This holiday season, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is bringing comics to Congress. His first autobiographical graphic novel "March: Book One" was released in August and now his publisher, Top Shelf Productions, is donating a digital copy to every single one of his Capitol Hill colleagues -- just in time for Christmas.
"It doesn't matter if you were part of the movement, if you knew anything about it, but you can learn something," Lewis said, talking about the civil rights movement, in which he played a pivotal part. Many members have already popped into Lewis' office asking for a copy of the book or asking to have one signed for a constituent. "This is one way of making it available," he added.
Lewis, at 73, also noted that many members he serves alongside simply missed the civil rights era thanks to their age. "They are so young," Lewis said. "And with the new technology, this is a way of reaching them."
The graphic novel has a great backstory. As the 2008 election was concluding, Lewis' press secretary Andrew Aydin and other staffers were talking about their post-campaign plans. "Most people do the normal stuff -- go see mom, go to the beach, or whatever -- I was like, 'I'm going to a comic book convention," Aydin recalled. "And everybody sort of laughed and the congressman said, 'don't laugh, there was a comic book during the movement and it was incredibly influential.'"
That comic book was "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." (A digital copy of that 1950s comic book will be presented to all of Lewis' congressional colleagues as well.)
"If it hadn't been for 'Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Story,' I don't know whether I would have been inspired to get involved in the civil rights movement," Lewis told Whispers, explaining the difference between seeing a comic book and reading, say, a newspaper article. "Because you saw people, a comic book tends to bring things alive," Lewis said.
Having learned about the Martin Luther King Jr. comic from Lewis, Aydin began researching its impact for his graduate thesis at Georgetown University, meanwhile making a pitch to his boss: make your own. "At first he sort of maybe thought I was a little crazy," Aydin admitted.
Lewis doesn't tell it that way. "I'm so glad that Andrew came forth and said to me that we should write a comic book," Lewis said.
The two joined forces, along with artist Nate Powell, and "March: Book One" came out in August. It was the first graphic novel ever created by a member of Congress, with Lewis even traveling to San Diego's Comic-Con in July to be flocked by fans. There are two sequels to "March" planned, culminating with Lewis' election to Congress.
"Well, that would be the crowning victory, if you call it that," Lewis said, but adding that he hoped another message would be the takeaway of the series. "We're not quite there yet, but we're on the way and there will be no turning back," he said.