The creators of "March: Book One", Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Eisner Award winner Nate Powell interview one another about their new graphic novel detailing Lewis' lifelong stuggle for human and civil rights.
NATE POWELL: Andrew, how did the idea
for March emerge? It seems like an intimidating proposal to Congressman Lewis.
AYDIN: I was working for Congressman Lewis as his Press Secretary during the
2008 primary campaign and towards the end of the campaign all of the staff
started talking about what we were going to do when the campaign was over. I
admitted I was going to go to a comic convention, which, in politics, is not
something you really say openly, or so I learned. Folks sort of laughed at me
and snickered a little bit, but Congressman Lewis stood up for me, and he said
“You know, there was a comic book during the movement, and it was incredibly
influential.” I was captivated. Could a comic book really have played a role in
the civil rights movement? As it turns out, it had, inspiring some of the early
participants in the sit-in movement. I was 24 years old at the time, and
probably just didn’t know any better, but I started asking Congressman Lewis,
“Why don’t you write a comic book?” I think he sort of thought I was a little
crazy. But we talked about it and I kept asking and then one day he said yes.
AYDIN: Congressman, what made you say yes?
LEWIS: Persistence had a lot to do with it. I respect that a great deal. But
also my mind went back to the 1957 comic book, “Martin Luther King and the
Montgomery Story,” telling the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the bus
boycott, and how they went on to use a comic book to make it easy for young
people to understand the power of nonviolence, the power of direct action, and
peaceful resistance. And I finally said, "Yes, let's do it," because
I saw the need to try to educate and inspire and get more young people
motivated to do something about all of the violence in our society and to let
them know that during another period in our history, a group of young people
had the courage to use the way of peace, the way of love, the way of
nonviolence to bring about change. It’s a successful technique, a successful
philosophy, and it’s a way out.
LEWIS: And Nate, you’ve done such a wonderful job bringing it to life with your
drawings. You make it so real. What parts gave you the most trouble?
POWELL: Much of the general discipline for my work on March
had already been honed while drawing The
Silence of Our Friends, in terms
of developing an approach to using reference and research materials, so that
wasn’t too big a challenge. Your narrative is understandably full of historical
figures and places, and there’s relatively little to fabricate. The greatest
challenge, though, was adapting some of the violent and disturbing content to
the comics form. Each act of violence seemed especially vivid and lurid. The
depiction of Emmett Till’s body being dragged from the Tallahatchie River was
the worst, and I really didn’t know what I was in for until I started digging
through police and funeral photos, still trying to accurately depict such
brutality while being as respectful as possible. Book Two is going to be even
more disturbing—that’ll require additional consideration.
AYDIN: What about the opposite: what scene are you most proud of?
POWELL: From a visual standpoint, I’m most proud of the scene depicting
Congressman Lewis’ first arrest during a lunch counter sit-in in early 1960.
It’s part of a string of scenes showing two weeks’ worth of sit-ins and tests,
and each of the incidents has enough repetition in visuals, textures, and sound
effects that one falls into the rhythm of the demonstrations, noticing the
subtle escalation in language, attitudes, and actions used against Lewis and
his peers. Once they’re finally met with brute force, John Lewis’ account of
transcending the anxieties of physical struggle as he’s dragged out to a paddy
wagon is truly profound.
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POWELL: Congressman, what should the younger generation take away from reading
LEWIS: I want young readers to understand that another generation of young
people, who tasted the bitter fruits of segregation and discrimination came to
that point where they said, ‘We won’t take it anymore.’ I would love readers to
recognize that it was just ordinary people who believed so deeply that they
were moved to act. And I hope they see what it took to be willing to speak up
and speak out. They had raw courage, enough courage – literally – to put their
bodies on the line. People were prepared to die for what they believed in.
LEWIS: What do you think, Andrew, did it come out the way you expected it to?
AYDIN: This book came out better than I could have ever expected. Nate did such
an unbelievable job of making the story come alive. I’ve heard these stories
many times, but when I go back and look at the pages of what we’ve created
together, I’m always swept up again in the emotion and the struggle.