Comic books inspired famed author and civil rights leader


Most of the time, superheroes are a work of fiction. But when author Andrew Aydin saw civil rights champion John Lewis in action, he had a better idea.

When Aydin started working for Lewis, he convinced the Georgia congressman to write an autobiographical comic book. Lewis agreed on the condition that Aydin help him create it.

Aydin, along with Lewis, co-author of the awarding-winning graphic novel series “March,” surprised SF State comic studies students with a guest appearance during their regular Monday afternoon comics and culture class on Sept. 17.

Aydin and Lewis collaborated with illustrator Nate Powell to create “March” using newspaper archives and interviews to fill story panels and dialogue between characters.

“You have to depict things without glossing them over,” Aydin said. “When it comes to the research, you can’t shortchange that.”

Aydin said the unflinching depiction of injustice, racism and violence during the civil rights movement in comic book form gives readers “more information quickly and densely.”

Comics have influenced Aydin ever since he got his hands on an issue of the “Uncanny X-Men” as a child.

“Comics were a sanctuary for me,” Aydin said. “Superheroes inspired me to do good.”

Similarly, Lewis took interest in the civil rights movement after reading the 1957 comic “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,” which helped spread the principles of nonviolence across the nation.

“March” won the American Library Association’s 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Awards, the Eisner Award for “Best Reality-Based Work” in 2016 and became the first graphic novel to receive the National Book Award and Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

“This is just a more labor-intensive form of storytelling,” Aydin said. “Good is never good enough.”

Aydin said “March” gained more attention in schools and independent bookstores than comic shops, but the series quickly became a go-to for librarians “who needed something better to show the kids.”

Assistant professor Walter Sousanis invited Aydin to his comics and culture course as part of the University’s new comic studies minor.

“We take images so lightly that we forget how dense they are,” Sousanis said.

The comics and culture course is a core requirement for the comic studies minor taught by Sousanis. The class meets in Humanities Building, Room 386, and studies the origins and influence of comics around the world.