experience in my lifetime—reading March, isn’t just a gratifying reading experience. It’s a reminder of where our country has been, and the direction from which that pendulum has swung. As we reel from the horrors of Charlottesville, religious travel bans, mass child abuse inflicted upon brown children, and the continued practices of voter suppression, March serves as a warning of what it may look like if it swings back too far.

Lewis played many key roles in the civil rights movement, and the end of legalized racial segregation in the United States. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, and one of the “Big Six” leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He was the fourth person to speak at the March (Dr. King was tenth). Only 23 at the time of his speech, he was the youngest of the speakers, and is the only one still living.

Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin, Rep. John Lewis
The author’s photo of the creative team, from left to right: Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin, and Congressman John Lewis.

I first became acquainted with March in 2013, when Book One was published by Top Shelf Comics, and I covered the signing held at Midtown Comics in Manhattan as a photographer for Wikipedia. Congressman Lewis was in attendance, along with his Digital Director and Policy Advisor Andrew Aydin, who conceived the idea for the book and co-wrote it with him, and artist Nate Powell, who illustrated and lettered the book. Book Two followed in 2015, and Book Three in 2016.

While March obviously isn’t the first work dealing with the history of the civil rights movement, and is not the first autobiography Lewis has written (his prose memoir, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, was published in 1998), March is unique in that it is a graphic novel, a medium chosen for its ties to the history of the movement, and to Lewis’ role in it. Lewis first heard of Rosa Parks, Dr. King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott through his mentor, James Lawson, who worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.), an interfaith organization dedicated to promoting peace and justice. Lawson gave Lewis a copy of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, a 10-cent comic book published by F.O.R. that demonstrated in clear fashion the power of nonviolence. The Montgomery Story served as one of the guides used at student meetings that Lewis began attending, and influenced other civil rights activists, including the Greensboro Four. Aydin repeatedly suggested to Lewis that he write a comic book of his own, bringing him back full circle to the medium that got him involved in the movement.

And what a story it is.

The story opens in media res on March 7, 1965, as the young Lewis stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with fellow civil rights activists during the Selma to Montgomery marches, which serves as a framing sequence that bookends the trilogy. The activists are confronted by Alabama state troopers, who order the protestors to turn around. When the protestors kneel to pray, the troopers attack them, before the narrative cuts away to Lewis’ beginnings.

Lewis grew up on his sharecropper father’s farm in rural Alabama, tending to the family’s chickens while entertaining dreams of becoming a preacher. Eventually, his eyes were opened to the state of race relations in the United States by his school studies, and by his maternal uncle Otis, who took Lewis on his first trip up North in June 1951. Lewis describes the careful planning that had to be made for such trips in order to avoid places where black people were not wanted, and the caution Otis observed as they drove through Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Their relief comes only when they make it to Ohio, which is accompanied by the image of their car driving across another bridge, a fitting recurring motif.

Although his parents had raised him to stay out of trouble, the experience of seeing whites and blacks living side and by side in the unsegregated North changed Lewis so much that home never felt the same to him. When he started school again, the segregated bus he rode to school was a daily reminder of what he had learned about the two worlds that existed in the United States. When Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka outlawed public school segregation, Lewis thought it would improve his schooling, but his parents continued to warn him, “Don’t get in trouble. Don’t you get in the way.” Lewis also noticed that the injustices against blacks were not mentioned by local church ministers, and that his minister drove a very nice automobile. Profoundly inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s social gospel and the Civil Rights movement that he heard in a Sunday sermon by King on the radio, Lewis preached his first public sermon just before his sixteenth birthday, garnering his first publicity. While attending American Baptist Theological Seminary Lewis sought to transfer student to Troy University, and when he was rejected because he was black, it led to his first meetings with civil rights leaders Ralph Abernathy and Fred Gray, and then Dr. King. Lewis was told they would have to sue the state of Alabama to change this, but since Lewis was still a minor, he would have to get his parents permission for this. Lewis was heartbroken when his parents refused, but he would continue his work in Nashville, where his moral philosophy on racism, poverty and war was shaped by other activists there like Diane Nash and Jim Lawson, and those far away like Mohandas Gandhi. From here, Book One of the trilogy depicts Lewis and the Nashville Student Movement’s lunch counter sit-ins, and the tactics they learned to employ in response to racists who inflicted abuse and beatings upon them, and how they dealt with arrests.

