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Abrams Comicarts

Run: Book One

First you march, then you run!

Congressman John Lewis’s March trilogy was beyond excellent, so when his story was continued in this new series, I knew it would be a must-read. Co-author Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell were also attached to this new series, plus an additional artist L. Fury who was able to replicate the art style that Powell had established in the earlier books when Powell didn’t have time to be the exclusive artist. While March had given an overview of the Civil Rights Movement from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Run then takes a deeper look at Lewis’s life from 1965 to 1966. This pivotal year would have some heartbreaking lows for him, but it was the start of his journey towards becoming a Congressman from Georgia years later.

The message I received from this book was not to give up. Not only did Lewis not give up when faced with setbacks and arrests from his work in the Civil Rights Movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he also didn’t give up when faced with personal disappointments. When he was replaced as chairman of SNCC with a radically different leader, he was devastated. He was honest with his failings, acknowledging the growing pains and fraught dynamics between many of the early leaders. While now he is recognized as one of the “Big Six” of Civil Rights activists and became a respected Congressman, he had some major stumbling blocks to overcome. But this shows the readers that they too can persevere, even after facing major obstacles.

The narrative and art are as strong as the March trilogy, with care shown to present as balanced a picture as possible. As with any memoir, all recollections are those of the author and are prone to their spin on the events. Main artist Fury tried to replicate the style that Powell had established and she did a great job of being historically accurate and faithfully duplicating what many real people looked like. The black & white illustrations really brought the story to life, giving us windows into Lewis’s life. This non-fiction narrative was further strengthened by the extensive biographies of people found in these pages, in addition to the notes and sources section at the end of the book.

This book is the start of what I believe will be another trilogy, but sadly Congressman Lewis died before it was published, although he had been involved with its story and had seen much of the artwork. Another artist had been attached to the project before Fury (I’m wondering what drama happened there), plus there were Covid issues, so the series was unfortunately delayed. With only a year covered in this book, there is so much more to share, so I hope Lewis was able to contribute more of his story with his team, so we get the entire scope of Lewis’s journey. His message of nonviolent civil disobedience and his quote “Make good trouble” are important truths to live by!

-Nancy

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio- Take Two

As a fan of Derf Backderf’s prior graphic novels (My Friend Dahmer, Trashed & Punk Rocks and Trailer Parks), I knew I wanted to read his newest book that gives a thorough look at the May 4th, 1970 tragedy at Kent State University in Ohio. Kathleen first reviewed this book back in February, saying it will most likely be on her top 2021 list, but I too wanted to give it a read.

Backderf recreates the days leading up to the shooting and we are introduced to four students- Allison Beth Krause, 19, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20, Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20, William Knox Schroeder, 19- knowing the entire time they will die. He inserts himself into the story briefly, for as a child he lived nearby and saw the National Guard protecting his hometown while the Teamsters Union was on strike. It would be some of these guards that were then deployed to Kent State when tensions arose. With the Vietnam War ongoing, students were protesting, as many of the male students had the specter of the draft hanging over them. Background knowledge is worked into the panels, as we learn about how political and social tensions morphed into a crisis because many campus and town leaders operated out of fear and faulty information. Contributing to local tensions were military leaders who were unequipped to handle the volatile environment and meddling government agencies that were adding more issues to the already challenging situation. A powder keg was ready to explode with one wrong move, and there were many made that tragic day.

Backderf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with an underground comix vibe. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it really represents the 70s era and Ohio landscape well. Of all the four books I have read by Derf, this is the one I found the most authentically drawn, for in past books there was a touch of caricature in the people, but here he based his drawings on photographs and videos of the campus students. While there are some text-heavy panels, they are crucial to understanding, and some maps of the day’s events help too.

I applaud the author for pulling together this comprehensive narrative, for he put in the work by interviewing survivors and researching the information that would guide his story, as extensive notes show how his work was led by facts and not conjecture. A heartbreaking author’s note sadly shows how the mistakes made were covered up, and fifty years later no one takes responsibility or accountability for the shootings. Plus, the short epilogue shows the callousness shown by President Nixon, reminds me sadly of some current politicians, and how the American public is still struggling today with certain political issues. This was a truly thought-provoking graphic novel and is well worth a read.

-Nancy

Picture from Pop Culture Classroom website, which offers a free teaching guide

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