John Lewis releases gripping final book in ‘March’ trilogy

Max Tirouvanziam

The third installment of the “March” graphic novel series is truly groundbreaking. It’s more than a history lesson about the life of John Lewis, even if it’s now in the curriculum of English and history classes across the country. While there’s a good amount of action, it’s more than a superficial collection of “POW” and “BOOM”-filled pages. And this book is more than a quick skim instead of watching cartoons: “March” is a must-read with abundant food for thought.

The book opens with a scene that rocked the nation: the bombing in September, 1963 of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four black girls. Over the next 250 pages, a president, civil rights leaders and dozens of innocent civilians are killed out of hatred. Protesters are beaten and jailed. Millions of people are insulted, oppressed, and disrespected.

But the book’s overall message is somewhat more optimistic. It strives to show that real change and progress can be achieved through struggle and sacrifice.

Graphic novelist Nate Powell uses engaging layouts and action to enhance the book’s sense of being in the moment.

Graphic novelist Nate Powell is really an artist in how he makes the story come alive and pour out from the pages. This isn’t your average, boxy cartoon-strip-style book. In “March,” words and actions spill from one box to the next and one page to another in dynamic black and white layouts. This creates a flowing, page-turning story. Even wordy scenes such as speeches and sermons are made into twisting, turning strings of words with emphasis and character. Powell does all this while leaving room for the emotional and impactful language of critical scenes.

Writer Andrew Aydin completes these scenes with dialogue that puts you in the moment. The characters’ speech helps show the clashing ideals during segregation and the personalities and mindsets of influential people on either side. He guides the story with Lewis’ first-person narrative and anecdotes, making it almost as if Lewis himself is in the room telling this to you. This format turns historical events now studied in textbooks immediate, sensory and engaging.

Critics would argue that the story is overly one-sided, and this is somewhat true. Police and local authority figures are almost always portrayed as blatantly racist and violent. Balancing this, the authors do a good job of not portraying characters as totally good or evil by showing flaws and motives.

But to some degree, the remaining bias is expected and even welcomed in this biographical work. After all, this is the John Lewis story, told from his perspective and dedicated to “the past and future children of the movement.”

The authors use these techniques to convey the hallmark spirit of John Lewis and his colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement. Their values of determination, commitment, and non-violence are displayed throughout the book. Flashes forward to Obama’s inauguration in 2008 show the ultimate result of these struggles. This ties into the continued relevance of the movement’s ideals today, 50 years after the book’s close in 1965.

But maybe more than anything else, “March: Book 3” is a perceptive and personal portrait of an American hero. An insider and leader of the movement tells stories of disagreement about differing ideas and methods. In a few descriptive passages the focus shifts even tighter, allowing the reader into John Lewis’ head. These pages show his relatable emotions at vulnerable moments: grief after the assassination of JFK, anger at perceived government failures, pleasure at accomplishments and fear during the Selma march. These insights go to show that John Lewis isn’t a saint or a godsend. Rather, he’s a real human with a strong conviction for doing what’s right and fair. Which means he isn’t afraid to get in the way when something is unjust.