Book Two depicts the expansion of the Nashville student movement’s respectful protests, Lewis’ involvement with the SNCC, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Freedom Riders; their confrontations with opponents like Bull Conner and George Wallace; and the resulting beatings, shootings, firebombed buses and imprisonment. Their activities caught the attention of the initially equivocal Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and that of others who decided to become Freedom Riders themselves—swelling the movement’s numbers so that even imprisonment wouldn’t be a feasible way for the white establishment to stop them. As Lewis put it, “The fare was paid in blood, but the Freedom Rides stirred the national consciousness and awoke the hearts and minds of a generation.” The SNCC also faced a schism between those who favor their effective direct action campaigns and those who favored Dr. King and Robert Kennedy’s urging to focus on registering blacks to vote. When Jim Bevel and the South Christian Leadership Conference organized Birmingham’s black children to protest, a thousand children were arrested, and the televised images of fire hoses and German shepherds being used against kids horrified the nation. As Lewis is elected chairman of the SNCC, he is moved by the surreal nature of being invited for a meeting with President John Kennedy and other black leaders at the White House, where the March on Washington is first announced.

Book Three opens with the September 15, 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The SNCC continues its work amid the assassination of JFK; and continued violent resistance to the Civil Rights movement, which includes the murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. President Lyndon Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but it does not ban “literacy tests” and other voting restrictions. What remains to be achieved is a voting rights bill, but Johnson’s need to court Southern voters in the upcoming election spurs him and his supporters to put pressure on civil rights activists to stop the protests. This gives cause for conflict between Roy Wilkins, who favors ceasing the protests, King, who suggests a moratorium on them, and those like Lewis and James Farmer, who are adamant that protests must continue. The murder of activists like James Reeb and 26-year-old Army veteran Jimmie Lee Jackson seem to threaten to shatter Lewis, but also seem to steel his resolve for the Selma to Montgomery marches, which brings him to the Edmund Pettus bridge, and back to the scene that opened the trilogy. Chaos breaks out as state troopers brutally beat and tear gas activists, which becomes known as “Bloody Sunday.” Lewis’s skull is fractured, but amazingly, he escapes across the bridge to safety, and appears on television to call for Johnson to intervene before he even goes to the hospital, bearing scars from that beating to this day. The photo of the unconscious Amelia Boynton Robinson, pummeled nearly to death, so shocks the world that it raises the public’s consciousness on the need for lawmakers to act. It’s probably not for nothing that the crowd crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge is the cover image of the slipcased three-book set, beautifully silhouetted against the Sun.


What I appreciate about this story is the genuineness of the conflict among not just racists and civil rights activists but among the various individuals and groups of the movement. While multiple layers of conflict is part of writing fiction, this is often not possible when telling a non-fictional story authentically, and can result in writers either fabricating events and conflicts that never happened, or telling a story in a way that seems flat and boring. Neither occurs in March. Preparations for the March on Washington, for example, which one may think, with the auspiciousness granted to that event by the hindsight of history, was brought about by winds of inevitability, was anything but. Behind the scenes, arrangements are marked by tension over passages in Lewis’s speech that are seen as anti-Catholic, and possibly pro-Communist. This is a clash that I never knew took place prior to the reading this book, and its inclusion makes the read both entertaining and educational.

I also appreciate that Lewis does not make the movement about him, and gives space to discussing figures I had previously heard little or nothing of, like Bob Moses, Stokely Carmichael, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin. While evaluating a work of non-fiction is more difficult than a work of fiction, in part because one can’t be certain how much is accurate, the fact that Lewis explains who everyone else is goes a long way to conveying a feeling of authenticity, and the sense that I’m learning much I never learned in high school, or even during the boilerplate television programming we get every February. Lewis doesn’t skimp on the emotional moments either, and there are plenty in this book. Particularly powerful is a moment when Robert Kennedy cements Lewis’s respect for him when he pulls the young activist aside and says to him, “You, the young people of SNCC, have educated me. You have changed me. Now I understand.”

