Goodreads: Run: Book One
Series: Run #1
Age Category: Young Adult
The sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series March—the continuation of the life story of John Lewis and the struggles seen across the United States after the Selma voting rights campaign.
To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit–in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory. But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning. In Run: Book One, John Lewis and longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin reteam with Nate Powell—the award–winning illustrator of the March trilogy—and are joined by L. Fury—making an astonishing graphic novel debut—to tell this often overlooked chapter of civil rights history.
John Lewis’s March trilogy is a powerful read following his involvement in the Civil Rights movement from participating in lunch counter sit-ins to joining the Semla voting rights campaign. That trilogy brings history to life with all its nuances and messiness, while still providing a focal point in Lewis. When I learned that a new trilogy would continue the story, I was beyond thrilled. However, while Run is still educational, it does not quite match the quality of its predecessors.
Run: Book One has a somewhat vague summary from the publisher. Now that I have read the book, I understand why. There seems to be no focal point here, no guiding narrative. The book simply informs readers about events as they unfold. While this may be realistic, the purpose of telling stories is usually to give them meaning. I expected Run to, at the very least, give the events and Lewis’s involvement in them a sense of unifying purpose. The storytellers, however, seem to have no intent to shape the narrative to help readers understand it.
Rather, Run: Book One seems dedicated to cramming in as much information as possible in order to highlight more individuals who worked in the Civil Rights movement. This, of course, is laudable. However, it is not necessarily great storytelling. Dropping lists of names, roles, and dates active is perhaps educational, but not exactly gripping. The March trilogy works because it centers around one man’s life and how he responds to the events happening around him. Run struggles because it tries to expand the scope of the book to well, everyone.
The amount of information contained actually proves a bit overwhelming–a notable feature in a story presented in graphic novel form specifically in an effort to reach more readers. Readers who might not normally read nonfiction or dive into a text-heavy book. But Run: Book One is text heavy! Having large info dumps and then putting a sketch of a bunch of portraits next to it does little to make that text easier to read and makes this book feel more like an illustrated nonfiction than a graphic novel. The understanding of how comics work and what they can do is lacking here.
Run: Book One only really hits its stride in the final pages, when the focus returns to John Lewis and his response to events around him. This is the moment when he is voted out of SNCC and the stakes for him become real. With the focus on one person, readers can more readily access what this moment might mean, not only for Lewis, but also for the movement. Nonviolence is on the way out and more aggressive voices are taking charge. But what will Lewis do? Well, readers have to wait for book two to find out!
I really wanted to love Run because of how much I love March. However, while I think the book and the events it covers are important, I do not think the narrative works very well and I think the creators missed the purpose of telling this story as a comic book. Hopefully, the second installment can improve on this, though. I’ll still be reading it to find out.