Saturday, 8 October 2016

March Book Three Review (John Lewis, Nate Powell)


I swear I’m not doing this to be “contrarian” or any of that bullshit, I’m just being honest. Don’t take my less-than-stellar rating to mean that I’m racist and against equal rights or think little of the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. I know most of you aren’t that dumb but, y’know, this is Internetland, where stupidity knows no limit!

And yes, it’s disappointing that American race relations remain in the toilet even in 2016, largely thanks to an increasingly militant and out-of-control police force. I’m not going to attempt to try and go through my thoughts on police reform, Black Lives Matter, and all that noise and tie it into March here though; I’m just going to focus on this book. 

The third and final volume in the March trilogy, John Lewis’ memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement, was… disappointingly quite poor. It follows the last major step in the move for equal rights when black people demanded to be allowed to register and vote in all elections, culminating in the Voting Rights Act 1965. I know, your peepers are sagging already - just think of slogging through 250 pages of this, the driest of civics lessons, like I did! 

I loved the first two March books. They effortlessly combined Lewis’ personal life with the zeitgeist, fusing the two and brilliantly charting the rises and falls of this dramatic and inspiring story. You were learning history but it didn’t feel like learning. Things stagnate with the third book. 

For a start it’s twice as long as the first book without good reason. This could’ve easily been half its length and been more than sufficient but I think because of the success of the first two books the creators got very indulgent and thought “The hell with succinctness, let’s wallow!” 

We learn about the unfairness of Southern literacy tests which black people had to pass before registering to vote and which were rigged against their favour. We learn that whenever they tried to register to vote they faced opposition from the authorities. John Lewis met Malcolm X - and then Malcolm X died. John Lewis and others met LBJ who was kind of an old Southern racist himself but, being a politician, was also willing to change if popular opinion made him. That’s the book in a nutshell and all it had to be. 

What we get instead is an abundance of repetition. It’s the same scene over and over: peaceful protest, police beating up black people, racist bureaucrats opposing black people registering, peaceful protest, police beating up black people, etc. etc. There’s also too much about internal politics between the organisations with tedious meeting after tedious meeting after tedious meeting where they say the same thing about the importance of registering to vote over and over. 

It’s great that Lewis acknowledges a number of individuals who aren’t as well-known as Dr King and Rosa Parks but it’s really only interesting for those who are students of this movement. Me? I’m just an ordinary schmo who doesn’t have to sit a test at the end of all this so, y’know, good for them and Lewis but I couldn’t care less - their names went in one ear and out the… hey, look that dog’s got a puffy tail! 

Maybe the point behind the tiresome repetition was to show the protestors’ stamina and determination - that this is only the tip of what they had to endure over years to be treated fairly? Again, I respect that - but it’s SUCH a bore to read! And the first two March books told us about Lewis’ life and taught us things about the Civil Rights Movement without lingering so unnecessarily. 

The third book tells us next to nothing about Lewis’ life (he repeatedly protested, got repeatedly arrested, etc. just like before) and that same flashback to Obama’s inauguration is shown AGAIN to no greater effect than in the first two books. And what do we learn about the fight for equal voting rights? They had to peacefully protest, over and over and over, and got beat up and sometimes killed by the police and the racists, etc. Do we need to read the same thing again and again? No. But that’s what this book makes us do - as if it was difficult to understand the first dozen times! 

Nate Powell’s black and white art is as powerful as it’s been throughout this series. Expressive, fluid, humanising, in bringing the past to life, Powell shows once again that he was the perfect choice to collaborate with John Lewis and Andrew Aydin on this project. 

March is an important series and I heartily recommend it to everyone, particularly those first two volumes, but this third book is an overindulgent, dreary and long-winded finale that belabours its few points interminably. It’s informative up to a point and the art is good but the strongest emotions I felt were boredom and relief when I’d finished reading this illustrated textbook.

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