Nate Powell’s art is perfectly suited to this type of book. Using a combination of ink and ink wash, with an adeptly varied line weight, the greyscale art does a good job of evoking a sense of time and place. Powell knows when to apply his technique judiciously, making competent use of shadows, silhouettes and high-contrast black and white compositions during dramatic moments, and even rendering some panels in a light, all-pencil technique.

The power of Powell’s depiction of historical figures lies not in fealty to standards of photorealism, but from his ability to elicit feelings with his visuals: Characters set against completely black background, their figures rendered in the sparse areas illuminated by a lone light source, convey a feeling of their isolation, while a farmhouse drawn in one or two light tones of grey against an all white background transport the reader to the sun-drenched fields of the rural South. While I like color, even prefer it, one never feels cheated when looking at the art in this book.

Praise also needs to given to Powell’s excellent depiction of each character’s features. In an industry where artists often have one or two stock “faces” that they use on every character, to illustrate 445 pages of a story featuring dozens of real-life people, many of which have to be distinguishable to the reader page by page, is a considerable undertaking. Powell wisely chose not to go the photorealistic route by constantly referring to photos, which for some artists, can result in stiff, lifeless characters. Instead, he developed a visual shorthand “master drawing” for each character, one that emphasized their skull structure, to serve as a reference for their features. One need only look as far as any number of licensed comics, like some of the Star Trek books, which look like they’re drawn by artists who simply copy publicity photos, to see how well Powell avoided this problem. His characters are historically accurate yet vibrant and fluid.

The only criticisms I have is that in some instances, Powell’s designs deviate a bit too far from the person’s actual likeness, as with the portraits of FDR, JFK and Truman hanging above the stage at the 1964 Democratic convention, which look nothing like those men, and would not have been recognized out of context, or without the labels that Powell placed above each portrait (which were not at the actual convention). Kennedy seems to be a particular problem for Powell in other places in the trilogy. This required me to go back and re-read dialogue to verify who he was, and when that happens in a comic featuring one of the most beloved figures of the 20th century, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Powell also seems to have the same problem that some other artists have when rendering the human face at an angle, apparently not having mastered how the eye and eye socket looks in three-quarter view, or in perspective. There’s also that bizarre line Powell uses on Page 126 of Book Three to connect the ground seen in Panel 2 with the top of Lewis’ head in Panel 3. Nonetheless, these issues are few and far between, and overall, the book is a triumph for Powell.

Since comics are a visual medium, I should also talk about how the visuals are nicely balanced with the text. This book is an autobiography dealing with the various political and cultural conflicts of the civil rights movement, and by necessity, entails much discussion among characters.  This can be tricky for comics, and for that matter, any visual medium, including film, television, etc.. Do it right, and you have masterpieces like Sidney Lumet’s enthralling 1957 feature film adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, easily my favorite black and white film, which set almost entirely in a small jury room and driven entirely by dialogue. Do it poorly, and you get the last couple of historical dramas by Steven Spielberg, which I found flat and sleep-inducing. March, however, gets it right. Rather than publish a smaller book by omitting important details that explain what the challenges that Lewis and his colleagues faced, the book’s size allows space to be given to the important discussions and arguments that occurred among different groups in the movement, and does so in a way that does not come across as overly heavy with word balloons. Lewis, Aydin and Powell manage to do this in a way that the story and dialogue is seamlessly incorporated with the art, so that the amount of space given to each scene feels appropriate.  Six pages are devoted, for example, to Lewis’ speech at the March on Washington, and as a result, it both reads well and looks good.

The fact that Powell lettered the book too may also help explain its narrative success, and one gets a sense of how closely the three creators worked together to effect what seems like a genuine shared vision rather than an assembly line product. While lettering isn’t something I often notice, it’s an unsung hero of comics, and Powell’s unique approach to it, incorporating it into the book’s landscape stands out. A Bible verse being read by the prepubescent John sitting in silhouette on his porch is written out in the black area of his back, conveying out the words penetrated his very soul. An important announcement heard on a radio aren’t depicted so much as the typical floating clouds rendered above the device as it is jagged billows of electricity spit out by the radio, as if it is as much a character as those listening to it.

I can’t stress enough what an important work this is. If you love to read, buy it. If you want to expand your comics reading list with more non-superhero works, buy it. And if the re-emergence of David Duke and the murder of Heather Heyer horrify you, then buy several copies and give some to your friends.

