John Lewis Staffer’s Winding Road to Comic-Con
While hustling to put the finishing touches on the booth (#1721) that his boss, Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon John Lewis, will call home for two incredibly hectic days at Comic-Con International 2013, congressional aide turned first-time author Andrew Aydin couldn’t help but marvel about his unexpected detour into the world of graphic novels.
“There’s a lot of moments when you just don’t know if this is all going to work out. But now we’re here,” Aydin told HOH of the simmering self-doubts that have largely evaporated since arriving at the fabled San Diego Convention Center to promote “March,” which he co-authored with Lewis.
This trip, it turns out, is the culmination of a five-year odyssey.
The then-24-year-old campaign spokesman (he’s now handling new media and telecommunications issues for the Georgia Democrat) said they were heading into the homestretch of Lewis’ 2008 primary campaign when someone asked how he planned to spend the forthcoming downtime.
“I mentioned that I might go to a comic book convention,” he said, a revelation that elicited teasing from colleagues who did not share his affinity for the content.
Amid all that ribbing emerged an unexpected champion: Lewis.
“He stood up for me,” Aydin recalled, noting that his boss nonchalantly mentioned perusing an eye-opening comic right around the time he began challenging the segregationist stances of the Deep South.
The illustrated booklet in question turned out to be “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.”
In his 169-page dissertation, “The Comic Book That Changed the World,” Aydin traces the origin story of the MLK Jr. recap that helped nudge an entire generation along the road to creative disobedience.
“‘Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story’ … has been uniquely successful in spreading the philosophy and discipline of nonviolent social resistance and serves as perhaps one of the strongest examples of the potential for comic books as a medium for inspiration,” Aydin argues.
Per Aydin’s research, the landmark 16-page book was written by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (with King consulting) and published in January 1958. According to FOR, 200,000 issues were sold, along with a Spanish-language version that “was widely used in Latin America.”
More importantly, a copy apparently sparked the imagination of budding activist Lewis.
Armed with the knowledge that Lewis was not only familiar with graphic novels but had at one point been inspired by one, Aydin made it his job to persuade the venerable lawmaker to undergo the comic treatment.
“As much as this is a story about the civil rights movement … it allows young people who read it today to shake off that mindset that they are powerless,” he said of the timeless message of triumphing over inequality.
Once Lewis agreed — on the condition that Aydin co-write the story with him — Aydin began picking his boss’s brain in earnest, pinning him down for exhaustive interviews on nights, weekends and any time the two could squeeze in reflective phone conversations.
Those intimate talks yielded a 500-plus-page manuscript that took more than a year and a half to distill.
Aydin said he submitted the preliminary draft in late 2011. Top Shelf Productions used that to create the 400 black-and-white test comics vetted at Comic-Con 2012. Their research done, everyone agreed to split “March” into three volumes, the first of which is expected to hit retail shelves in August.
This year, the group is back at Comic-Con with full-color glossies in hand and the “star” in tow: Lewis is headlining a presentation about the book and his life from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday and is sticking around all weekend to sign copies for those inclined to chat up a real-life comic book hero.
“We have an opportunity to tell a story here that should be considered by history a primary document,” Aydin said of the collaborative effort. “There are so few stories like this.”
Volume two is slotted for release in 2014, with volume three set to roll out in 2015.
Meanwhile, Aydin is already looking forward to all the extras he hopes to shoehorn into the final completed edition, better known as an “omnibus” in comic parlance, due out in 2018.
“This is just the beginning,” Aydin predicted.