“We lean on John Lewis for inspiration,” said Jim Handley, senior lecturer of Geography and Peace Studies for the University of Wisconsin–Stout. Handley was the first to introduce the history of Congressman Lewis: an American politician and civil rights leader who profoundly influenced American history.
A campus Speak Up & Speak Out event took place on Thursday, Feb. 9 in the Great Hall. During the latter half of the event, Handley, joined by graphic novelist Nate Powell and the publisher for Top Shelf Productions, Chris Staros, spoke of Lewis and his story, which is told as a memoir through the March Trilogy.
Nate Powell, illustrator of the three March graphic novels, discussed the creative and “real world” development of the trilogy, alongside his relationships with Congressman Lewis and co-writer Andrew Aydin. The graphic novel series tells a story of a civil rights movement through the eyes of Lewis and his non-violent quest for equality. Some topics include the events of Bloody Sunday, the freedom riders and the Selma to Montgomery Marches.
However, the quest wasn’t without pain, suffering and sacrifice. Lewis became a figure for non-violence, a quality that is rooted in love and action. However, white supremacy threatened Lewis and his peaceful efforts. In fact, Lewis was beaten over 40 times, his skull fractured, his body imprisoned by pain.
In an effort to visualize the pain in the novel, Powell was faced with reimagining his interpretations of action and violence in the world of fiction to a kind of violence that was happening to real people.
“My depiction of violence has to be unflinching; it has to be kind of horrifying, but without being sensationalistic, without exploiting the pain of those involved,” noted Powell.
The graphic trilogy began in 2011, when Powell was first introduced to the role as illustrator, and finished in 2016. And in 2016, “March: Book Three” was granted the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It was the first graphic novel in history to ever receive this title.
“We discovered that the work is really now just beginning, now that the trilogy is complete,” said Powell. “As the years have gone by, it reads less and less as history and more as a means of contextualizing the world of 2017 and beyond.”