March Reaffirms the Power of Graphic Novels

March: Book One

17346698Author: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Illustrator: Nate Powell
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Source: NetGalley DRC
Genre(s): History, Biography, Graphic Novel

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers:  Medium
GoodReads | Amazon

John “Bob” Lewis is a living legend. Born in 1940 he has been the Representative from the 5th District of Georgia since 1987 but that’s not why people should take note of him. He’s the last living member of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s core group of leaders from the Civil Rights Movement. As president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he was the youngest member of that group and he was instrumental in organizing young people throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. He’s also the first Congressman to write a graphic novel and March: Book One is the first in what (at least according to Wikipedia) is intended to be a trilogy.

March: Book One is an autobiographical tale chronicling not just Lewis’s efforts during the Civil Rights movement but also his early childhood. The book begins with Lewis and a friend standing on a bridge being confronted by police and then flashes forward to the future to the day of Obama’s inauguration. The early part of the book is then told to a woman and her two grandsons who have come to Washington, DC from Atlanta to see history made. Lewis takes the time to tell them about his childhood – from his love of his family’s chickens to his first trip to New York and his early desire to be a preacher –  and more.

There are moments reading this story where I honestly felt moved to tears. It’s a very powerful story and it’s made even more powerful by the fact that it is very much a true story. It becomes even more moving when Lewis begins to recall his actual efforts in the Civil Rights movement as a young man. The reader will learn quite a lot about the movement and the efforts of individuals who braved near insurmountable odds to change this country for the better. March: Book One really started to get to me as Lewis began to recount the decision to stage sit-ins at Woolworth’s counters throughout the South. His efforts were localized in Nashville where he was a student at the time. Throughout everything Lewis adds his personal narration and explains the philosophies and ideals behind the movement all while leading the reader up to the presidential inauguration in 2009. Of course, we don’t quite get there. There are, after all, two more books to go and plenty more history to share…

Ever since I heard about this project I’ve been looking forward to reading the finished product and it did not disappoint. March: Book One is a fantastic chronicle of the Civil Rights Movement as well as a the personal trials and triumphs of John Lewis’s incredible life. The artwork is fantastic and plays well with the story. I really cannot wait to read more.

Another thing to note, Top Shelf Productions has produced a teacher’s guide to help educators use March: Book One in the classroom. The guide offers ideas for starting discussions with students and also getting them to think about not just the story but how the artwork helps to tell it. Personally, I think I would wait to use the book in the classroom until all three volumes have been released simply for the benefit of having the complete story in front of students. I think that they would get quite into the book and the idea of teaching with comic books would probably excite them enough that they’d feel like the ending of the first book would be an unfair cliffhanger!

Final Thoughts:
One of my favorite comics – and in fact one of the first comics I ever read – growing up was Maus I & II. So for me, comic books have always been a means of telling very deep, personal stories. March: Book One only serves to reaffirm that point for a new generation. I absolutely loved March: Book One and I cannot wait for the next two books. I think that this is going to be one of the best series of the decade when it’s finished and if it’s not given the recognition it deserves I will be quite disappointed. If I were a teacher, I know I’d be lobbying to use this in my curriculum at the very least.