Yes, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., made a big splash at Comic-Con last weekend, barreling directly into the belly of the entertainment-starved beast to promote his debut graphic novel, “March.”
And, yes, Top Shelf Productions, the publisher of said title, would undoubtedly love it if every major book vendor/discerning magazine stand/corner comic book shop stacked “March” right in the sightline of serious buyers.
But everyone involved seems to know exactly where their bread and butter is in this particular scenario: educators.
And it seems that those tasked with bringing the past to life for tomorrow’s leaders can’t wait to add Lewis’ groundbreaking project to their toolboxes.
Making It Count
Long before anyone was even thinking about putting pen to paper, “March” point man Leigh Walton said Top Shelf thought long and hard about whom they might tap to translate Lewis’ vivid memories into striking 2-D.
They ultimately settled on award-winning graphic novelist Nate Powell because of his eye for detail, as well as his passion for capturing every shade of the American experience.
“We didn’t want it to be super commercial looking or cheesy,” Walton said of the reverent tone they were hoping to strike with the conceptual comic.
They also put in extra effort to create 500 pre-distressed, limited edition hardcover copies, made to look like the hand-me-down texts Lewis would have found on the shelves of the local libraries of his youth. They also carved out a gratis teaching guide for middle-school teachers to chew on.
Before wooing the wonder-filled folks at Comic-Con, Lewis et al. courted what may well prove to be their core constituency: librarians. In late June, Team “March” wandered over to the American Library Association conference in Chicago to bend the ears of those in charge of feeding young minds about the new book.
We can’t prove that word of mouth carried all the way from Chi-Town to San Diego, but the crowd that awaited Lewis and his team at Comic-Con was clearly cut from the same cloth.
“I’m a history teacher. And being able to put a graphic novel on my student’s reading list is gonna be awesome this fall,” one extremely appreciative educator assured Lewis after his lone speaking engagement at the show.
Others followed suit, including:
- A gentleman who bought multiple copies of the limited-edition texts to share with absentee loved ones. “My mom’s a teacher and my sister’s a teacher ... so it’s going to be in the right hands,” he said.
- Marc Garcia, a history major at California State University-Fullerton, who not only purchased a book and got Lewis to sign it but also brought along a civil-rights-centric term paper — “Securing Their Rights: Selma, Alabama 1965” — for the lawmaker to sign (which Lewis did).
- Another ecstatic academic type invited him to come down to Louisiana State University and share his gripping tale there.
Lewis, naturally, was pleased by the warm reception the project received. But he was more interested in the discussion people were having about the book.
“A lot of these children they recognize names like Rosa Park or Martin Luther King. And this father was saying, ‘He worked with Martin Luther King, he knew Rosa Parks,’” Lewis said of the real-time history lesson that was going on in the signing line.
Likewise, he was pleased to hear folks were so effortlessly connecting the dots from the lessons of the past to modern challenges.
“I think some people were trying to suggest how can reading ‘March’ deal with some of the current issues and problems, whether it be the renewal of the Voting Rights Act or doing something about equal justice in the case of Trayvon Martin,” he said. “I think people are looking for a way to apply [it].”Retracing His Steps
As part of his promotional tour, Lewis is planning to return to the library in Nashville, Tenn., where he was shut out as a youth.
In late November, Team "March" will spend a whirlwind weekend getting its frequent flier on, popping into the sprawling Miami Book Fair (Nov. 22-24) just long enough for Lewis to deliver a keynote speech before jetting up to St. Louis to huddle with the members of the National Council for the Social Studies at their annual conference (Nov. 22-24).