by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Drawn by L. Fury and Nate Powell
If this were a graphic book review, it would start by drawing me on a chaise longue holding Congressman John Lewis’ latest graphic memoir, “Run: Book One.” I would have a skeptical expression on my face. “Electoral pressure in comics?” I’d ask as I pondered how sketches and bits of dialogue and made-up words like WHEEEOOOOWWWWWWWW could capture such a sinister and complex period in our history.
Eventually you’ll see me in the same spot, a glass on my lips and a distant look in my eyes. Skepticism would disappear. I would say something like MMHMM.
Anyone familiar with Lewis’ famous celebrations “March” trilogy (whose last book is still The only comic to win a National Book Award) knows that graphic novels can handle the nuances quite adeptly. This work, most of which was completed by Lewis and his collaborators before they died in the summer of 2020, picks up where “March” left off with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which made significant legal gains but is still far from complete. in its purposes. There’s a timing for “Run,” a reminder that efforts to block prospective voters from voting are nothing new, making so many headlines these days.
The enmity that has driven much of our nation’s history has proven to be very fitting in this form. The stunning “Run” artwork features beady eyes, angry faces, and gazes of anguish and defiance. “Go now!” says the scowled white man from a white-only church, pointing out a finger to tell a young Lewis to stop his protest against segregated services inside. There is no need to dwell on his disdain for those born with more melanin in their skin, or his hypocrisy in praying to the Lord by acting evil.
The free-form word, referred to above with all the W’s, is the sound of a police siren as soldiers with batons rush to the church protest in Americus, Ga., to handcuff Lewis countless times. We read the same word again when the police caught a young Black man in Watts. And then when a FFWACK hit the hood of a police car with a police officer’s firearm and a KFFUD like a stone. Watts never catches fire. As you turn the pages, there are TUMPs, POWs, DINGs, and BLACK POWER is crying out in the streets as Lewis was sacked as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee by a more radical element of the Stokely Carmichael-led movement!
Black Americans have never been uniform, despite their efforts to portray us that way. Lewis offers a fair explanation of how the turn the other cheek philosophy clashed with the disappointments of the movement at the time. At 26, he found himself penniless, unemployed, and no longer the chosen one.
Book One ends before Lewis finds his next act. But we know his trajectory: how he was elected to Congress and how he became an icon again after more than thirty years. Lewis lived long enough to witness George Floyd being killed by an officer who knelt on his neck and ignored the cries of I CAN’T BREATH! This is a pathetic, endless story.