Mike Strong Full-text Book Reviews at HPPR
(High Plains Public Radio) in Garden City, KS

Moving Pictures

Published April 22, 2022 at 3:00 AM CDT

Peter Pettus, Public Domain, Via Wikimedia Commons /
It was the Hotel Albert in Selma, Alabama, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted to register, an act which tested author and activist John Lewis' commitment to nonviolence.


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The graphic history book is "March" by John Lewis, in a three-book package, as a trilogy.

In his trilogy, "March," John Lewis tells his own story and view of the civil rights movement. "March" uses the day of Barack Obama's inauguration as a device to move us along with a constant set of flashbacks to give us the main story, along with an understanding of the discipline of nonviolence.

The closest John Lewis came to breaking his nonviolent discipline was at the Hotel Albert, (Vol 3, pg. 147) January 2, 1965, "where Dr. King was attempting to become the first African-American to ever sign in as a guest" – after days and days of uneventful protest a white man behind King, who is at the hotel desk to sign in, reaches across, from the back, to sucker-punch King. ["WHAP"] (pg. 151)

Writes Lewis, "I don't know what came over me. I didn't hit him. Though I may have thought about it for a split second. It was the closest I've EVER come to laying down my nonviolence. I found out that day, even I have limits." (pg. 153)

This book was drawn by a white artist, Nate Powell in concert with Lewis's white writer, Andrew Ardyn. It was Ardyn, who learned that Lewis had been influenced by a comic book on Dr. King and pitched the idea of "March."

"The Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) had published a 16-page comic book titled, "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." The FOR was one of the older civil rights movements, started in 1914 in Europe, and coming the USA in 1916.

In 1942, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, was formed as an offshoot. In 1960, with John Lewis as one of the founding members, SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed. SNCC disbanded itself in 1976, having shifted its mission and method several times to more confrontational methods.

When the second "wave" of Freedom Riders added more numbers, the non-violent discipline began breaking down as the newer recruits would push back. They had to be talked to. The non-violent tactic didn't necessarily change minds but had the effect of dissipating the fury directed at them when there was nothing coming back at the mob. Though this didn't always work, and eventually the mob's tactics got worse, leading to a shift in SNCC's focus to black nationalism.

Stokely Carmichael was one of those later Freedom Riders who reacted sharply to being assaulted and confronted the attackers. He was pulled aside and eventually told to leave the Freedom Riders. Lewis makes a point of naming Carmichael and stating that he was out of place.

A comic book is essentially a movie, developed as storyboard, only. Every frame in a comic is a small masterpiece of expression and illustration. Each telling its own story in a larger story line. I've often been puzzled at the idea of a "mere illustrator" versus a "real artist." Time and again, I've found the gripping, trenchant images of a "mere illustrator" are so much better at capturing the essence of character and story.

Also, like a movie, the graphic book approach mandates a different approach to language. Such as the "big 'N' word" or other sidestep, rather than what is meant.

At the Edmund Pettus bridge, one of three times in the book, we have intense illustrations of a police riot charging into marchers with text in dialog balloons and directly over the image:

WHUMP, KRAK, "get them niggers," KRAK, "stay down," FOOMP, SPLATT, KOF, KOF, "Teargas!" HSSSSSSSS, THUNK, "I thought I saw DEATH" "get up" "keep moving" "Deputy, get those goddamn niggers" WHAP, THUNK, KOF, "and get those goddamn WHITE niggers!"

And on and on, though not as much as I remembered, which I realized, when I turned pages looking for that example.

Now, substitute "Big N" and listen, in an excerpted and rearranged form.

WHAP, THUMP, "get them darn big Ns" KRAK "Deputy, get those doggone WHITE big Ns."

Now, it sounds ludicrous and kills the impact. Try to imagine that dialog in a movie. It would sound more like a Saturday Night Live send up. Notice, I also substituted "darn" and "doggone" which further weakens the ability to show the ugliness.

You can also see this in some of Mark Twain's writing, although at that time there were no comic books, so it all shows up in standard prose, which today seems out of place. Still, Twain had the same illustrative purpose, along with his good friend and fellow traveler on the talk circuit, former slave Frederick Douglass, who wrote some of the most elegant English ever, English usage and vocabulary which still takes my breath away.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book CUB.


(F.O.R.) had published a 16-page comic book titled, "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." https://digitalcollections.detroitpubliclibrary.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A226912

SNCC: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee