March: Book One – A review of color, style and storytelling

The tone of March: Book One, the graphic novel of the first part of Congressman John Lewis’ life and role in the Civil Rights Movement,  was primarily depicted through the way the design of the pages, the location of the words, and the stylistic decisions made throughout. These stylistic traits really crafted the experience and feeling s of the story while reading. First, the whole book was in black and white, immediately highlighting the differences and separation between the whites and black in society at the time. The fact that there was frame around the whole story and that John Lewis was telling the whole story from first person but to an audience drew you in as though you were those little boys in the office talking with the congressman as well. This frame also ties the novel inseparably to the speaker, Congressman John Lewis, and his life story.

The imagery in the book was dramatic with dark shadows further darkening the black and white on the pages. For example, on page 93, when they are describing one of the sit ins, the whole page illustration while they are all sitting at the bar and there is just one word “klik” resounding throughout the day. The anticipation builds as you take in the whole scene. In this frame, you see a lot of black filling the page, which is interesting because it contrasts what the environment would likely literally look like. Instead, the diner is likely brightly lit, the darkness highlights the tension, the insecurity, and the fear that is present in the room. You also see fear and determination on the characters faces who are participating in the sit in. In the background, you see the white people who are angry, standing with crossed-arms and formed almost as a wall, a resounding force in the frame as well.

Contrasting that, when the congressman is talking in his office with the boys, there is a lot more white on the pages and a lot more humor throughout the language. In fact, this is the only place where humor pears in the novel throughout. It is presented through the naiveté of the small boys with the questions that highlight how far the society has come since the Civil Rights Movement. What is also apparent, is the aging that John Lewis has gone through. The book of course, only covers the first part of his life and his entrance and rise in the Civil Rights Movement, so the distance in time is even more apparent. While John Lewis is more than willing to share his story with the children and mother, he also appears very strained while telling the story, very exhausted. This shows how his work in the Civil Rights Movement has worn on him, it has become a part of who he is, it is apparent in his outward physique.

Why Congressman John Lewis chose to present his autobiography in a graphic novel is an interesting thought. I didn’t do research to find his official answer on this, because I wanted to first consider what benefits he could take advantage of. First thought that comes to mind is the idea that this format stands out amongst other biographies, however, I do not feel this is enough of a reason to publish in this format. Maybe, the main advantage is this style makes the feeling, the experience, and the tone all very experiential. Like discussed above, you feel drawn in to the scene, you see the emotions, the colors (or lack thereof) tell you what the scene felt like instead of depicting what it actually looked like. This is very difficult to accomplish through words on a page, especially in a typical auto-biography which can be very dry and lack that same descriptive ability.

One other note, I wanted to mention, I read the book on both the iPad and in a hard copy and I feel that that the intensity of the imagery came through substantially more dramatically in the hard cover version. Part of it was due to the tactile aspect of holding the pages, but the main effect was the intensity of the illustrations was more impactful. The back lit screen of the iPad removed the darkness from some of the scenes.  And the technology added a layer of detachment from the time period being described.

Overall, I thought the choice to write in a graphic novel was very effective and the stylistic choices made throughout only added to the experience of reading. The fact that this is only book one, and the story cuts off somewhat abruptly, builds anticipation for the next book. However, this also left you with a sense of lack of closure. On the other hand, this could have been intentional, as Civil Rights is still an issue in many parts of our society. The work is not done. The story is not over.

 

 

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