John Lewis -- former head of SNCC, participant in the Freedom Rides, and, for the past twenty-five years, a member of Congress (from Georgia) -- is one of the few people I can think of in American life that I would unhesitatingly and unabashedly label a hero.
For those of you who don't know, he was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement in its key years in the early 1960's -- a participant at the lunch counter sit-ins in the early 60's, a freedom rider, head of SNCC, a speaker at the 1963 March on Washington where King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech (and where Lewis's speech was deemed to radical for the other organizers and speakers and he -- reluctantly, when asked by A. Philip Randolph -- revised it (you can read the original draft here)), and the lead walker at the climactic confrontation of the Movement, the walk over Pettus Bridge, which directly led to the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A man of matchless wisdom and courage, my admiration for him is really hard to express.
And he's writing a comic book.
No, really: he just signed a contract with Top Shelf to (co) write a graphic novel based on his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, tentatively titled March.
Can I pre-order it yet?
Now, I will admit that my confidence that it will be good is very low. Lewis is a fine writer of prose, but writing prose is a very different task than writing comics -- and most writers of prose who try to make the transition do a poor job of it. Writing a comics script is as different from writing prose as writing a play or a film script is: it requires a real understanding of the medium. If you just think that you've written books, you can write a graphic novel, well, you're wrong. It's not just like writing a book with pictures.*
Nor am I encouraged by the fact that Lewis's co-author, Andrew Aydin, is a member of his staff -- that is, someone who is primarily engaged in politics. Presumably Lewis can tell his own story, after all; what he needs for this project is someone who can help him tell it in the medium of comics.
Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Lewis is a long-time comics reader. Or maybe he's thought about the nature of the medium. But, y'know, he's been busy doing other things -- like, say, being a brilliant activist and politician. So I'm worried that he isn't and hasn't. I'm somewhat more hopeful that Aydin might be knowledgeable about comics; maybe he'll bring a good handle on the medium to the table. But, I fear, that he's been hired much as a politician might hire someone to co-write their prose memoirs, i.e. someone to help with the work, but without any particular sense of the medium.
To make this work, they'll need a really good -- and confident and self-assertive -- artist. And Chris Staros, the editor & publisher of Top Shelf, had better be on his game.
(Incidentally, they are, apparently, still in the process of settling on an artist. If you're a comics artist, I recommend dropping everything and seeing if you can nab it. It'll be the job of a lifetime.)
And even if it doesn't work, y'know what? I'm there. I'm reading it. Because even if it isn't a fabulous artistic production, I'm sure it will be very interesting, and have some insights into a key period of history.
And besides, John Lewis -- John !!@#$%ing Lewis -- is writing a !@#$% graphic novel. It's had to get more awesome than that. In this matter, quality is would be just a bonus.
* Actually, I suspect that, done properly, writing a book with pictures isn't just like writing a book without them, either. But it's closer.