King: Another Civil Rights Leader’s Graphic Novel Biography

The incoming U.S. President was responsible for skyrocketing sales of March, the graphic novelization of the life of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. Inadvertently responsible, to be sure. Nevertheless, it gained an incredible bump of more than one hundred thousand percent. And any escalation in literacy is cause for celebration these days. Especially when it encompasses visual literacy. And even more particularly so when the book pays tribute to someone who continues stand up against racism more than 50 years after having been beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting. So it seems time to revisit a related graphic novel bio, groundbreaking and critically acclaimed when first released, on the life of Lewis’s mentor and marching buddy. I’m referring here to King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Like March, King began as a three-part serialized comic book. The first issue hit the stands back in 1993, and the last in 2002. Four years later it was collected and bound as a volume. But King also differentiates itself in a number of ways. Artist/writer Ho Che Anderson honors Reverend King’s visions, methods, and enormous achievements, but doesn’t overlook the flaws and shortcomings. His book is a complex, critical profile of the public and personal life of a complicated and conflicted man struggling through a tense and turbulent era. It’s often stunning in its bold layouts and experimental compositions and its intense, energetic expressiveness. Much of Anderson’s art evokes the avant-garde brilliance of Bill Sienkiewicz, of Electra Assassin and Stray Toasters fame. And speaking of Sienkiewicz, his “Shadowplay,” a history of CIA’s covert operations authored by Alan Moore and published in Brought to Light, makes an excellent companion piece.

It’s also worth noting that Anderson’s book is educational as well as entertaining. For instance, we experience the King’s transformational developments as he discovers Jim Crow and learns of Rosa Parks, Emmett Till and the Montgomery bus strike. And considering our new Commander-in-Chief’s primary agenda is to make America 1950s again, those who don’t know of the segregation and racial hatred back then may be condemned to re-experience it. I recommend the 2010 “Special Edition.” It includes around 80 pages of “bonus features”—deleted scenes, preparatory sketches, diaries, notebooks, and a new epilogue—that will delight any graphic designer interested in process. Here are a few pages for you to sample:

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