Legendary American congressman John Lewis, already a hero of America’s civil rights movement, will join the ranks of American superheroes on bookshop shelves as he prepares to launch a comic book version of his remarkable life story.
John Lewis, whose time at the heart of the civil rights movement has seen him severely beaten and arrested more than 40 times, was elected to Congress in 1986, where he has served a Georgia representative ever since. He was presented with America’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2011 by Barack Obama. Although he has written his memoirs in a more traditional form in the past, Lewis is now working with small publisher Top Shelf Productions on a three-volume graphic version of his story, launching with March, which is out in August and illustrated by the award-winning artist Nate Powell.
Bill Clinton himself has provided a blurb for the book, in which he calls Lewis “a resounding moral voice in the quest for equality for more than 50 years”, and says that in March “he brings a whole new generation with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, from a past of clenched fists into a future of outstretched hands”. In 1965, Lewis led 600 protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. The protesters were intending to demonstrate about the need for Black voting rights, but were attacked by Alabama state troopers in what became known as the “Bloody Sunday” confrontation.
Lewis was persuaded to work on the upcoming graphic biography by Andrew Aydin, then press secretary on his primary campaign, back in 2008. “Some of the people were teasing me a bit because I said that I’d be going to a comic convention after the campaign was over. But Congressman Lewis turned and said ‘You know, there was a comic book during the movement. It was very influential’. I was hooked,” said Aydin. “I learned more about the comic (Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story), the story it told of the Montgomery bus boycotts, of Dr King, and of Gandhi. I learned that it had helped inspire some of the earliest student actions of the movement.”
Aydin went on to ask Lewis if he might be interested in writing a comic book himself. “He was a part of so many seminal moments of the civil rights movement that if a 16-page comic about the bus boycotts could inspire young people, then surely telling more of the story in the same way might inspire young people again. Finally, one day he came back to me and said, ‘OK, let’s do it. But only if you write it with me’.” said Aydin.
The first volume in the trilogy will cover Lewis’s childhood in Alabama, where he attended segregated schools, as well as his meeting with Martin Luther King, “the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through non-violent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall”, said Top Shelf.
Leigh Walton, marketing director at the publisher, called the congressman “a genuine icon, a man who’s not only borne witness to some of our country’s most dramatic changes but has been a key agent in actually bringing about change, all through his dedication to justice and non-violence”.
“On top of his amazing history, he’s a born storyteller – you might say preacher,” said Walton. “And given the supreme court’s decision this week to dismantle the voting rights act, called by The Nation ‘his signature achievement’, it’s more urgent than ever for today’s readers to understand the context of his story, and the larger struggle within which he has worked … This trilogy really is opening doors for the graphic novel field … and we hope it will open a lot of eyes to a new understanding of America’s civil rights journey.”
Written by Alison Flood for the guardian.com