Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project
Josh Neufeld is a cartoonist who works mostly in non-fiction styles. His other work includes some drawing for Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. Neufeld’s 2009 graphic novel A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a historical-journalistic account of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans that followed. Neufeld’s story is based on the accounts of seven people: Denise, a young woman who experiences the storm and flooding from her apartment, a hospital, and the overfilled Convention Center; Leo, a comics collector and zinester, and his girlfriend Michelle, who leave the city for safety in Houston and wind up losing their most prized possessions; Abbas, the owner of a convenience store, and his friend Darnell, who try to weather storm in the store so as to protect it; Kwame, a high-schooler whose family takes shelter in his brother’s dorm in Tallahassee, Florida; and the Doctor, who hosts a hurricane party when the storm hits. A.D. starts with a wordless chapter titled “The Storm,” which shows Katrina and the damage it wrought. The next chapter, “The City,” introduces the people whose stories the rest of the graphic novel will tell, and their lives just prior to the storm, as well as their experiences during it. “The Flood” is a moving chapter, showing how the city turned from thinking the danger was over to nearly completely flooding, and how those who couldn’t get out suffered in the aftermath. The last two chapters, “The Diaspora” and “The Return” show what lasting impact Katrina had on their lives. A.D. is an always moving and at times emotionally taxing graphic novel. The stories are pretty straightforward, but that in no way detracts from their impact. Neufeld’s art is simple and cartoony, and generally pretty nondescript. But he does some interesting visual experimentation, among which the most notable is probably his use of different colors to signify the time of day or the level of natural light. Some of the visual storytelling is chilling. Take for example the scene when Kwame, filling up the bathtub before leaving the house to go to his brother’s dorm, knocks over a Spider-Man figure, which he leaves floating in the water (47); this seems like a pretty obvious reference to the bodies that would be seen floating around the city a few days later. That it a pretty blatant in its foreshadowing does not detract from the image’s power. According to his afterword, Neufeld felt that “it was important to tell the story from the perspectives of a range of real people who had lived through the storm: well-off and poor, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, male and female.” This aspiration for diversity is laudable, and the people are all treated with respect. There is certainly an edge and some less-than-positive sentiment shining through in the book, but it not toward any group of people, but FEMA and others who handled the response so poorly, and those out-of-touch people who responded to people’s suffering by asking why they didn’t just leave. A.D. had been on my reading list for a long time, but once I knew I would actually make it to New Orleans in my lifetime, I decided to hold off until I either got there or was en route. I wound up buying it in New Orleans – in a store managed by the man behind the character Leo, no less – after wandering through the city and seeing the places that were struck. This might have colored my reading somewhat, but despite its simplicity – or, actually, perhaps because of it – A.D. is something I’d happily recommend to anyone.