How John Lewis Brought Social Justice To Comic-Con

For many at the annual convention, the civil rights legend is a IRL superhero.

For the past four years, in between panels with the citizens of Westeros and debuts of trailers for the newest superhero movie, attendees of Comic-Con have sought the autograph of a superhero who has never worn a cape, but has devoted his life to improving the lives of millions: Congressman John Lewis. 

Lewis, perhaps better known in D.C. circles than with fans of DC comics, has attended the annual convention of all things nerdy and pop culture since 2013 in support of his graphic novel March, a three-part series about Lewis' life fighting for civil rights. He sits on panels and poses with fans and this year, led a march of about 1,000 people through the convention to remind attendees of the importance of calling out inequality in all its forms. 


"Dr. King inspired me to get in trouble; What I call good trouble, necessary trouble," Lewis told crowds Saturday, the Associated Press reports. "Now more than ever before, we all need to get in trouble. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate to stand up, to speak up, to speak out and get in trouble."

It was a staffer who first suggested to Lewis that he should write a graphic novel. Andrew Aydin told NPR that after Lewis' 2008 re-election campaign, he mentioned to other staffers that the thing he was "doing next" was attending a comic book convention. There was some light teasing, but Aydin says Lewis stood up for him, recalling how it was a comic book about Martin Luther King, Jr. called The Montgomery Story that first inspired him to get involved with the civil rights movement. 

John Lewis was born to sharecroppers in rural Alabama, became the president of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and was elected to Congress in 1987. He is the only speaker from the 1963 March on Washington who is still alive. In 1965, he led 600 civil rights protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. Every superhero has an origin story. Lewis' just happens to also be a part of history. 

It took some convincing (and a promise to come on as a co-author) from Aydin, but Lewis began writing his own story in comic book form. His words were then translated into illustrations by graphic artist Nate Powell. Lewis told NPR that it was important that, in addition to telling his story, March contain the message of nonviolent protest.

"I remember hearing Martin Luther King Jr. preach from time to time," he said. "And his father would be in the pulpit. And he would say, 'Son, make it plain, make it plain.'­ So, between Nate and Andrew, they made it plain."

This year, Lewis, Aydin and Powell accepted an Eisner Award (think Academy Award of the comic book world) for the series. When he attends conventions, Lewis has adopted his own cosplay uniform: a trench coach and backpack as close to the ones he wore when he was organizing.

Since its publication, March has also become a staple for teachers hoping to integrate more modern texts on civil rights into their classrooms. In 2015, a teacher whose students were so touched by the series obtained tickets to Lewis' panel for them, the Washington Post reports. 

Afterwards, the students waited to talk to Lewis, who was expected to leave immediately to sign autographs at his publisher's booth in the convention hall. Lewis wanted to talk with his young fans, but was being told that he needed to be on the move.

The only answer was to march there together. 


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