Ho Che Anderson’s King covers the expected territory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. We see his journey from local pastor to his participation in sit-ins through the late 1950s and 60s up through his ascent as a leader of the Civil Rights movement in the fateful March on Washington. But what distinguishes Anderson’s take on Dr. King’s legacy is its refusal to rarefy its subject. This is a powerful attempt to show Dr. King in full. In his personal life, we see Dr. King struggle through a troubled marriage. We see his drinking and cavorting with other women. We see him doubtfully confront the weight of his accomplishments and his role in the movement for racial equality. Despite his eventual triumphs, this is a version of King that can never rest easy.
Anderson’s black and white style immediately sets the perfect tone for such a laborious tale. In the opening pages, we see a young Martin, etched in shadow, creeping through the back of a church towards his father. The scene calls to mind the harsh tonality of Lynd Ward’s woodcuts or the lightning of the German Expressionists. It’s uneasy, dreary. But it’s an opener that properly sets the stage for the story of struggle that’s to come in the next 200 plus pages.
Beyond the stylistics of this remarkable opening, Anderson uses a barrage of other techniques to make this story come to life. Particularly moving is his integration of newspaper prints from key moments in King’s life as well as the lives of his contemporaries like Rosa Parks. Anderson sets out with his eyes on the history of the Civil Rights movement and not just the narrative of Dr. King.
Another compelling quality of Anderson’s comic, perhaps the counterpoint of the expressive take on the key moments in the life of Dr. King and his contemporaries, is the focus on “The Witnesses”, a collective of anonymous, fourth-wall breaking respondents that punctuate the proceedings with their own commentary. We hear from the young acolytes who praise Dr. King and the doubtful who see him as a false prophet. It’s an equitable tapestry that honors the difficult climate of the times and the complexity of the journey Dr. King embarked on personally.
In the wake of a tiresome election that calls to mind the struggles of Dr. King’s journey, this is not a read to miss.