Lauded as one of the best books of the year — and landing at #3 on CBR’s Top 100 Comics of 2013 — and an important one for the entire comics medium, “March: Book One” from Top Shelf Productions was one of the most buzzed about books in recent memory. Written by Congressman John Lewis and his aide, Andrew Aydin, the first installment transforms the storied legislator’s life into a graphic novel that focus on the Civil Rights Movement and his place in it. But while the story begins with Lewis, it truly comes to life under the steady hand of artist Nate Powell.
Powell kicked his feet up to celebrate the book’s journey aboard the CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International in San Diego, chatting with Jonah Weiland about his rebellious background, how the cartoonist landed such an important gig, his relationship with Lewis and how it’s changed him as both a storyteller and a person.
On growing up and playing in punk rock bands: I’m an Arkansas, I was born in 1978, I grew up in a military family until I was about 10 — my dad retired. My family is all native Mississippians, and I also lived in Alabama growing up. Once I started really heavily getting into comics and drawing comics, my interest, basically, in thrash metal switched over to an interest in the incredibly vibrant punk scene that was happening in Little Rock, Arkansas at the time. Throughout the ’90s it was really one of the major towns that underground punk would come through in the United States. A lot of people not only in bands, and putting out tapes and records, but were releasing a lot of ‘zines. There was a period of a couple years where I was writing and drawing in my own ‘zines and I was drawing and publishing my own comic, but it took a couple more years really until it occurred to me that they didn’t necessarily have to be separate adventures. … Once my major band kind of became defunct around 2006 or 2007, my life became a lot more stable and all the sudden it was possible to actually dedicate myself to much more long form work; “Swallow Me Whole” being the first work I did that was more than 65 pages.
On how he got involved with “March” and Congressman Lewis: I remember seeing the news release that “March” had just been signed at Top Shelf without an artist — I was like, “Oh… interesting.” About a month later Chris [Staros] actually gave me a call and he was like, “Nate, I think you might be the right artist for this project. Then basically it was up to me to do a couple of demo pages peppered throughout Book One and submit them to Congressman Lewis and Andrew to see if the collaboration would really work. And it did. It became a much more organic affair once I jumped on board and started breaking down the script. But it was that simple.
On how the project expanded from one book to three: A lot of the back and forth I would do just about smaller storytelling matters I would just e-mail or call Andrew and we’d work it out, he would run a question by John Lewis. So I met Andrew for the first time at San Diego Comic-Con last year. At that time, “March” was still one graphic novel. Actually, when they submitted the final script to me, it was a 150 to 200-page graphic novel. And it was broken down in a traditional comic script format — pages, panels, direction, etc. Once I sort of identified what my storytelling responsibilities were, I started kind of throwing a lot of that out of the window and seeing where time was flowing in a different way and pretty quickly I was like, “You guys, this is a five hundred page story.” … Last year, I was like, “It’s definitely gonna be that long, it’s gonna take years.” Andrew, just very simply, he was like, “Well, make it three books. It’s divided into six major chapters, just split it up.” And then we’re like, “It seems too simple, but it actually works better that way.”
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