There are comic fans everywhere, even in the halls of Congress. And sometimes, all it takes is one of them to make history happen.
Andrew Aydin, who handles Telecommunications and Technology policy as well as New Media for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, has turned his love of comics into a milestone project that will make publishing history. Aydin has spearheaded and is now co-writing the first graphic novel written by a sitting member of Congress.
March, the story of Congressman Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil rights, is being published by Top Shelf Comics in 2012. Co-written by Lewis and Aydin, the graphic novel tells the story of Lewis' life while profiling the heroic actions of people who utilize non-violence to change the world.
"Andrew was the one who really put everything together," said Top Shelf Co-Publisher Chris Staros. "He and the Congressman had talked about this project for a long time and had started working on it, to co-write it. Andrew knew a lot about Top Shelf comics and had read them before, and he came to us with the idea, which I thought was fantastic."
It all started when Aydin discovered the historic importance of a comic book called The Montgomery Story, which was published by the Fellowship Reconciliation in 1957. The comic told the story of the Montgomery bus boycotts, but also talked about Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and nonviolent social resistance.
"When I asked the Congressman about it, he said he could remember people saying The Montgomery Story was one of the things that inspired them to join the Freedom Rides," Aydin said. "I was hooked right there. I started asking him, 'Congressman Lewis, why don’t you write a comic book?' He would laugh and smile and sometimes even say maybe."
A few weeks passed and Aydin was out with the Congressman hammering in yard signs during the 2008 campaign when a volunteer mentioned something about comic books. It motivated Aydin to ask one more time.
"I asked the question again, except this time he said, 'I’ll only write it if you write it with me,'" Aydin said. "I was blown away. Once it was out there, we had to do it, we had to make it happen. It was an idea that just stuck."
Aydin, who works in Lewis' Washington, D.C., office, said the Congressman is "very involved" in the project. "He’s incredibly busy so we end up working on it in the evenings after work or late at night over the telephone. But everything usually goes smoothly," he said.
After the co-writing process was underway, Aydin approached Top Shelf about publishing the graphic novel. Staros said he was initially attracted to the historic significance of Lewis' involvement.
"John Lewis is such an important figure," he said. "He's been so involved with the Civil Rights Movement. So to have the chance to do a project with him is such a great honor.
"I had some meetings with Andrew and sat down with the Congressman, and we told him about Top Shelf, and we all got good vibes from each other," Staros said.
But it wasn't until Staros read the script that he became enthusiastic about March. "I knew the idea was good, but execution is key. So they sent me the first half of the graphic novel. And Andrew and the Congressman had done a fantastic job with it," Staros said. "It really read like a graphic novel. It was going to convert digitally to comics form exceedingly well. So once I read that, I was elated, because I knew this was a winner. I knew this would be an important literary work."
And it helped that Staros lives in Georgia, the state that Congressman Lewis represents. "I've lived here in Georgia since 1983, and I'm a very proud citizen of the South," he said. "So I'm proud to do a project with someone from our own region."
Aydin is hoping March ends up being an inspiration to people who read it. "March is the story of heroes — real heroes that changed America," Aydin said. "Too many young people grow up today without role models. They have no one to look up to, no one to aspire to be, and they need to be inspired.
"Children, teenagers, young adults — they need to see that you can grow up poor in a shotgun house in rural Alabama and yet, through hard work, go to college, be an activist and help lead a movement," he said. "They need to see that they can be a teenager or young adult and have the power to stand up to a sheriff or even a president."
Aydin, an Atlanta native, said he believe the nonviolent methods used during the Civil Rights Movement are effective even today, in all corners of the world. "We live in a global community now and much of what Congressman Lewis and others were fighting for in the Civil Rights Movement are things people are still fighting for today, like jobs, education and human rights," he said.
While Aydin believes it's significant that a sitting Congressman writing a comic, he thinks the real importance of March is related to its content.
"I think this project helps unlock some of the tremendous potential of graphic novels as a form of literature," Aydin said. "It brings together the world of comics and graphic novels with politics and history. These are things that people don't tend to think of together, but can be complimentary, creative and meaningful."