Kate’s Review: The “March” Trilogy

Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Production, August 2013 (1), January 2015 (2), and August 2016 (3).

Where Did I Get These Books: The library!

Book Description: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. 

Review: John Lewis, noted Civil Rights Activist and Georgia Congressman, can now add another fabulous moniker to his name: National Book Award Winner. On November 16th, 2016, he won the National Book Award (in the Young Readers category) for his book “March: Book 3”, the conclusion to his autobiographical graphic novel series about his time during the Civil Rights Movement. I caught his acceptance speech, and like many other people, cried deeply because I was so happy for him, and it clearly meant so so much on so many levels. By total coincidence, I had just read “March: Book 2” that morning. It had been awhile since I read “Book 1”, and was playing catch up. So then all I had to do was wait for “Book 3” to come in, vowing that once it did I was going to review the entire work as a whole. Because that’s what the “March” Trilogy is: it’s one large story about a remarkable man during a tumultuous time, a story about a movement that changed the nation and a movement that seems all the more relevant today. So I waited. And “Book 3” finally came in for me. So now, let me tell you about this fabulous series.

“March: Book 1” starts with Lewis’s childhood as the son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama and goes through the Lunch Counter Protests in Nashville. From a young age Lewis had a drive and a passion to lead and learn, his early aspirations of being a preacher evolving into the leadership and commitment that he put forth while in the Nashville Student Movement, and then into the broader Civil Rights Movement as a whole. “March: Book 2” talks about his time with the Freedom Riders and the violence they faced during their non violent protests and demonstrations, all leading up to the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. This book deals more with the growing aggression of the white citizens and government, as well as the Federal Government starting to waffle and teeter and struggle with the role that it should be playing. It’s also the book that shows Lewis and his own inner struggles, as while non violence is always the mission and the goal, his resentment and anger threatens to boil over. “March: Book 3” is the conclusion, and addresses Freedom Summer, Voting Rights, and Selma. And this story is told all within the frame of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Stunning framework, absolutely beautiful. There are multiple parallels between things in “Book 1” that come up again in “Book 3”, and there are themes that link all of them together not just with Lewis, but with other prominent figures as well. Lewis sets out to tell all of their stories as best he can, and the result is one of the best damn graphic novel series I have ever read.

This series is so powerful and personal, and it goes to show just how remarkable John Lewis is. He’s one of the ‘Big Six’, aka one of the most influential members of the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the only ones left, as he reminds us in “Book 1”. These books are very straight forward and simple, but they are so honest and personal that the power they have is immense. I found myself crying many times during my reads of all these books, but also laughing, and cheering, and seething. Lewis brought out so many emotions in me with his story, and his immense talent as a storyteller comes through, just as his charisma does. We get to see the story of the Civil Rights Movement through his eyes, and he tells us the stories of those involved within the movement and those who influenced it from the outside as well. Yes, at times these books are violent, and upsetting, but they need to be, because the horrors that fell upon many people during their non violent protests must never be forgotten. I think that the entirety is an accomplishment, but I understand why they gave the National Book Award to “Book 3”. After all, while it is probably symbolic of awarding the whole darn thing, I think that “Book 3” was the most powerful in terms of emotion being served, be it pride, fear, rage, or determination. It certainly was the one that had me weeping from the get go, as the very first moment was the bombing of the 16th Baptist Church that killed four little girls. The violence is absolutely horrifying, but it cannot be forgotten or glossed over. It absolutely cannot. “March: Book 3” also was the one to really address the differences of ideologies within the movement as a whole, not just between King and X, but Lewis and SNCC as well. And Lewis also has no qualms addressing the fact that LBJ, while he did ultimately get things going on a Federal level, was incredibly reluctant to do much in terms of help until he absolutely  HAD to. I think that realities get lost in the historical narratives that come in our educations, and that is absolutely why the “March” Trilogy is fundamental reading when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement in this country.

