Well, it’s been a time since the new year started.
I meant to get this written on New Year’s Day, but I got sick after the party I went to, even though I only had about three drinks, so that was A Thing.
Then one of the websites I wrote for, The Rainbow Hub, shut down. You can still read my final article here, but man, not in the greatest of moods after that. I took the week off.
Today though, I get to that review I’ve been putting off for about a year.
There were a lot of great comics that came out last year. Doing a best or favorites list seems kind of trite because it ends up being an echo chamber after some time. So I thought about the graphic novels I read last year, which amounted to three. One was Heart in a Box, which I reviewed already. Another was Sexcastle, which is a brilliant and hilarious book that has been optioned for a movie as of two days ago.
The third though…March: Book Two by Representative John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell is a brilliant book, and I’m not just saying that because John Lewis is my representative. It’s a hard book to talk about, but it is absolutely necessary in helping to teach about the Civil Rights Movement.
I talked some about the need to make history accessible when I reviewed the Hamilton soundtrack, but reading the first two parts of the March trilogy have made me realize just how many gaps their are in our modern collective knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. I’m including myself in that because while I did recall certain things from when we discussed it in my high school History of the Americas/20th Century Topics class that was part of the International Baccalaureate program while reading it, there was still so much there that I had no earthly clue about.
Now, March is a trilogy with book three in the works now, so it’s probably best to read Book One before Book Two to get a full picture of the time and the framing device of President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, but I was still able to read it without having to re-read the first one, so points for that.
The book has two main topics of focus: the 1961 Freedom Rides and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, though it also begins covering the divide that was beginning in SNCC and the direct lead up to the march on Selma that was covered in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film Selma. Still, the book never feels like a long essay with two central topics. With Aydin helping to script out Lewis’ conversation style, the book often feels more like being told a story from an elder. In fact, there are a couple of moments in this book I remember Representative Lewis talking about at Dragon Con 2014. If you’ve never heard Lewis speak, I absolutely recommend that you do, if only for the sake of being able to hear him in your own head while reading the book.Due to the nature of what was going on at the time, this book gets considerably more graphic than the previous volume. I can’t decide if the fact Powell does the book in grey tones makes that fact better or worse. Powell really is the perfect artist for this book, giving art to these very real moments, but not over-exaggerating features. It drives home that those who inflicted the violence or disagreed with the notion of nonviolence were just as human as the rest of us. There is one moment of absolute fever pitch, a chaotic flurry of violence and screaming when the Freedom Riders arrive in Montgomery that is a beacon of Powell’s art style, intertwining with Lewis and Aydin’s writing as the fury starts, builds, and then ends interspersed with Aretha Franklin singing ‘My Country, Tis of Thee.’ It would be almost hard to believe that such violence against others could happen here, but I live in a country where Tamir Rice was shot and killed for playing with a toy gun outside in an open carry state, but a white boy who killed nine people in a church in Charleston gets arrested with a bulletproof vest on and gets Burger King along the way.
Learning more about the often glossed over Freedom Rides would have been enough, but the book also gives a fascinating look at what went into making the March on Washington. Lewis emphasizes how absolutely important Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights leader, was to making the march go off without a hitch. Of course, there were a few hitches. Specifically with Lewis’ speech. Lewis was the youngest of The Big Six and the only one of them still alive today to talk about that day. Lewis’s speech was full of rightful anger over how little was being done by the administration for those in the Deep South, but was met with resistance from religious leaders and other members of the March. Lewis eventually relented, and the tension of these moments continue as he works to rewrite the speech minutes before he went on. Still, if you’re curious, the book does include his original speech in its entirety in the backmatter.March is an important work for understanding our history as it is and current events as they’re happening now. It can feel as if the more things change, the more they stay the same, but that bigger change is possible. If SNCC could change the minds of Robert Kennedy, perhaps there is hope for those working for change now.