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Civil Rights, right?
March: Book One
By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
Published by Top Shelf
March: book one tells, what growing up in the great state of Georgia, could be considered a colloquial tale of oppression. Now I don’t mean that in a harsh way, but a true one. There are sin’s that must be atoned for. The graphic novel tells the beginnings of Representative John Lewis through an artistically lucrative style that brings the zeitgeist into a new forum. That forum being the edgy medium of comics. Yes, it could be said, that the graphic novel itself was sort of built off the idea of an old mini-comic made about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery story. However this, presumed, franchise takes a great deal from Nate Powell’s gritty, seamless style that makes it all the more unique.
March, much like the non-violent personality of John Lewis, doesn’t come off in any way as vitriolic. This is redeeming because Civil Rights media can be a tough burden to bear in storytelling. You can risk sounding preachy or bitter. March does a good job of feeling completely autobiographical, painting the picture of the time without too much embellishment. In the context of the movement itself you get a very humble vibe from Lewis’s writing. He never comes across as a superman fighting alone against all odds. You truly get the sense of a group effort.
The story takes a cue from the likes of Maus or Princess Bride, in the fact that it is literally being told as a story by John Lewis within the graphic novel. Luckily, this has sort of become a troupe without being trite. The only gripe I have is that the narration continues after Representative Lewis stops talking to the young boys visiting his office before the inauguration. That felt a bit off. I had to ask. Why is the story still going on if he isn’t telling it any more?
Also, on the subject of the nitty gritty, my only remaining qualm comes in the second half of this book. In the beginning we are painted this very moving, vivid picture of a young John Lewis preaching and caring for his chickens on the farm. This is chock full of characterization and helps me invest and believe in the character. But later in the story it loses some of that grit for gloss by telling us about a number of the beginning civil rights practices and not showing us with the character. I do understand that with the storytelling construct this provides leniency. And even though I commended it on its coming off as a group effort, it still seems as if the story should still stay within the lense of John Lewis.
The story does a good job of setting up the anticipation for the rest of the saga by only giving us a taste of the huge march that would later be a turning point in the civil rights movement. We meet Martin Luther King Jr. for only a moment before heading back to Nashville. And for the rest of the graphic novel he only appears like George Washington in 1776, through letters. I also appreciated how the first chapter started small by really only covering the sit-in’s and local restaurants not serving African Americans. I can only hope that the scope of the series as a whole continues where I think it will, ideally ending with the ‘I have a dream’ speech juxtaposed with Barack Obama’s inaugural speech as the first black president. In my head that fits beautifully.
I think March is a wonderful addition to the graphic novel world along with the world of civil rights literature. For its humble 120 pages, it manages to unfold a scope of emotion and history. I personally knew very little about the Civil Rights movement outside of places like Montgomery. I think the March brought an additional geographic perspective. It adds to that large sub-genre with so many unique aspects. It is an autobiographical, beautifully drawn graphic novel. It is certainly one of a kind. One of a kind much like the march towards freedom laid out within the book. March is a story with substance and something to look forward to.
I was in my nineteen ninety seven Chevy pickup, with the backseat filled to the top with my belongings, driving five hours by myself to Savannah, GA to start my first year of college. My heart was full of hopes and woes, as most teenagers are when they leave what they’ve known their whole lives behind. On my small blue IPod nano was a mix-tapeI had downloaded in a frenzied downloading spree, to stock up on good jams for the road. That mix-tape was Acid Rap. I’ll never forget as long as I live the lines “Even better than I was the last time” from Good Ass Intro, spilling out of my speakers and consuming my mind. The next fifty minutes or so that followed were pure bliss. I called my girlfriend the moment it ended and said, “Stop what you’re doing, and download this right now.”
The tape that would come to be one of my favorite rap records of all time was by, the not much older than me, Chance Bennett, or Chance (please say) the Rapper. With further delving, I found that Chance was a truly motivated artist, giving up most of his senior year in high school to perform wherever he could in Chicago and dropping another lovely mix-tape the year before. The more I explored his wordplay and style, the more I realized that he was hip-hops white knight. He was next-level clever. He was young, fresh, and fun, but he knew how to hit you when you weren’t paying attention with an emotional line. Interlude (That’s Love) will stay, for me, an anthem of what’s important for all the days to come as a creator.
Only one month went by before I purchased tickets to the Social Experiment Tour’s stop in Atlanta. The next month passed by and the day of the show was upon us. My girlfriend and I made great time to the venue and, though we waited in the freezing cold for an hour, got exceptional spots right next to the stage. Chance performed at ten, accompanied with an extremely talented band (the trumpet player kicked serious ass). It was a wonder to watch Chance perform on his first solo tour, especially after entering fandom so quickly. It was important that I knew everything I could before the concert, so I wouldn’t feel phony in any way.
Two months is fast, but it was because of the talent Chance possesses. His verses are verbal gold. Even his “All she needed was some…” on Bino’s The Worst Guys was great. Now I watch for his name like a hawk, because I know that whatever he drops or is featured on is certainly going to be dope. I think what resonated so loudly with me was the fact that Chance felt a lot like me in that car on my way to school. He felt young and so inspired by the change around him, but at the same time careful and cautious to not move too quickly. Chance is rapper I’ll always admire. I’ll always feel like he’s with me on my journey.
Phil Hoffman and I had two things in common. We were both fathers of young children, and we were both recovering drug addicts. Of course I’d known Phil’s work for a long time — since his remarkably perfect film debut as a privileged, cowardly prep-school kid in Scent of a Woman — but I’d never met him until the first table read for Charlie Wilson’s War, in which he’d been cast as Gust Avrakotos, a working-class CIA agent who’d fallen out of favor with his Ivy League colleagues. A 180-degree turn.
On breaks during rehearsals, we would sometimes slip outside our soundstage on the Paramount lot and get to swapping stories. It’s not unusual to have these mini-AA meetings — people like us are the only ones to whom tales of insanity don’t sound insane. “Yeah, I used to do that.” I told him I felt lucky because I’m squeamish and can’t handle needles. He told me to stay squeamish. And he said this: “If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won’t.” He meant that our deaths would make news and maybe scare someone clean.
So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to say this: Phil Hoffman, this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly “right” for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked, did not die from an overdose of heroin — he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine.
He didn’t die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed — he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it. He’ll have his well-earned legacy — his Willy Loman that belongs on the same shelf with Lee J. Cobb’s and Dustin Hoffman’s, his Jamie Tyrone, his Truman Capote and his Academy Award. Let’s add to that 10 people who were about to die who won’t now."
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