And, like other graphic novels before it, I want to address the artwork in this series. Because it is beautiful in it’s simplicity, and yet powerful in it’s design. It’s all black and white, and stark and striking on every page. Nate Powell brings the story to life on the page, and he did it both with bits of humor to go along with the hope, horror, and courage. There were bits of realism to accompany the distinct style, but it always felt very tangible and very authentic. As I mentioned before, the illustrations do not gloss over the violence that was prevalent during the time, and while it certainly is disturbing, it’s done in a way that could never be dismissed as exploitative or ‘over the top’. It is incredibly honest and upsetting, but it needs to be. The reader needs to be upset and outraged by it. Because it IS upsetting, and it is outrageous.

march3

I cannot stress enough how important the “March”Trilogy is in these uncertain and scary times. John Lewis is a treasure and an inspiration, and I feel that this is required reading. Get this in schools, get this in curriculums, get this in peoples hands. And you, you should likewise go out and get your hands on this series. You will not regret it. You will learn something. And you will be moved. Thank you, John Lewis. Thank you for so much.

Rating 10: A phenomenal and deeply personal series, John Lewis tells his story of activism through this astounding graphic novel trilogy. He speaks on the Civil Rights Movement from his perspective, and shows parallels to recent fights for rights and freedoms.

Reader’s Advisory:

The “March” Trilogy can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Civil Rights Reading List”, “History Through Graphic Novels”, and “Activist Memoirs”.

Find The “March” Trilogy at your local library using WorldCat! Book 1; Book 2; Book 3.

Kate’s Review: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places”

28815491Book: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey

Publishing Info: Viking, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I bought it.

Book Description: An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country’s most infamously haunted places–and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget. With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living–how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made–and why those changes are made–Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we’re most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Review: As a person who loves history and learning about our culture through a historical lens, finding a good book on America’s past is always an exciting thing for me. I’m also a huge fan of haunted places and scary stories, as I am a hardcore Fox Mulder in that I want to believe (even if the Scully side of me butts in and usually pulls me from the total brink of belief). So when I found out that there was a book that combined both of these topics, I was so excited I couldn’t wait for the library to get it, and bought it myself. “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey is truly a perfect read for the month of October, and for Horrorpalooza. Because these are ‘true’ ghost stories! Sort of. It’s more trying to find out why certain places get haunted reputations, outside of a place actually being haunted by a restless spirit. Going into this book I thought that it was going to be a bit more about the latter with American history serving as a back drop, but what I got was a deeper exploration of our country’s past and all of the baggage that comes with it.

Dickey travelled from haunted place to haunted place in America, not only telling the reader about the story behind the place, but also telling an in depth exploration of the non haunted history of that place and the implications that surround it. While there were numerous stories in this book that I had at least heard of in passing (or in the cases of the Winchester Mystery House and the city of Savannah, Georgia, actually been to), the actual background of those places were almost always unfamiliar to me, either because I just never learned about it at all, or because I’d believed the ‘haunted’ history that time has elevated. This had two reactions from me as I read the book. The first reaction was from the history buff in me, which was

giphy4
(source)

But the second reaction was from the Fox Mulder in me, which was

giphy5
(source)

At one point in this book, Dickey speaks on the fact that the belief in the supernatural vs the disbelief in it are always going to be at odds with one another, because you aren’t going to convince a skeptic that ghosts exist, just as you aren’t going to convince a believer that they don’t. As I read this book, even though I had this in mind, I found myself falling into that exact trap. When Dickey would explain the actual history behind a haunted place, such as the Winchester Mystery House, I would write off the things that didn’t fit with my thoughts as sometimes dismiss them completely. No, I don’t necessarily believe that Sarah Winchester was told by a medium that she had to move west and keep building a house to trick the spirits from cursing her. BUT, I ALSO don’t believe that she built this strange house for years and years and years at a huge financial expense just because she was experimenting with architecture. Does a tourist site like the Winchester Mystery House have a vested interest in hyping it’s haunted reputation at the expense of the actual history of Sarah Winchester? Of course it does. But I wholly believe that there was something else going on beyond an enthusiastic woman enthralled by her design creativity. It was times like these that I felt that this book was a little less than thrilling for me. Just because there wasn’t a record of a mental problem going on doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.

