A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
By Josh Neufeld
Every so often books come along that people in the literary establishment deem important. With a few notable exceptions, those books are usually not comic books (or graphic novels—whatever you want to call them). Those of us who love comics have been arguing for years that perhaps more of them should be. Most recently, our point has been reiterated by Josh Neufeld, whose latest work, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, was just released by Pantheon. (The book was originally published as a web comic at the website of Smith magazine, albeit in shorter, slightly different form.)
Briefly stated, A.D. is about Hurricane Katrina, but more accurately, it’s about seven New Orleans residents and survivors of Katrina. They represent a range of races, socio-economic classes, and experiences, as Neufeld specifically wanted, in order to present as complete a picture of the storm as possible while still telling it from up close and inside. Some of the characters—who are all based on real people with whom Neufeld conducted extensive interviews—stay and ride (or fight) out the storm and its aftermath; others flee. Six of the characters lose their homes and nearly everything in them; only one has a fortress of a house, which escapes unscathed. One character has the distinct pleasure of being stranded at the now-infamous Convention Center, which initially seemed like a decent escape route and in a bitter twist ended up a nightmare.
The stories in A.D., like all of those that emerged and continue to emerge from New Orleans and Biloxi after the 2005 storm, run the gamut from upsetting to inspiring, horrifying to gratifying. In a way, Neufeld isn’t covering much new ground here. We all saw these stories on TV, read them in the news, heard them from friends of friends who lived through the incident themselves. And yet, he is. There have been plenty of books written about Katrina, but many have an academic bent, focusing on unraveling what exactly went wrong and how the storm became a disaster of such magnitude. Other books are nonfiction accounts that do take a personal approach, like Neufeld, but his visuals are so effective, the experience is undoubtedly different.
Which all brings up another point: A.D. is not only important but good. I suppose it might be hard to find the former without the latter, but noble attempts often end with varying degrees of success. A.D.’s is high. Neufeld structures the book in an orderly, understandable way—including grouping narrative sections together by color in order to clarify different stages of the action, i.e. the decision to stay, the decision to leave, the storm, and so on—and moves fluidly among his characters’ stories. He draws in a clear, detailed style and seems an artist clearly aware of his potential to rouse emotion—and is quite smart about doing so only intermittently. The book avidly avoids being a tear jerker; rather, it treats its subjects with respect and heightens their drama only when appropriate, when the situations the characters face are so heart-breaking or outrageous that it becomes Neufeld’s responsibility to remind us they’re real.
Perhaps that’s most important aspect of A.D., and of Neufeld’s job: reminding. Other national tragedies—Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, September 11—have a set place in the public conscience, but Hurricane Katrina was something different, an event so muddled, confused, and mishandled, half the nation seemed to have missed its importance and its message, at least in the immediate aftermath. Neufeld vindicates the survivors when he tells their stories, but in the end, they live with those stories every day—they don’t need reminding. We do.
– Jillian Steinhauer