And above all, VOTE.

Better than men than you and I have had their skulls cracked open for that right.

Mike Gold: Alternative Facts


A lot of people have been bitching and moaning about our latest president. Some think he’s an impulsive idiot. Others, a dangerous megalomaniacal narcissist with a remarkably selective and astonishingly petty memory. Still others find him a dangerous man who is likely to destroy the American Dream and, quite possibly, America.

Even though I believe all of that may be true, I have this to say about Donald J. Trump: he has gotten Americans to pick up and read a book or two. And that includes graphic novels.

It has been well-reported that, after he reamed out Congressman John Lewis by falsely accusing him of not helping “his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime infested,” sales of Congressman Lewis’s autobiographical three-book graphic novel series March went through the roof. Amazon actually sold out, something I thought was nigh onto impossible.

A week later – and the man’s only been in office for 20 days, total – his anointed spokesliar Kellyanne Conway said, in response to Trump’s claim that three to five million people attended his inauguration, that media reports of at best one million were lies and they (Team Trump) had the “alternate facts.”

Alternative facts, you say?

Two things happened almost immediately. First, people learned they could be completely frightened yet laugh hysterically at the same time. Second, they ran out (to their computers, smartphones, and cars) and purchased copies of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984.

For those who have yet to indulge in this science fiction classic – and, really, you should – 1984 is the novel that gave us such phrases and philosophies as “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” “ignorance is strength,” “it’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” and “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

That last one is my favorite.

According to Publishers’ Weekly, “Print sales of the Signet Classics edition of 1984 for the week ended January 29 were almost 26,000 copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, making it the biggest selling book in the week. Sales the previous week were about 4,500 copies. The book was also #1 on the iBooks bestseller list… ‘In one week, Signet Classics has reprinted 500,000 copies of 1984,’ Signet v-p and executive publicity director Craig Burke said. ‘That’s more than we sell in a typical year.’”

Previously, the number one best-seller was… wait for it… March.

To name but those two books, all this massive sales growth is due to the statements of Donald J. Trump and his sundry lackeys. Trump is motivating people to read.

That’s amazing, and that’s wonderful. Given the reported choice of material, this phenomenon is likely to bite Trump in his considerable ass, which, of course, is likely to give him quite a headache.

The phrase “may you live in interesting times,” falsely designated as an ancient Chinese curse, remains quite a threat nonetheless. And, clearly, we live in interesting times.

I have one question, though: what books should I read in response to Trump’s disenfranchising Mexico and Australia?

Martha Thomases: Comic Books and Today’s Reality

This is a sad day for me. We are losing a president with curiosity and interest in people different from himself to one who might not be able to read at all.

Yes, I’m that kind of elitist. I prefer to admire (and, if possible, hang out with) people with imaginations, people who like to be challenged, people who appreciate the arts. All the evidence (this, for example) suggests that our newly installed Commander-in-Chief has no such interests.

Tough times, such as those I imagine to be ahead of us, can be opportunities for great art. The 1960s, with its civil rights marches, police riots and unjust wars, brought us brilliant music, film, theater, dance and literature, even comics. It is the responsibility of the artist to make us question our perceptions, and the best do this in a way that lasts well beyond the topical concerns of their times.

We’ve already seen some public reactions, by artists and audiences, to the new administration. American Muslim comics can band together, in solidarity and support, to amuse and enlighten themselves and the rest of us.

And we’ve seen that Trump, whatever his intentions, seems to have aroused the curiosity of the public. After his recent attacks on Congressman John Lewis, bookstores around the country sold out of March, and it went to the top of Amazon’s best-seller lists. Since the book has been out for quite a long time, and it was already selling well, I assume that the new sales come from people who are curious about why so many people sprang to Lewis’ defense. In the process, they get to read an amazing book.

Everybody wins.

I don’t mean to imply that only art with a progressive point of view is worthwhile. I don’t think that culture has that kind of a litmus test, or it would get boring really quickly. I even like some pop culture that comes from a different point of view.

