Sunday, January 5, 2014

March, Book One

March, Book One is the first of a trilogy chronicling the life and times of John Lewis, a US Congressman, civil rights activist, and the last remaining speaker from the March on Washington, the occasion for MLK's historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

The book shifts from the past to the present, framed by Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, but delving into the past and showing scenes from Lewis's childhood growing up as a sharecropper in Alabama, his calling to become a preacher, his going to college and meeting other civil rights activists, and his roles in various sit-ins and marches. These stories are not sugar coated and have strong elements of the dangers and realities of these historical situations.
Simultaneously, the story and art also practice nonviolence and move toward understanding and acceptance. Even when depicting horrible events, the story and art refuses to demonize those who practice prejudice and violence, even while showing that those practices are morally and ethically wrong. The journalistic tenor of the book captures a palpable sense of struggle, conviction, and consequence.

Lewis and his staffer Andrew Aydin make their debuts as graphic novel writers with this book, but artist Nate Powell is a veteran and expert creator with a long list of praised works, including the graphic novels The Silence of Our Friends, Swallow Me Whole, and Any Empire. He has much to work with, both in terms of history and experiences, and as demonstrated in the excerpts above he makes excellent tonal use of black and white to tell riveting, moving, and powerful tales. All these creators speak about the origins and their role in making this book in this NPR profile.

A best-seller and listed among the best books of 2013 by many, including USA Today, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, Paste, Slate, ComicsAlliance, Amazon, and Apple iBooks, this book has been much acclaimed. Michael Cavna called it "riveting and beautiful." Cornelius Fortune praised the artwork especially for conveying meaning and feeling, stating that "Powell’s style is somewhere in between the worlds of photorealism and animation, the images at times seeming to move on the page." Esther Keller summed up, "This book would be a wonderful addition to any library, private, public, or school. It would especially enhance any curriculum unit on the Civil Rights Movement."

March, Book One is available from Top Shelf, and they provide a preview, reviews, links, and much more here.

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