But Winchester Mystery House aside (and it’s good that Dickey didn’t go all in on Savannah outside of saying it’s a tourist city hoping to protect and promote it’s ‘brand’), I really enjoyed reading “Ghostland”, because Dickey did bring up a lot of good points about American history and culture, especially when it comes to how these places and hauntings reflect our value systems. I especially liked that he brought up the fact that so often, the ‘ghosts’ that haunt these places are very Western centric and white, except when it comes to mass tragedies that our country perpetuated and both feels guilty over while also ignoring them. Specifically, slavery and the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples. While there have been stories of Thomas Jefferson haunting Monticello, a ghost that the site can embrace, you very rarely hear about ghosts of slaves and those that Jefferson wronged wandering it’s halls. On the flip side of the coin, the idea of the “Ancient Indian Burial Ground” is a trope that has been used repeatedly in horror stories, but it serves as little more than a way to Other multiple distinct groups while assuaging our guilt that we don’t really like to think about. In our stories it’s a revenge that is understandable, and yet we are still predisposed to sympathize for those (usually non-Native) people being haunted rather than the reason the haunting is happening in the first place. I had never really thought about these things in depth before reading this book, and boy did it really make me think.

Dickey also did a fair amount of research going into this book, with a fair amount of source notes that tie it all together. He did a good job of presenting a lot of information without it ever dragging or seeming dry, which is a true talent when dealing with the complexities of American history. He has a serious penchant for storytelling and kept things interesting while keeping them solidly anchored in historical context. And I do appreciate that Dickey postulates that even if they are overblown, hyped, and in some cases patently untrue, these ‘true’ hauntings do serve a larger purpose beyond just entertaining the masses. Sometimes they help us cope, or serve as warnings, or just help us understand what we’re seeing before us.

While “Ghostland” may not have changed my mind about the possibility of ghosts (though that wasn’t the intention at the heart of it), I did really find it a fascinating read and completely perfect for this time of year. I can’t recommend this book to history buffs enough, especially those like me who love a good ghost story. So if you want to learn some potentially new ghost stories and get some context as to what functions they serve in modern society, pick it up!

Rating 8: Though it sometimes downplayed a bit too much, “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” is a fascinating read with a lot of insight to American history and society and the ghosts that haunt us.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Best Nonfiction Ghost Books”, and “Understanding History”.

Find “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Dark Night: A True Batman Story”

30357924Book: “Dark Night: A True Batman Story” by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This is a Batman story like no other-the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of writer Paul Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a desperate situation.

The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light-as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world.

In the 1990s, legendary writer Paul Dini had a flourishing career writing the hugely popular BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and TINY TOON ADVENTURES. Walking home one evening, he was jumped and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. His recovery process was arduous, hampered by the imagined antics of the villains he was writing for television including the Joker, Harley Quinn and the Penguin. But despite how bleak his circumstances were, or perhaps because of it, Dini also always imagined the Batman at his side, chivvying him along during his darkest moments.

A gripping graphic memoir of one writer’s traumatic experience and his deep connection with his creative material, DARK NIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY is an original graphic novel that will resonate profoundly with fans. Art by the incredible and talented Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS, TRANSMETROPOLITAN).

Review: I’m a lifelong Batman fan. Superman is my favorite DC Superhero, but Batman will always have a piece of my heart because I grew up with him and all the villains that came with him. Batman pajamas, Batman sheets, Batman comics, Batman school supplies (well namely Catwoman, but still), I love Batman unabashedly even if I think that he’s kind of a lunatic. Even though I grew up with Batman, I only sporadically watched “Batman: The Animated Series”, as I think it ran opposite “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” where I grew up. Apparently to me the only hero greater than Batman was Bill Nye.

giphy11
This probably comes as a shock to no one. (source)

But of the episodes I did watch, I greatly enjoyed, and Paul Dini is one of the people to give huge thanks to for that (along with “Tiny Toons” and “Batman Beyond”). We also need to bow down and kiss his feet for creating Harley Quinn. I had no idea that Dini went through a traumatic near-death experience, as how much does the average comic fan know about those who write the stories? So when I heard that he was releasing a graphic memoir of his attack and recovery, I was definitely interested. Dini is a master storyteller, and when it comes to telling his own story it’s that much more powerful.

