I thought I should mark Lincoln’s birthday today with Ho Che Anderson‘s epic graphic biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Eighteen years in the making, including 10 years of extensive research, King was originally a three-volume production, printed over a decade from 1993-2002.
King debuts in full this month for the first time in this special edition, which combines all three volumes without breaks, plus includes Anderson’s “Creating King: Personal and Professional Reflections” that records the often frustrated saga of how the full work finally came to print. An additional “Gallery” showcases Anderson’s 1992 comic, Black Dogs [“I haven’t reread it (because I can’t bear to),” he confesses], as well as various sketches and scripts from his King creative process.
Anderson, a London-born Canadian transplant, was named after Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevarra … and his art has certainly lived up to his revolutionary predecessors. Anderson’s King is most definitely NOT your feel-good, sanctifying version of King’s life that most readers are probably used to. From helping his pastor father don his robes as a young boy in 1935 to his Memphis assassination on April 4, 1968, the MLK presented here is a multi-dimensional, gifted man … but still very much a man, nevertheless, filled with doubt, frustration, anger, arrogance, and even deceit.
To give deeper context to King’s life story, Anderson effectively combines the memories and voices of multiple ‘witnesses’ who were at major events, who met King, who worked with King – an effective device he admits he picked up from the movies: “… I’ve seen Warren Beatty’s Reds, and within the first five seconds decided I’m using the movie’s opening ‘Winesseses’ device. Call it an homage. Or call it what I call it: theft.” In a 2007 interview, Anderson insists his quotes are “99% real things that people said.”
While Anderson starkly presents King’s less-than-saintly episodes – his inability to keep his marriage vows, his troubled relationship with his wife Coretta, his affiliations with JFK, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, his sometimes questionable work in Chicago – the final reaction is a fuller understanding of a great man, with inspiring ideals, and an unshakeable dedication to equality through nonviolent, loving means.
MLK’s “I Have a Dream” sits smack in the middle of the book, spread over eight full pages (140-148): “When we let freedom from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual – Free at last! Free at Last! Thank God Almighty – We are free at last!”
And when you turn the page, a blood-splattered American flag awaits with the words: “Truth or Myth – None of that matters. All that matters is the legacy.” MLK’s legacy undeniably lives on in Anderson’s King.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult