March: Book One by John Lewis is one of those books I wish I did not have to rate. Mostly because, while I enjoyed the experience of reading it, I am actually not a fan.
Let me explain. I appreciate everything about it: the build up to the historical March on Washington. The showing of the Civil Rights movement by the youth of this country has a slightly different spin then what your textbooks probably taught you. The seeing history unfold does bring forth several feelings. You see the youth starting to see their elders in a different light. We see how the white and black politicians reacted. Plus, how the black and white religious communities dealt with the issues. Not to mention (like the history of the Holocaust, the Japanese’s Internment camps and current events) the thought, “What would I do?” comes to mind. Could I have sat at those counters, not moving, not talking, unable to “do violence” to those who at the very least, were wishing violence on me?
The flashbacks and forwards are an interesting tool. But this is where things start to go south for me. Small text that blends into the busily detailed black and white illustrations made it hard to sometimes realize where you were: Are we still in Alabama 1950s or are we Washington DC January 2009? The tone of the story, since told by Lewis himself to people in his office waiting for another historic event, can drone on. You hear a narrator doing a voice over to his story which can take you out of the story. Names are tossed out as if you should know them. Yet, this is not a bad thing, as it made me want to look these people up.
The whole graphic novel is intense: intense language and intense images. Lewis and co-author Andrew Aydin do not fool around with “how it was” told through Lewis’ eyes. And Nate Powell’s illustrations show Dr. King sitting behind a desk talking to Lewis as a young man; Thurgood Marshall representing the old guard; and even the details of the chickens on Lewis’ family farm without sugarcoating it. This is not a light, beach read. This is a book that slaps you up side the face. And the fact that it ends on an almost wordless image of an old cell phone ringing is both poetic and problematic. I was internally yelling, “What happens next?” Perhaps much of what I am not liking in Book One would have been solved had I read all three books at once.