For example, I’m really enjoying binging on Blue Bloods, a show which seems to think all police departments (but especially New York’s) are fabulous, that all cops are great, and the ones that are not are dealt with swiftly because the good cops are so ashamed of the bad ones. At the same time, people who don’t like or who mistrust the police have something seriously wrong with them. That’s not how I see the NYPD, but I’m fascinated by this chance to understand those who do.

While I’m not looking forward to the next two years (longer, if we screw up the midterms), I am anticipating some exciting art. And I’m happy to be living in a time when comics are respected as part of the cultural landscape.

Joe Corallo: Thanks, Obama

This column is the last one I’ll be writing under an Obama Presidency. This is also the last Tuesday of the Obama Presidency. Though I have some disagreements with his policies, I’ll miss him as our President. So I figure this would be a good time to talk about some of his impact on the comics industry.

Barack Obama himself is no stranger to comics. He’s talked about his comic collecting and his fondness of Conan The Barbarian and the Spider-Man comics in the past, even if he forgets the hyphen in Spider-Man sometimes.

Obama has appeared in many comics as well. You can find him in comics for nearly a decade since 2007 when he was a Senator. He’s appeared in comics published by Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Dynamite and more. Everything from Savage Dragon and Youngblood to Army of Darkness and The Other Dead, Obama has been there.

The most popular and celebrated appearance of his in comics is likely The Amazing Spider-Man #583. The issue came out on January 14th, 2009 less than a week before Obama’s inauguration. While the main story was written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Barry Kitson, Obama appeared in the backup story written by Zeb Wells and illustrated by Todd Nauck. This five-page backup story Spider-Man has to step in when a second Obama appears who turns out to be The Chameleon. It’s a fun, cheesy little story where Obama gets to talk to one his favorite superheroes right before he gets sworn in. This particular comic went on to five printings and became a collector’s item before it even came out. My one complaint is that Peter Parker complains about taking the bus from New York to Washington D.C. and used to take the bus down to D.C. from Chinatown and I never had a problem with that. Perhaps I’m made of stronger stuff.

Spider-Man, as well as all over major superheroes, will not be making an appearance at Trump’s inauguration, either on or off the page.

What might be Obama’s greatest contribution to comics was his help in making John LewisMarch become a reality. No, Obama didn’t collaborate, edit, or make a few phone calls to make it happen. For all of those who have had the pleasure of reading March it’s framed around John Lewis talking with Obama at Obama’s inauguration and goes back and forth between January 20th 2009 and different points in John Lewis’ life through the Civil Rights Movement. If you haven’t picked up March yet you could find copies at your LCS, some bookstores, directly from Top Shelf, or Amazon although the three volume slipcase is still temporarily out of stock after Trump’s attacks on John Lewis over the weekend.

Speaking of Trump, he’s had far less love in comics. Criticism of him in comics has spiked recently for obvious reasons in everything from mainstream comics to indie comics like GWAR:Orgasmageddon and Black, both of which I’ve written about before here. Even his closest foreign ally, Putin, has been portrayed as a villain over at Valiant Entertainment which fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson wrote about here. Whether you feel it’s fair or not, it’s certainly a reflection of what the creators feel and what people will buy.

Very little of these portrayals of Presidents comes close to the depth and scope of how Nixon has been portrayed in comics, unflattering as it has often been, like in Watchmen, but the comparison is hardly fair.

We still have a lot of time, for better or worse, to see how Trump will be portrayed in comics, but what we know about Obama is that he was often portrayed with dignity and grace, and sometimes even as a kick-ass hero himself. Between that and his impact on the lives of many of us in comics including John Lewis, all I really have to say is thanks, Obama.

Martha Thomases: Gifts For People With Brains

inglourious-basterds

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday, and that your conversations with your friends and family were both peaceful and joyous. In my experience, the tryptophan in the turkey makes everyone so sleepy that noisy arguments require too much energy.

Today, Black Friday, is the official start of the holiday shopping season. With luck you are still enjoying the warm glow of gratitude from yesterday’s holiday, and we can use these emotions to consider your holiday shopping list.

I, for one, am grateful to live in a country that defends freedom of speech. Even hate speech. I don’t like neo-Nazis or what they say (and for even more video, check out this link). However, we know who a bunch of these people are now, and we can defend ourselves https://www.splcenter.org.

stuck-rubber-babyYou know another great thing about Nazis? They make excellent bad guys. A book or movie can have the most conflicted protagonist imaginable, but when he or she is fighting Nazis, you know who is the hero. It’s one of my favorite things about Inglourious Basterds, which remains an excellent gift.

