Writers: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf
Release Date: January 19, 2015
Not only do trilogies proliferate these days, but their narratives rarely merit their excessive length or achieve the gravitas they promise. March: Book Two, the second volume from Congressman John Lewis chronicling his work in the Cilvil Rights Movement, luckily falls outside this trend (read our review of March: Book One). The care given to every page of this moving and beautiful story is obvious, as Book Two escalates the drama of its predecessor considerably. Covering the beginning of 1961, when the Freedom Riders began their bus trips into the Deep South, to the Birmingham Church Bombing in September 1963, this graphic novel vibrates with emotion.
Lewis, cowriter Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell’s greatest achievement lies partially in the shades of gray they articulate, the details that don’t call attention to themselves but build a nuanced picture of the era. The protesters are brave and stalwart and true, except when they’re frightened or conflicted or at odds with one another. And yet, the book never devolves into inside baseball, at least to the extent of examining more recent incarnations of the movement. The authors may also feature their fair share of meetings and political tactics, but these details never lose track of the moral issues at March’s heart.
The graphic novel also approaches race with thoughtfulness and accuracy: there are heroic white folks, but no White Saviors. The book also refrains from taking cheap shots at the racists of the day, but it certainly doesn’t let them off the hook. Instead, the events portrayed humble the reader as much as make them wriggle with discomfort at the social climate of decades past, a careful balance that also delivers an effective teaching tool.
Powell’s contributions to the effort are, as with Book One, especially strong. The sense of pacing and design throughout proves masterly. White space conveys moments of shock; the ordinary gives way to the horrific with just enough warning to hit hard. Characters make fun of their parents by paraphrasing their elders’ words through neat cursive type, standing in contrast to the sans serif lettering of contemporary speech. These visual decisions instill a character and culture to the story that add a new dimension of immersion.
As in Book One, the plot shifts back and forth from the early 1960s to President Obama’s inauguration six years ago. Subtle visual parallels between that ceremony and the March on Washington argue the importance of the latter and its long-reaching influence on today. The impetus behind the book has shifted slightly from the first volume, with issues like voter rezoning and the conflict in Ferguson casting a renewed sense of urgency. The point here isn’t to review how far we’ve come since the March on Washington — it’s the realization that we need to keep moving.