Thursday, November 25, 2010

A.D. New Orleans: After the Deluge

The ensuing disaster that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina cast much light on life in the US. It questioned the reliability and judgment of FEMA and raised questions about continued class and racial disparity, culminating in what then-President George W. Bush called the "worst moment of his presidency," getting called out on national television by Kanye West. In all of this fallout and confusion, what seems to get lost are the stories of the people who lived in and through the storm. This graphic novel tells their stories.

A.D. New Orleans began as a webcomic but is here expanded and developed into a longer narrative. It begins on August 22, 2005, one week before Katrina hit, and focuses on five stories: Denise's family has lived in New Orleans for generations, and she and her family try to weather the storm in a hospital and then, when that becomes untenable, the Convention Center. Leo and Michelle are a Bohemian, urban couple who decide to take off to shelter but return quickly to survey the aftermath. Abbas is an Iranian-born businessman who decides to weather the storm with his fishing buddy Darnell so that they can protect his shop and also have a good story about experiencing a "real hurricane." Kwame is the son of a pastor whose family flees the storm but then returns to facilitate assistance to those in need. Finally, The Doctor stays in the French Quarter and throws a hurricane party, secure in the fact that this high point of the city will take little damage. He also takes an active part in helping people once the weather passes and the horrible damage caused by massive floods takes its toll.

This graphic novel portrays the destruction but mostly focuses on the human stories, showing what it was like to be there, trapped on a roof. Or what it was like to come back to find all your possessions ruined. Or what it was like to see your home be portrayed like some foreign battle site on the nightly news. It also shows what life was like for people who were trapped and who were neglected for days before help came. Finally, rumors about looting and roaming bands of thugs are also addressed. It is necessarily, but not gratuitously, graphic with its portrayal of stark conditions and people's language in extreme situations.

Josh Neufeld is a comics journalist who worked at the time as a Red Cross volunteer and was deployed to Biloxi, Mississippi to help hurricane victims there. That experience moved him to write this story from those most affected by the storm, so for this book he interviewed actual people and portrayed their accounts as accurately as he could. He specializes in non-fiction work and was along-time contributor to Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. His work has been recognized with a Xeric Foundation Grant for his travelogue A Few Perfect Hours, and he was also nominated for Harvey and Eisner Awards for this book.

Along with these nominations, A.D. New Orleans has received much praise. Wired Magazine's Todd Jatras called it "a sterling example of comics with a social consciousness." It has also received substantive write-ups in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. Reviewer Sean Kleefeld comments that the book is worth buying, even if the web version can be read for free.

Extended excerpts, chapters from the webcomic, discussion postings, related videos, reviews, and many other helpful and interesting links can be found on the book's official page.

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