SPX Spotlight 2016: March Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! If you want to track our personal recommendations of creators who'll be attending one of the best small-press shows in America, make sure you follow along. It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 17th and 18th, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

March Book 3
Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Drawn by Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions

March Book 3 is never a story about heroism even though there are heroes in it. The John Lewis who is represented in this comic book fights and struggles for equality. He is beaten repeatedly simply because he is a black man in the South. In Alabama during the early 1960s, all men and women were not treated as equals and just the act of registering to vote was something that many black people were not able to do with the ease of white people. Lewis was part of an organization at the time that sought to change the laws through nonviolent means. Unfortunately, it seems like at every sit-in or protest they were met with brutal violence in retaliation. Representative John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell tell the story of 1964 and the civil rights struggles that culminated in the march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The story of Lewis’s quest for equality in 1964 should be a celebration of the Civil Rights movement but is a sad reminder of the distance we still have to go.

In many ways, the focus in Lewis, Aydin and Powell’s final book of this trilogy is the high cost of the right to vote. We’ve seen the violence and the ugliness of racism in the first two books and it continues to build throughout the early 1960s. The book opens with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Al. that killed four young girls. And almost before Lewis can do anything, a young black man is shot by some white teenagers and another is shot by police. And all of the horrors just continues. It’s either innocents or people trying to fight for the innocents that make the ultimate sacrifices. The comic creators show the stakes of the Civil Rights struggle in the lives that were lost because of stupid and illogical hatred.

Powell’s artwork is about the personality, the motivation and the spirit of his characters. So much of his storytelling is done through the eyes and expressions of the people he draws. In them, we see arrogance, fear, pride, love, concern, resolve and so much more. That’s what makes March more than just an illustrated story about the Civil Rights movement. Powell’s art takes history and gives it a soulful humanity because we experience these drawings on the page as people, as mothers and fathers and as brothers and sisters. In these drawings, today in 2016 we experience the same joy and disgust in our fellow man that Lewis did in 1964. John Lewis’ story is powerful on its own but Powell’s artwork opens up the story on a personal level, making Lewis’ story into all of our story. It makes us both part of the problem and part of the resolution of this story as there are plenty of opportunities to recognize ourselves in the characters.

Lewis, Aydin, and Powell are working under the weight of history but their storytelling never buckles and it most certainly never falters. Lewis’ personal history in the advancement of civil rights is never about being the face of change or leadership. At the time, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. are both the figureheads the movement but very different figureheads. King Jr. is highly respected but seen as a bit of limelight seeker by some of Lewis’ colleagues. Malcolm X. is not nearly as present of a player in March Book 3 but Lewis, Aydin, and Powell include a very memorable moment between Lewis and Malcolm X. when Lewis was at a low point. It’s a short visit that the two men had overseas but Malcolm X. is presented as just another man fighting the good fight.

While the march from Selma is central to this series, March Book 3 really caps off an approximately four-year struggle that is about people simply being treated as people. On one hand, it sounds all too obvious to us in 2016 but then when we watch the news, it’s easy to see the story of John Lewis as the lessons of the past that we still need to have pounded into our heads. In the end of March Book 3, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s a victory in the book but not an end to the struggles illustrated in this series. Looking back on the march to Selma, Lewis writes, “I wish I could say that the violence, the threats, the murders all topped after Dr. King spoke. None of it stopped.” Even after the march, a woman from Detroit was shot while driving volunteers back to Selma from Birmingham. The book starts describing the death of innocent people and near the end, it continues with one more killing of a person who was only trying to help other people get their rights as American citizens.

March Book 3 isn’t a history lesson; it’s a lesson of us and who we are. The events of the early 1960s don’t feel that long in the past because of the division between Americans then, unfortunately, is not that different than the division that exists today. We’ve seen black men killed in 2016 and we’ve seen the protests, the violence and the heartfelt pain that follows. The events in March Book 3 may as well have been 50 days ago or 50 months ago as much as they were 50 years ago. Representative John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s book shows us the past but is really about the present, reminding us that as a country and a people we still have a long way to go to truly be a nation that understands that all men are created equally and have unalienable rights, including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

You can find information on Representative John Lewis at his website and on his Twitter feed. You can find Nate Powell online at his website, on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Andrew Aydin can be found on his website, on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Aydin and Powell will be at SPX2016 at table W64-67.