Who says a comic book can’t influence the real world?

Just after the furore caused by Frederik Wertham which caused people to make bonfires of comics, Alfred Hassler, publications director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation published Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (1957).

Hassler wrote the script with Benton Resnick who worked for Al Capp. They engaged the famous Sy Barry (DC Comics, Timely, The Phantom) to draw it. King himself made some editorial changes. Al Capp published the comic at no charge. Hassler felt that this medium was perfect for reaching a vast audience and making a difference. He was so right.

Initially 250,000 copies were distributed to schools, churches, and civil rights groups. Its message was peaceful protest and, unlike the recent violence and deaths on Capitol Hill fueled by senseless people though the new media, this old medium helped get its peaceful message through.

An edition made its way to South Africa which inspired some anti-apartheid protests before the government banned it.

It was still inspiring people in 2011. Egyptian activist Dalia Ziada got it translated into Arabic and Farsi and it was distributed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring.

Congressman John Lewis’ press secretary was comics fan Andrew Aydin who did a thesis on the comic. He persuaded John Lewis to work with him on what became the graphic novel trilogy March (2013-2016). 

Top Shelf reprinted the original comic in 2011 and 2013. Giant oaks certainly grew from that small acorn 70 years ago.More details are available on history.com in an article by Christopher Klein: The MLK Graphic Novel That Inspired John Lewis and Generations of Civil Rights Activists. The original comic is currently available on Kindle at 79p.

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