Making a graphic-novel memoir with the express objective of creating nonviolent revolution attainable and pressing was audacious, however the late Rep. John Lewis took that threat with us, alongside us and exactly as a result of he knew the stakes.

We’re nonetheless in awe of his belief in us to inform his life story, together with his willingness to threat being disregarded and laughed at for this selection of medium and format.

Interviewers usually requested us, “Why a graphic novel?” The reality is that “March” was always a comic, beginning with Andrew’s preliminary imaginative and prescient after Congressman Lewis described 1957’s buried however influential “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Across 14 pages, the comic book explains the philosophy and self-discipline of nonviolent social resistance by an illustrated recounting of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery bus boycott. Comic books at the time have been extensively demonized, thought-about by some to be a corrupting affect — however having witnessed the inspiration “Montgomery Story” gave younger activists, together with himself, Lewis knew comics’ potential. He noticed the format as essentially the most democratic and accessible mass medium, one which enabled anybody to specific an concept with primary, cheap instruments and attain a broad readership throughout instructional, class and language boundaries.

He was additionally acutely aware of the function the Web performed in creating a brand new literacy amongst younger folks. Phrases and footage labored collectively in tweeted memes in a lot the identical manner as a comic book panel. Sequential narrative was turning into the language of younger adults. Similtaneously we made our comics, Andrew and the Congressman labored collectively within the Congressional workplace (their day jobs, as Lewis would describe it) to dramatize the tales of the motion by social media, creating the now ubiquitous “#goodtrouble.” These efforts labored hand in hand to sensitize, educate and encourage younger folks, bringing them a historical past and consider of the world round them that was without delay each iconic and fast.

The concept for “March” first took root in 2008 on the Congressman’s re-election marketing campaign, as longtime staffers struggled to search out new methods to inform his story in opposition to the rising query of “What have you done for me lately?”, and the sharp backlash to Lewis’ initial endorsement of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for president. Andrew, who had been on the Congressman’s private employees and was serving because the marketing campaign’s press secretary, steered a easy concept: Congressman Lewis ought to write a comic book e-book. Although it took some convincing, the Congressman agreed on one situation: He would do it, however provided that Andrew wrote it with him.

It took 5 years for that concept to succeed in the world, as mainstream publishers rejected the idea as outlandish. Andrew finally discovered a sympathetic ear at a 2010 comedian conference, and by 2011 artist Nate Powell had joined the workforce. Then, together with Lewis, we started our unbelievable work.

Artwork from the first installment of the "March" graphic novel trilogy. (Courtesy Nate Powell)Artwork from the first installment of the "March" graphic novel trilogy. (Courtesy Nate Powell)

No historic determine of such magnitude had ever tried to inform their story instantly by comics, and as a way to produce work that felt actually alive we needed to invent our personal type of scholarship. We weighed a number of narratives and reminiscences of the principal members of the motion in opposition to the lengthy historical past of scholarship and retellings, whereas staying true to the truth that we have been at the beginning telling John Lewis’ story. Typically folks disagreed. Typically books disagreed. And we needed to type all of that out with Congressman Lewis usually serving as a sympathetic referee, since we have been evaluating the work and historical past of his mates, colleagues and admirers.

Our collaboration required a fragile stability between an correct, accountable historic account and the intimate, subjective expertise of that historical past. Rising to actually know and love John Lewis all through the inventive course of additionally required rising in belief — the belief crucial to put ourselves in his sneakers on the drawing desk and keyboard. We labored every day to show ourselves worthy of it, respiratory life into body after body.

Artist Nate Powell works on the second installment of the "March" trilogy. (Courtesy Nate Powell)Artist Nate Powell works on the second installment of the "March" trilogy. (Courtesy Nate Powell)
A lifelong lover of visible artwork, Lewis’ openness guided him to embrace comics with the identical adoration he dropped at his favorites like Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence. He plainly noticed the potential of the comedian e-book to nurture a social conscience inside each younger individual in America, and had religion in our medium to equip folks with the instruments to arrange and shield themselves.

When John Lewis spoke about forces “trying to take us back,” he was making an attempt to get us to see that the forces he confronted by no means went away. They have been all the time there, hiding in plain sight, ready for us to let our guard down, ready for us to overlook the way to battle again. As a cloud descended over our society all through the 2010s, he pushed us each to proceed to consider within the human capability for change; to stay open at the same time as potentialities threatened to vanish.

As we turned within the first 10 accomplished pages of “March: Book One” again in summer season 2012, we solely hoped our collaborative imaginative and prescient might stand as much as his subjective experiences. Studying these pages introduced tears to his eyes, distilling one thing true on the web page from inside his personal personal reminiscences. The Congressman would usually say that studying “March” was “like being there,” and that the illustrations had the power to make the phrases “sing.” There was no mannequin for what we have been making an attempt to do. We needed to construct the language and the requirements as we went.

