Congressman John Lewis and his aide Andrew Aydin spent some time with CBR TV during Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk about their just-released graphic novel “March,” the first installment in a trilogy recounting Lewis’ life story, co-written by the Congressman and Aydin with art by Nate Powell. Lewis and Aydin shared how they worked together to develop the Congressman’s life story into a graphic novel focusing on his involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement, the differences between “March” and your typical memoir, the Congressman’s reaction to visiting Comic-Con for the first time and more.
On the graphic novel “March,” detailing the story of Congressman John Lewis’ life and the Civil Rights Movement: “Andrew has been on our staff now for more than six years. Near the end of one of my campaigns, he said, ‘I’m going to go to Comic-Con,'” Congressman Lewis told CBR’s Jonah Weiland. “I knew a little something about it, but not much. Other people in the staff and around and about started making fun of the whole idea. I said there’s nothing wrong with reading comics. In another time and another period, there was a comic book telling the story of the Montgomery Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. Andrew came to me and said, “Let’s do a comic book!” and I said, “Oh, no.” He kept talking and I suggested to him that if he did one with me, I would do it. The rest is history.
On writing and crafting the script of “March”: “It was a matter of learning how to do a script that was different than the radio or TV scripts that we would do as an ad or something like that,” Aydin said. “I remember buying some of Scott McCloud’s books and reading those. I think one of my friends gave me ‘How to Write a Graphic Novel For Dummies’ — it was starting at the beginning, starting from scratch. But as we got going and as we started talking about it ourselves, it kind of — Congressman Lewis is a natural storyteller, and hearing his own stories, they just seem to find a natural place on the page. It was just a matter of formatting it and finding all the words that we could fit and telling his story as he tells it himself.”
On the difference between “March” and Lewis’ memoirs: “First of all, it’s action,” Congressman Lewis said. “It’s action, it’s drama. When I was growing up and as I got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, we needed to find some drama. We needed to find a way … to dramatize the issue — make it simple, make it plain, make it so people can feel it, almost smell it. That’s what Andrew was able to do. Along comes Nate Powell, this unbelievable artist, who took the words off the pages and made the words sing.”
On Congressman Lewis’ first experience at Comic-Con: “I don’t see a vast difference [between Comic-Con and political conventions],” Congressman Lewis said. “Here at Comic-Con, you see people dressed in different ways, but even in some political conventions, you see people with a lot of flags and colors, especially some of the young women, who will put all types of things in their hair, and some of the men. Politicians like to stand out, like people to pay attention to them. Here, I think it’s the real world. Comic-Con is the real world and to see people bringing their little children and seeing all the little children all dressed up enjoying themselves — that’s a great feeling, seeing them have fun.”
On an interesting event that occurred during the Voting Rights Act hearing: “in 1954, the comic book hearings that devastated the industry were held by a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Aydin. “Just last week, the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy — who is a big comic book fan and a good friend of Congressman Lewis’ — at the end of the hearing on the Voting Rights Act, he held up a copy of ‘March’ and said, ‘This is going to be read by all five of my grandchildren.’ Talk about bringing this full circle, where Congress once tried to effectively kill the industry and now you’ve got a member of Congress writing a graphic novel, other members of Congress — the chairman of that same committee — bringing it out into the forefront, out into the light and endorsing, supporting it. We’ve come a long way.”
On the process of getting “March” published: “Congressman Lewis graciously went with me and had lunch at another comic convention that happens in Atlanta,” said Aydin. ” We were sitting in the hotel, and Jimmy Palmiotti comes up to the Congressman and says, ‘You’re John Lewis! You’re a real celebrity!’ We sat and we talked for a moment. I was having this odd feeling that, here is my childhood meeting my adulthood. On his way out, he said, ‘If you ever need anything, call me.’ So I ended up needing him at some point. I ended up calling the front desk at Marvel Comics and saying, ‘This is Andrew Aydin, I work for Congressman John Lewis and I want to talk to Jimmy Palmiotti.’ Bless his heart, he called me back two days later — it was actually Amanda Conner on the phone — and sure enough, there’s Jimmy. He talks me through it and says, ‘The only guy who’d be able to do this right is Chris Staros.’ I got together an email, and I put the headline, ‘Referred by Jimmy Palmiotti,’ like it made me very official. Staros emailed me right back.”