If you like your Nazis even more vile, consider the Nazi vampires in The Strain. There are also some excellent choices if you want your Nazis impotent and hilarious. In fact, while The Producers has the most Hitler of any of Mel Brooks’ movies, you can find at least one cutting reference in everything he does.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. If you have friends or family who are ignorant about what could happen here, let me help you. There are some lovely graphic novels — award winners all — that you can share. Luckily, they are so entertaining that the recipients won’t feel like they’re getting lectured.

The third and final volume of March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin ad Nate Powell, just won the National Book Award. Previous prizewinners include A Catcher in the Rye and Profiles in Courage. The March trilogy tells the story of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s from the perspective of Congressman Lewis. We will need to emulate his courage and grace in these next years.

will-eisner-the-plotpxmI will also and continually recommend Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. Aside from being a beautiful and engrossing story, it illuminates what I consider to be a most important truth — that we fight best against hate when we fight together as allies.

If you are afraid of other (but related) forms of hate infecting your loved one, you might consider the last book by the legendary Will Eisner, The Plot. His co-author is Umberto Eco, so your recipient will feel flattered that you chose a gift with such a fine literary pedigree.

And for that Baby Boomer relative who thinks he’s still hip (but is, instead, growing more narrow-minded by the day), there is The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker. It is so colorful and fun that it can be easy to overlook how masterfully it protests homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Once you start looking for gifts like these, I’m sure you’ll find a lot of other things that will open hearts and minds. Please feel free to share them in the comments. We all need more and more and more.

Martha Thomases’ March Revelation

congressman-john-lewis-march

Hallelujah! Over the weekend, I had a revelation.

March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.

Let me explain how I came to see the light.

I was at a conference for American Jews interested in increasing the opportunities for a shared society among Jewish and Arab Israelis. In attendance were representatives from various American Jewish funding organizations as well as Israeli Jewish and Arab leaders. It was heady stuff for me, and I was thrilled to see that Israeli Arabs are just as opinionated (and enjoy a good argument) as much as I do.

All of us being Semites, of course we wanted to eat. A lot. Over meals, we didn’t just discuss policy and programs. We talked about current events (oy) and our various jobs and interests. When I said I worked in comics and was writing a graphic novel, I got asked a lot of questions.

Some people hadn’t read a comic book since they were children four decades ago (or more). Some had read Maus, but didn’t know about anything else.

When I mentioned that they might enjoy March and told them that Congressman John Lewis had written this three-volume graphic novel, almost everyone was interested.

On this site, because we write about comics all the time, we know about John Lewis. And because we are rabid consumers of comics and books and movies and television, we know a lot about how comics influence our larger entertainment choices. We know that comics supply the creative content for a bunch of mega-billion dollar industries.

We know less about how comics can save the world. Specifically, March.

The third volume was published recently, and while I loved the first two, this final piece knocked me on my ass. It’s so good and so powerful and so subtle. I thought I knew the story about the March on Selma and the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. I’d watched it on television in real time. I’ve talked to people who were there. I’ve read other accounts.

Nothing prepared me.

I’m a person who frequently enjoys movie violence. March 3 viscerally demonstrated the difference between fact and fiction. I felt actual pain reading about the mobs of white people who beat people demonstrating for their rights as citizens. I also felt pain for those white people, who must have led fairly miserable lives to think that the proper response to peaceful protest is to split a person’s head.

Somehow, Lewis and Aydin and Powell convey these horrors in such a straightforward fashion that I doubt any parents will object to their children reading the books for school.

An Arab woman who is principal of an Arab middle school in the Western Galilee told me her students very much admire Dr. Martin Luther King. She said they recognize that his fight is their fight. If/when there is an Arabic edition, I’m going to donate a bunch of copies to her library.

Let’s hope those kids are just as successful using King’s tactics as he was when they attempt to achieve their goals. And, because I’m greedy, let’s hope they create books that are just as wonderful.

