Photograph courtesy Andrew Aydin
Tom Heintjes is the editor of Hogan’s Alley, a journal that explores the history and influence of comics and cartoonists, and writes articles such as “Crossing the Color Line (in Black and White): Franklin in Peanuts,” and “Flannery O’Connor: Cartoonist.” In other words, he is accustomed to thinking about comic books seriously.
But even so, Heintjes said he did not sleep well on Saturday night and got up early Sunday to prepare for his Dragon Con panel featuring Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights icon, whose memoir March is being published as a three-part graphic novel.
“I’ve moderated a lot of panels at Dragon Con,” Heintjes told the audience in a ballroom at the Hyatt on Sunday afternoon as he introduced Lewis and his co-author Andrew Aydin. “But this is the first time I’ve moderated a panel featuring a real-life super hero.”
Aydin is an Atlanta native and self-described comics nerd (this was his seventeenth trip to Dragon Con) who also serves as a policy advisor and the digital director on Lewis’s staff. He said he approached Lewis with the idea for March after completing his graduate thesis on another comic book, the influential 10-cent pamphlet Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Story.
Lewis told the audience that he read the comic about King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a teenager and it was one of the reasons he was inspired to get involved in the civil rights movement. “That little book helped inspire me to get into good trouble,” he said. “And we hope that March can do that to a new generation.”
Since it was published in May 2013, March has made the New York Times and Washington Post bestseller lists and earned accolades, including the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Coretta Scott King Book Award. This fall, a copy of book was given to each of Georgia State University’s 3,000 incoming freshman. March has made Lewis an unlikely star in comic book circles; his appearance at Comic Con drew large crowds, and his signing after the panel at Dragon Con caused a bottleneck in the already packed artists alley.
The second book in the series will be released in January. “Should I talk about it?” Lewis said. “I don’t think there are any spoilers, sir,” said Aydin, of the book which will include the 1963 March on Washington (Lewis was the youngest speaker at the event). Lewis described his arrests while participating in the Freedom Rides, being beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. “I only gave a little blood, but others gave their lives,” he said.
In response to an audience member who asked about ways to get involved, Lewis’s advice was: “Don’t wait.” He said that as he and Aydin visit schools and college campuses to talk about the book and the civil rights movement, he is waiting to see a new generation of activists emerge.
Lewis says that when he thinks of the effort that was made to gain voting rights, “It’s a shame and a disgrace that so few people take part in the political process. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.”
And as Heintjes reminded the audience, “With great power comes great responsibility.”