Congressment John Lewis, known for his consistent position in the Black Congressional Caucus and one of the most progressive Democrats in office, has a long history in the Civil Rights struggle. As a key organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that challenged racist paramilitaries, police, and the hateful onlookers marching through the south, culminating with the march on Selma, Alabama. That march was the pinnacle of his story about an early life spent in direct struggle against white supremacy before moving to positions within the state, and it is this story that he decided to tell in a series of graphic novels from Top Shelf called March. The first two volumes have already been released, in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and we are marching up to a new release coming after Top Shelf was bought up by IDW.
The strange thing is that March has been a huge crossover success with mainstream comic readers, and has been celebrated all over the comic press that normally fauns over Spider-Man’s change in web color. The books have sold well, especially in the educational market which is likely the first place that Lewis had intended them for. Part of the success is Lewis’s ability to appeal to the friendly press, including speaking regularly at Comic Cons on panels dealing with politics and non-fiction subjects in comics. Lewis himself, who always supported this kind of visual storytelling, had the idea occur to him when driving back at some older material on the early Civil Rights struggle and finding the classic comic, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.
At this year’s San Diego Comic Con he stepped up to something he had said previously at Awesome Con about recreating the exact outfit and appearance of the Selma march. He arrived at SDCC in costume, mimicking the coat, tie, and back-pack he wore in his photos. At his speech he dug in deep, discussing the racist American immigration policy, the fact that the South(and the rest of the country, for that matter) were still racial segregated, and about the power of organizing. He took many of the kids he had spoken to in the panel with him on his way to his signing, posing them for the photo as a way of trying to include them in the lessons about organizing.
With the second half of Lewis’ life being focused on institutional party politics, it is nice to see that he still sees his direct confrontation with racism and organizing struggle as the foundation of making a new world.