Mike Gold: The Genuine American Hero

March

Yesterday I had the privilege of joining fellow ComicMixers Martha Thomases and Adriane Nash and a standing-room-only crowd at Columbia University to hear Congressman John R. Lewis talk about graphic novels.

Congressman John LewisMake no mistake about it: Congressman Lewis is a genuine hero. I realize that’s a word we toss around rather lightly these days, but believe me, he is the real thing.  A recipient of the American Medal of Freedom, the highest honor we bestow upon civilians, Congressman Lewis was one of the original leaders of the 1960s civil rights movement. As such, he organized (with others, of course) the Freedom Riders, the civil rights march on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, and a great many other actions that helped make real the concept of America to all Americans. A student and cohort of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, he has been beaten, fire bombed, left for dead, and arrested over 40 times. He has talked the talk and walked the walk, and ours is a better nation for it. Far, far better.

Congressman John R. Lewis is also a graphic novelist.

Along with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, Congressman Lewis has produced the three volume graphic novel March. Please note the third volume, which is the longest of the trio, will be released this coming summer. We have reviewed March here at ComicMix. In fact, twice.

Montgomery MarchCongressman Lewis’s speech, joined by co-writer Aydin and hosted by comics legend Paul Levitz, was certainly about his life and his work. But it was equally about graphic novels and how ours is an important medium for the sharing of ideas – just ask Art Spiegelman. He also disclosed how he was inspired by a 1956 comic book that was edited by Dr. King, The Montgomery Story. You might want to check it out for yourself.

After the event, Adriane said we should have more non-fiction graphic novels. That’s a passion of mine as well, and I thank Congressman Lewis for making such future efforts significantly more feasible.

Of course, that’s towards the bottom of the list of things for which I thank this true hero. March is the story of America, and it is the story of a man who put his life on the line repeatedly to make America … America.

Of course we need more such heroes. But, basking in the inspiration from this great man, I am truly grateful we have Congressman John R. Lewis.

Martha Thomases: We CAN Be Heroes

I’m pretty much out of the closet when it comes to my love of superhero comics. The appeal of the “super” part is pretty obvious (flying! telepathy! shrinking!) but I also enjoy the parts about heroes.

Recently I read two graphic novels that dealt primarily with that last, non-powered part, and it made me ponder the distinction between “someone I admire” and “someone who is a hero.” This is not going to be a tirade about how we idolize sports stars but what about the teacher at the school, buying food and pencils for her students who can’t afford them. That can be an interesting conversation to have, but it’s not what I mean.

NBM recently published an American edition of Girl in Dior, by Annie Goetzinger. Through the eyes of fictional character Clara, a journalist who becomes a Dior model, we see the life of Christian Dior, starting with his historic “New Look” collection in 1947. Clara introduces us to the man who designs the dresses, his middle class background and his commitment to beauty. We also meet the small army of (mostly) women who help him create the gorgeous gowns and run his business.

After the deprivations and rationing of World War II, the New Look was, in its way, revolutionary. The full skirts used yards and yards of fabric, and the small waistlines required (for most women) extensive undergarment technology, using a lot of materials (like rubber and metal) that had most recently been used for weapons.

What wasn’t exciting and new and different was the customer for these clothes. Haute couture has always been expensive, requiring hours and hours of human labor for each opulent outfit. The styles we see in this book – day dresses, cocktail dresses, evening gowns – are appropriate to the needs of a woman whose life is all about being seen, how she looks, not what she does.

This isn’t to say that Dior is not a genius, nor that his work is without meaning. Like a painter or a sculptor, he works with color and shape to express a vision of life and what it means. And, like so many artists of all kinds on our modern world, his success depends on how well he can sell his vision to the ruling class.

I very much admire his talent, and the work he created. I would love to be, just for one day, the kind of woman who wears those clothes and looks good in them. That would be a true fantasy adventure. But he’s not a hero, nor do I think Goetzinger presents him as such.

To see a real hero, check out the second volume of March, the autobiography of Representative John Lewis (with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell). Like the first, this goes back and forth from modern day (the inauguration of Barack Obama) to the struggles for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. “Struggles” is too mild a word. In their attempt to be treated like humans, the African-Americans marching for their rights (along with their white allies) are attacked with hoses, fire, bombs, guns and cars.

