In 2021, We Need 'Run' More Than 'March'
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
John Lewis' posthumous 'March' follow-up is an inspiring and punishing mission statement.
The March trilogy is a milestone narrative. Kids and adults will read those comics in schools for decades to come. No doubt. But John Lewis' follow-up, Run, might be the more important or critical tale.
March climaxed with Bloody Sunday and the confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. As presented in that comic, the brutality experienced was a turning point in the Civil Rights movement and led to tremendous legal change in America. As explained in Run, it was definitely that, but the change was - and is - a continuous battle.
Before I cracked the spine on the comic, I removed the dust jacket and was struck by the quote scrawled across Run's front and back. John Lewis: "Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year - it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."
All you need to know about the comic's contents is right there in those words. Bloody Sunday was not the end. The passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was not the end. There was no end. Victories are not victories. Battles are fought by lifetimes stacked atop other lifetimes. We're in this together, and democracy is a fragile thing easily broken and hard to keep together.
Run: Book One picks up shortly after March's conclusion. Federal law is one thing. State enforcement is another. John Lewis leads various SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) members to a sit-in outside a non-integrated church in Americus, Georgia. As Southern cops slap Lewis and his friends in handcuffs, the Ku Klux Klan gathers their horde.
The Klan also learned from Martin Luther King Jr. and the Movement. Run's title splash page hits, and we see hooded figures declaring their own march of protest. The visual impact is a punch. Whatever win was felt in the last book is gone. The fight against white supremacy and hatred merely continues, as does the loss of innocent life.
As co-writer Andrew Aydin states in the afterward, loss permeates throughout Run. The comic sees its release a year after John Lewis died. His absence screams from every panel, every word. His voice hits harder as a result, and the drive to carry on his work pulsates through the pages. When you put the book down, you're activated. Do your damn part.
Nate Powell is back on the book, but he's partnered with L. Fury, who seems to contribute most of the illustration (hard to say who does what as Abrams ComicArts credits everyone equally, this is a team effort, and you gotta love and respect that). And the comic is stunning. Bouncing from traditional paneling to chaotic collages to slap-hard splash-pages like the one previously mentioned, Fury roars these scenarios to life using every ounce of her namesake. It's a race to the finish, and when it lands, you're knocked back in your chair - or couch, or bed, or whatever.
Run puts John Lewis' legacy out there for us to ponder. We observe the many defeats that came after Selma and how they pushed him into his next phase. As a Book One, Run finishes on a, "Well, shit, now what?" The final caption suggests hope and the man we know Lewis to grow into, but it underscores the arduous crawl it took for that person to form.
With three graphic novels behind him (not to mention the various documentaries, memoirs, and television appearances), it's easy to see John Lewis as the icon. But icons can be dismissed. What's crucial about Run is how it reiterates the work and the failures of the person. Persistence, faith, and belief in the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice kept him going. Most would stop or move on.
Lewis, Aydin, Powell, and Fury were working on Run right up until Lewis' passing. This comic is still very much a his creation. Books Two and Three will obviously miss his input, but I don't doubt the team, or the life they're telling. They're not letting Lewis' mission waver. We shouldn't either. Let's read those sequels, but let's also fight and vote for the world we want to live in.
Quickie Review: Run is not more of the same. John Lewis' next chapter is profoundly inspiring, and the comic reads with urgency and relatability. The moment you high-five your friend over a social victory is the moment you put blinders on. Watch John Lewis keep his eyes wide open, and fight on behalf of the moral universe, all the way up until the end. 8.5/10
Run: Book One
Writers: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Artists: L. Fury and Nate Powell
On Sale: NOW!
Synopsis: First you march, then you run. From the #1 bestselling, award–winning team behind March comes the first book in their new, groundbreaking graphic novel series, Run: Book One
“Run recounts the lost history of what too often follows dramatic change—the pushback of those who refuse it and the resistance of those who believe change has not gone far enough. John Lewis’s story has always been a complicated narrative of bravery, loss, and redemption, and Run gives vivid, energetic voice to a chapter of transformation in his young, already extraordinary life.” –Stacey Abrams
“In sharing my story, it is my hope that a new generation will be inspired by Run to actively participate in the democratic process and help build a more perfect Union here in America.” –Congressman John Lewis