In 1963, Congressman Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington and is one of the Big Six in the Civil Rights Movement. I spoke to Congressman Lewis last summer when the first of the “March” graphic novel trilogy was released. Now I spoke to Andrew to get his thoughts on “March,” how and why comics can be so influential to pro-social causes, and how we can end racism.
ACT: You wrote your thesis on “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,” which is back out in print. How did this comic influence the Civil Rights Movement?
ANDREW: “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” was a 1957 comic book about the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and many other activists used nonviolent techniques to end racial segregation on city buses. This comic was created by a group called the Fellowship of Reconciliation and used in their campaign of nonviolence workshops.
This started in early 1958 and they distributed more than 250,000 copies. Then in 1960, there was a wave of “sit-in” protests across the South protesting segregated restaurants, and many of the early participants in those sit-ins have cited the comic book as one of the pieces of literature that most inspired them to protest.
ACT: What’s some neat information you learned while researching it?
ANDREW: One of the things that was really cool to find out was that Dr. King helped edit the comic book himself. Another cool part is how quickly it spread around the world. There are letters from the 1950s that still exist from South Africa saying how grateful they are for the publication, because they were using it as part of their efforts to fight apartheid. Actually, it’s amazing: the father of one of the guys at the MTV event [where Sway interviewed Congressman Lewis] participated in a protest at the South African Embassy with John Lewis in 1966.
ACT: Can you tell us how “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” influenced “March,” the graphic novel you co-wrote with John Lewis?
ANDREW: “The Montgomery Story” establishes that we’re part of a tradition, that there is a pedigree from Dr. King and some of the early organizers in using comics. There are other examples where SNCC [the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] used comic books to illustrate procedures for registering to vote.
ANDREW: I hear different stories of kids who are 8, 9, 10-years-old reading “March” and walking away with a sense of personal responsibility for equal rights, for social justice. I’ve heard many stories of parents who are generally surprised by the questions and the interest these kids have taken after reading “March.”
ACT: What other comics, both in the past and today, have made changes for important issues?
ANDREW: We’ve seen a broad swath of social issues addressed in comics. That’s part of my initial attraction to it: this is a place that’s a true avenue to tell stories about justice. I mean, that’s the quintessential component of a superhero: they’re fighting for a just cause.
As America has changed on the issues that have been brought to the forefront of national consciousness, comics have reflected that. You’ve seen issues from the Holocaust and Jewish acceptance in “Maus” to LGBTQ rights and struggles addressed in “Fun Home,” which is still fighting a battle in South Carolina right now. It was chosen to be read by a school and yet you see retribution from political leaders. It’s unreal to me this is happening in this day and age, that literature can be censored for political purposes.
ACT: What comic books inspire you?
ANDREW: I have enjoyed some of the stories that talk about human experience. When you see some of these creators, like Jeffrey Brown, who is a master of the memoir comic, you can relate to their stories. At the same time, I still love to go back and read the Silver Age superhero comics.
ACT: Why do you think comics do a good job at spreading awareness on important issues?
ANDREW: The graphic novel can explain, through images and words, incredibly complex ideas with a far greater efficiency than some prose works. You can get to the heart of the matter very quickly.
ACT: Any advice on how someone can get break into the world of writing graphic novels?
ANDREW: The best advice I can give is to come up with an idea you really believe in and then work as hard as you possibly can to get it into a script and get it published. Truth be told, when I was trying to get “March” published, I was making cold calls. I would call people I knew to be top-quality creative people in the industry. The cool thing about the comic book industry is that the people are so nice. If you’re polite and professional, those creators, those editors, those publishers will give you a few minutes of their time, even if it’s just to pick their brain.
ACT: How do you think we can help to end racism or discrimination today?
ANDREW: I think we as a people really need to embrace the philosophy of love. It’s something that Congressman Lewis talks about a lot and I think he’s right. Nobody is born hating somebody else. You hear so many people talk about, “Well, we share the same values.” We need to change the paradigm and make love our universal value that we cherish as a society.
Photo: Andrew Aydin and Congressman John Lewis meet with Sway at MTV. (MTV)
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