Wednesday, May 7, 2014

March: Book One

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of March: Book One (Top Shelf, 2013).

Wow. What an excellent heartpunch of a book this is. Georgia Congressman John Lewis has teamed up with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell (whose Swallow Me Whole I have been intending to read for years) to tell his story of the civil rights movement in comic form. I have certainly read of Lewis's role among many sitting down at lunch counters in Nashville department stores, suffering taunting and abuse while awaiting service. I've read about the beatings he received a few years later on the Selma-Montgomery March. I've never taken the time to read his own words before, despite his authoring at least two memoirs prior to this. Should've done that.

The first book of March - three are planned - takes Lewis's story from his childhood in rural southeast Alabama into his college days at Fisk University. Lewis became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, inspired by hearing Dr. King on the radio. This first segment of the story ends on the promising note of Nashville's mayor making a public statement in support of desegregation, but readers are aware all through the book that this story is far from over, and it's going to get really ugly before it gets better.

Powell, it must be said, draws the absolute hell out of this book. I had no idea that I would like this artist's work so much. It's just a beautiful grayscale wash, dense with detail. Powell and Aydin have paced this story astonishingly well. It's just a masterclass in using the form effectively. Lewis's story is already both painful and incredibly inspiring; seeing the faces of the uncaring, unthinking thugs who stood in the way of social progress fifty years ago gives the narrative an almost impossible-to-bear extra weight. It's honestly and simply such a remarkable telling of the tale that it left me in tears. Anxiously awaiting the second volume, this is highly recommended.

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