Not only is this a story of trauma and healing, it’s also a story of self reflection. Dini had a lot of problems even before he was attacked by two random men while walking home one night. His anxiety levels were high, his self esteem levels were low, and he had moments of depression and self mutilation even before the night he was nearly killed. The way that Dini lays his anxieties out in this comic are as various Batman villains he has written for. Poison Ivy is there to torment his conceptions about his sexual life. Scarecrow is there to freak him out about medicine and the healing aftermath of his attack. And then there is the original Big Bad himself, Joker, who is used to show Dini just wanting to turn his back on his world and self destruct. These villains are the perfect representations of all the worst fears he had at the time, and they are matched up well to those fears. And then there is the Caped Crusader himself, representing Dini’s struggle to overcome these issues and fears. I liked how Dini stayed true to the nature of all of these characters, but still was able to apply them to his own personal issues at the time. They never felt shoe horned in to fit his agenda, which I was worried about when I picked this book up. But Dini is a great writer, and he knows what he’s doing with these characters.

I think that Dini is also very brave for telling this story. He is more than willing to talk about his own flaws as well as the cruelty of others, and never makes himself out to be a sad sack perpetual victim in this. He calls himself out in the moments that he was acting foolish, and is honest about when he hit rock bottom and failed not only himself, but those around him as well. He talks about his PTSD after the fact, but the near emotional breakdown he was teetering towards even before he was attacked, stemming from a childhood of being an outsider and an adulthood of neuroses. A lot of his story really resonated with me on a personal level, and as someone with her own personal Jokers, Ivys, and Scarecrows she deals with (though not as extreme as Dini’s), seeing one of comics greatest minds open up about his demons was very, very satisfying and relatable. The message I loved most from this story was his message of “When someone hurts you, you are so much more than what they took from you.” A mentality that is very hard for victims of trauma to remember sometimes. Dini certainly had a hard time remembering. But he fought to remember.

I also need to note the artwork in this book. Eduardo Risso is no stranger to amazing artwork in the comics world, as he has done the art for “100 Bullets”, “Transmetropolitan”, and other Batman stories. He’s an Eisner Award winner as well. The art in “Dark Night” is gritty and haunting, with lots of shadows, darker or muted tones, and vibrant splashes of reds and oranges and pinks for blood and panic and mania.

https3a2f2fblueprint-api-production-s3-amazonaws-com2fuploads2fcard2fimage2f1309492f9a1c9c86b42b4e1dab8565d44aa758ef
(source)

But when there is hope, and yes, there is hope, the colors are lighter, less harsh, and more vibrant and welcoming. One scene in particular, with Dini’s creation Harley Quinn, has a soft and kind feel to it that made me smile, and made me feel comfortable that there is light at the end of the tunnel for him, and for others struggling with mental illness and traumatic events. Dini takes solace in his creative works, just as many take solace in them as well. It’s a lovely concept.

“Dark Night: A True Batman Story” is incredibly brave and poignant. Dini continues to amaze, but this time it’s with his own redemptive arc rather than that of the Caped Crusader. Batman fans, I implore you to pick this up and read it. It is a testament to how important Batman, and other fictional characters, can be, especially when the night is at it’s darkest.

Rating 9: A deeply personal story that explores the importance of creative works within a healing mind and soul. This is a beautifully written memoir, with Batman at his most important.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dark Night: A True Batman Story” is not on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit perfectly on “Popular Graphic Memoir Books”, and “Memoirs of Mental Illness”.

Find “Dark Night: A True Batman Story” at your library using WorldCat!