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The Return Of A Comic That Helped Inspire The Civil Rights Movement

Congressman John Lewis’s bestselling graphic novel March: Book One was inspired by a 56-year-old comic, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, that helped spawn the Civil Rights Movement. Now March’s success has launched the original's return.

Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story was published in 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization dedicated to resolving human conflict. The 14-page comic introduced young civil rights activists around the world to the concept of nonviolent protest by explaining the tactics involved in the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, ignited when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat to a white person.

Five decades later, U.S. Congressman (D-Ga.) and civil rights icon John Lewis mentioned it to his aide Andrew Aydin, who began researching the comic’s history, eventually making it his master’s thesis at Georgetown University, where he was studying social and public policy.

Montgomery Story inspired Aydin and Lewis to co-write March: Book One, the first installment of an autobiographical trilogy published by Top Shelf Productions, illustrated by Nate Powell, and chronicling Lewis’s experiences as a civil rights activist. Lewis took San Diego Comic Con by storm, and March, now in its second printing, has spent three months on the New York Times bestselling graphic novels list.

John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (second and third from right) pose with fans while signing books at the Top Shelf booth during last summer's San Diego Comic-Con.

Now, Top Shelf has teamed with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) to publish the latest print and the first digital editions of The Montgomery Story—available, respectively, through Top Shelf and Comixology. (There have been a few bootleg scans available online, of varying quality and integrity.) All Top Shelf and Comixology fees and proceeds will be donated to FOR.

Top Shelf is also releasing The Montgomery Story on other digital platforms, such as Amazon's Kindle store, Apple's iBookstore, and iVerse's Comics+.

"After March: Book One got such a terrific reception, it was clear to all of us that this was the perfect next step," says Top Shelf marketing director Leigh Walton. "It's a way to both demonstrate the roots of the March project and 'pay it forward,' so that this influential, yet largely unknown, part of history is not forgotten and can keep changing lives."

[L-R] Andrew Aydin, John Lewis, and Nate Powell discuss The Montgomery Story and March with Rachel Maddow. The segment is posted at the end of the story.

As a larger, more action-packed March: Book Two is readied for a November 2014 release, Aydin is busy trying to solve a mystery surrounding The Montgomery Story. While the script was co-written by Benton Resnik and Alfred Hassler, with brief edits from MLK, the name of the artist has remained elusive.

"I am close, though nothing definitive yet," says Aydin. "We have a working theory, and several comic artists have been helping me track down leads, but so far, none have panned out. Recently, we uncovered more documents that I’m saving for an upcoming book."

[Images and video courtesy of Top Shelf, Fellowship of Reconciliation, MSNBC, and Susan Karlin]

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