Even more than the last volume, I was struck by Lewis’ great generosity of spirit. He takes great pains to include all sorts of people who fought the good fight, even if he, personally, did not always agree with them. He says respectful and admiring things about Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, for example, two men who did not follow the non-violent principles so important to Lewis. No, he doesn’t ignore their disagreements, but he disagrees with their tactics and not their goals.

That’s a lesson too many of us need to learn.

This is a thrilling story. For every bit of progress made by the movement, there are more than a few pushes back, often with violence. The faces of the white crowds, so threatened at the thought that a black person might use the same door as a white person, are contorted with rage and hatred, truly frightening.

John Lewis was a college graduate who could have taken a job that paid better and didn’t require him to put his life on the line. Instead, he devoted himself and his abilities to making the world a better place, not just for himself but for all of us.

That is a super power.

 

Martha Thomases: Gifting Comics

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Hanukkah is halfway over and Christmas is next week. Traditionally, columnists with no ideas use this as an opportunity to recommend gift ideas that, ideally, benefits themselves, their families or their friends.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know your gift-giving needs. I don’t know your friends. I don’t know your tastes, and your budget is none of my business. These are books that, if I didn’t already own them and love them, I would want to get. If they are new to you, I envy the good times you have ahead.

I want to start off with Mimi Pond because, well, I know her a little bit and this will make me seem important. She and I both freelanced for the fashion section of The Village Voice back in the late seventies and early eighties. Fashion was like the ugly stepchild at the paper, not worthy of the seriousness of purpose to which the alternative press was dedicated.

Anyway, over the years, Mimi has created a bunch of really, really funny books. Secrets of the Powder Room is laugh-out-loud uproarious. Shoes Never Lie made the jokes that were still being stolen on Sex and the City thirty years later.

This year, however, Pond went in a different direction (to me, anyway) and produced a beautiful graphic novel, Over Easy. It’s about her experiences waiting tables, and while that might seem really trite and banal (haven’t we read a million books about the shitty jobs artists take to support their art?), it’s really atmospheric and lovely. The characters are instantly distinct, the world in which they live is both exotic and recognizable. I loved just about everybody in it, and I was sorry to see the story end. We want more, Mimi!

I don’t know Kelly Sue DeConnick. I’d like to, but so far, the most I can say is that we were in the same room at New York Comic-Con and I thought about going up to introduce myself, but then she was mobbed and I didn’t want to be in that mob. She has a new book out, Bitch Planet  and while it’s only one issue, it’s already hilarious.

Bitch Planet takes the “women in prison” scenario (or, as Michael O’Donoghue used to call it, “Kittens in a Can”) and takes it for a militant feminist whirl. It subverts a lot of my assumptions (you mean the skinny white woman isn’t the main character?) and the ads on the back cover are really, really funny.

There has been a minor kerfuffle on the Interwebs because a local comic book store wrote up a solicitation for the book and referred to Ms. DeConnick as “Mrs. Matt Fraction.” They also listed Mr. Fraction as “Mr. Kelly Sue DeConnick.” The joke misfired, there was outrage all the way around, and the store apologized (and, I hope, figured out why that was offensive).

None of this is a slam on Matt Fraction. I’m sure no one thinks he’s riding on his wife’s coattails. Along with artist Chip Zdarsky, he’s created Sex Criminals, one of the funniest comics ever. You can read the first issues in a trade paperback collection and you should. I haven’t been made to feel so sexually inadequate by a comic book since American Flagg.

The story and the characters are wonderful but my favorite part of the series is the letter column, which usually goes on for five or six pages. Readers send in not only commentary on the stories, but also shameful confessions, awkward questions, and unsolicited advice. Matt and Chip answer in the same tone. Here’s a brief sample of what they sound like.

I was really disappointed that the collection didn’t include the letter columns, although it does have some brand-new text pages that are also reasonably hilarious. Fortunately, Image collected a bunch of the letter column stuff, and new stuff with more artwork, and dubbed it Just the Tip <  >, a cute little hard cover book that’s the perfect stocking stuffer for those of you who stuff stockings.

If you’ve read my column during the year, you know that I also recommend The Fifth Beatle and March and Sage and Snowpiercer. I don’t know if I wrote about them, but I liked them, and you should know.

Happy holidays, one and all.