The "March" team visits Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama in 2013. (Photo courtesy Sandi Villareal)The "March" team visits Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama in 2013. (Photo courtesy Sandi Villareal)
His dedication to the venture was highly effective. As he did so many occasions earlier than, he gave his complete self. A typical e-book tour is perhaps a number of weeks’ value of signings, a speech right here and there, and maybe a triumphant cocktail reception earlier than receiving a chunk of dishware repurposed together with your title and e-book title etched onto it. However the historical past of “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” taught us that the 1957 comedian labored along with a “reconciliation tour.” Leaders like John Lewis’ mentor, the Rev. James Lawson, and others led workshops explaining the philosophy and self-discipline of nonviolent resistance as they distributed the comedian in order that members had one thing tangible to check and apply.
For John Lewis, that course of was as vital because the comedian itself. As he would say, “We have to get out there and spread the gospel.” So we did. If these books have been a roadmap first drawn by Dr. King, then we would have liked to be Paul and the Apostles preaching to our flock (of chickens, of course).
As biblical as it could sound, this work additionally enlivened the political a part of the Congressman’s soul, the half that really cherished getting out to fulfill “We The People.” It was an entire new marketing campaign. From Comedian Con Worldwide, to the American Library Affiliation, to universities like Michigan State and Georgia State, to whole-community studying packages in San Diego and Vermont (sure, the entire state) — we went in every single place. We gave lots of of talks. Sooner or later we would communicate at a tiny elementary faculty in Brooklyn, and the following we would communicate our minds to the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York. The Congressman stored it up till the top; final December, simply earlier than his prognosis of pancreatic most cancers grew to become public, he spoke with teachers and students in New York Metropolis, the place the Division of Training has included all three volumes of “March” in its system-wide curriculum.
"March" artist Nate Powell with Rep. John Lewis at an industry lunch in 2013. (Courtesy Nate Powell)"March" artist Nate Powell with Rep. John Lewis at an industry lunch in 2013. (Courtesy Nate Powell)
It took a particular type of individual to ask us together with him into this nationwide highlight. On TV, on stage at occasions, in interviews and classroom visits, the Congressman all the time made positive we have been included, and repeatedly fought for it. When an interviewer would solely wish to communicate to him, he would insist they communicate to all of us, refusing to do the interview except we have been all part of it. He would usually say, “We’re a band of brothers,” and that it reminded him of his days touring with Julian Bond working for the Voter Education Project.
In some methods, it was in step with the philosophy of SNCC, the student organization he once led, that although there could also be a frontrunner, each voice deserves to be heard. We frequently joked, after years of touring collectively, that if we have been a band we would be referred to as “Good Trouble.” That sense that we have been on this collectively, with no individual roughly vital than the opposite, was on the core of the Congressman’s philosophy. To him, not telling the entire story—whether or not of the civil rights motion or of how we made our comics—was a sin.

He was really gracious, really sort, really affected person. There’s a lot bandwidth wrapped up in “John Lewis The Icon” that it is simple to low cost the years we spent consuming meals collectively; looking for socks; discussing the O’Jays “Backstabbers” LP; ready in line collectively as Nate purchased a Batgirl motion determine for his daughter after a signing. The nights spent indulging in sweet and ice cream after an vital night occasion, or the reduction of anonymity in faraway cities. The sheer journey of criss-crossing America collectively for 5 years straight is one thing we’ll miss most.

"March" co-authors Andrew Aydin and Rep. John Lewis sample ice cream at Michigan State University in 2014. (Courtesy Nate Powell)"March" co-authors Andrew Aydin and Rep. John Lewis sample ice cream at Michigan State University in 2014. (Courtesy Nate Powell)

Congressman Lewis all the time made a degree to establish “March” as “a roadmap to change,” one which allowed future generations to acknowledge each the successes and obstacles throughout the motion because it grew and advanced. And by “change,” we all the time meant “revolution.” This objective was generally chuckled at early on — actually, a brand new wave of nonviolent revolution from a comic book?! — however Lewis was all the time guided by a transparent ethical framework in each motion, each group and each web page of each e-book.

He was impressed by the notion that the graphic novel format might characterize civil rights historical past in a extra fast, impactful manner — and his enthusiasm mirrored a lifelong willingness to let youthful folks take the lead with new approaches to progress. Lewis’ instance has helped Nate, at 42, acknowledge that he is already approaching dinosaur-status within the eyes of his 8-year-old, and that when she inevitably calls him out of contact with a altering world, it will be time to hear and develop with the following technology. That is the broadest sense of continuous revolution, embodied by our openness, our vulnerability and our capability for reflection and alter.

It’s no vindication that at this time his mandate is more and more seen as a necessity for the very survival of our democracy. We have all lived the implications of nationalist fable clouding our shared historical past, in addition to the struggles endured to take care of a precarious democracy. However we’re solely initially of these probably catastrophic penalties. Fact issues. Historical past — advised by the individuals who lived it — can and can decide our skill to maintain and battle for a society holding precise equality, precise justice, precise freedom, and precise peace as beliefs.

John Lewis spent his huge lifetime marching towards that promise, and we should fulfill it. We will. However we should do it collectively, now, even with the chance that nothing already misplaced will return.