I love that Rob Walker. Not only is he the brilliant author of the New York Times Magazine‘s "Consumed" column and the former "Moneybox" columnist for Slate. Not only did he write the critically acclaimed Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (Random House, 2008). Not only did he pen the wonderful collection of essays about the Big Easy called Letters from New Orleans. Not only did he create the zine Where Were You, his personal reminiscences about celebrity deaths. Not only was he my collaborator on Titans of Finance. But now he — and partner Joshua Glenn (does he only work with guys named "Josh"?) have come up with a new scheme, one which combines Rob’s interests in art, social practices, and money — The Significant Object project. And my wonderful wife Sari is a participant.
Here’s how it works (from the S.O. website):
THE IDEA: A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value.
- The project’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
- A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
- Each significant object is listed for sale. Care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers.
- The winning bidder is mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale are given to the respective author.
Don’t you love it? I do; I’ve always thought Rob has an amazing talent for using irony to address serious and important issues, and this is a perfect example. Anyway, the S.O. project has already employed the talents of such writers as Nicholson Baker, Kurt Anderson, Colson Whitehead, Luc Sante, Doug Dorst, Ann Nocenti, and now… Sari Wilson. Check out her contribution, all about a sweeeeet penguin creamer, right here
. And start bidding — the auction ends September 10!!!
One of my concerns doing A.D. was that, as a Northerner documenting this particular story of the South, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. It helped, of course, that I worked for three weeks in Mississippi after the storm, and that I’ve visited New Orleans multiple times, but the fact is that no matter how much research I did, I can never truly understand what it means to be from that region. So it means all the more to me when regional coverage of A.D. is positive. Today, I had the good fortune to spot two new reviews from the area, in The Austin Chronicle and the blog Deckfight.
Kate X. Messer’s piece in The Austin Chronicle ends with this wonderful passage: "Simmering in a roux of nuance and avoiding the graphic tendencies of the genre (no mean feat, especially considering the violent terror of the subject matter at hand), Neufeld captures the quiet dignity and resolve of these survivors as they muddle through nature’s recent "Take that, bitch!" and the Bush admin’s most arrogant "Fuck you" this side of Iraq . . . Most importantly, however, Neufeld nails NOLA: Characters in UNO shirts, "Where y’at!," Claiborne, and Galatoire’s all come alive as the world turns on its head — where bravery borders on stupidity, obligation becomes an albatross, and thugs step up to the mantle as heroes."
Deckfight’s extensive review is equally complimentary, concluding with these words: "In A.D., Neufeld uses an expressive medium to compensate for the feelings that words often miss — the significance of destruction, the loneliness, the frustration at an injust system. Though A.D. is only a glimpse into all of those, it’s really all that’s needed."
John Hogan of Graphic Novel Reporter just interviewed me for his site. He asked some great questions about the origins of A.D. and the issues it raises. Check out "Beating the Forecast."
It’s interesting: in the last week a couple of sites have written extensive reviews of the A.D. webcomic (as opposed to the revised, expanded print edition, due out next week). I welcome these latecomers to the party, but wonder about the the timing. I guess they’re hearing about the book but don’t have a review copy? Anyway, I’m definitely grateful for the attention, and pretty confident that the free webcomic will drive people to the print edition. The newest piece is by Dan Stryker of the Great Big Nerd blog.
Larry Cruz of the The Webcomic Overlook’s "One Punch Reviews" blog has written a really nice piece on A.D. which highlights — and then utilizes — some of the webcomic’s most distinctive elements: "Below the illustrated panels are links to audio and video clips of the people featured in the comic, blogs, photo essays, and newspaper articles. . . . It’s a fine example as to how comics can aspire to be more than just entertainment, and also how comics don’t have to be hemmed to the sequential panels. Comics — webcomics in particular — can be the very voice of history." And in his review Cruz nicely evokes the A.D. webcomic: whenever he refers in the text to a particular element of the story, he hotlinks that phrase to a specific visual example from the comic. Check it out.
If we can posit that webcomics are the "future" of "sequential art," then I suppose blog posts like this are the future of webcomics criticism.
I just found out that I’ll be doing a TV bit on the WGN Midday News when I’m in Chicago (August 28–31)! Nervous! On top of that, Pantheon is chipping in for a "literary escort" to pick me up at the airport and drive me around, to the station and then on to my pals’ house in Evanston. Now that’s what I’m talking about! For the lowdown on literary escorts, read this engaging piece by Joe Queenan...
Richard Pachter of the Miami Herald plugs A.D. in a graphic novel round-up which also features ‘s kick-ass Fahrenheit 451 adaptation. Here’s what the Herald says about A.D.:
Neufeld’s excellent post-Katrina webcomic has been refreshed and reconfigured as a rich, multi-threaded nonfiction graphic work. The characterizations are rock-solid and true. The abandonment of the people of New Orleans remains palpable and poignant in this visceral depiction of a disgraceful chapter of recent U.S. history.
Tom Mayer, the most excellent editor of my next project, Brooke Gladstone’s The Influencing Machine, was kind enough to send over a little item he spotted in the latest issue of Giant Robot: a plug for A.D.!
Josh Neufeld has shared stories from Hurricane Katrina in blog and zine formats, but this hardcover comic is the most extensive and ambitious presentation so far. Although the story is sprawling and the tone is dark, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a quick read with engaging artwork, likable characters, and honest dialogue. While most readers will recall the news footage of flooded neighborhoods and displaced victims at the Superdome, Neufeld does an excellent job of putting more detailed faces on the victims in a way that’s engaging without being patronizing or melodramatic. From desperate parents trying to protect their children to a comic-book collector saying goodbye to his collection, there are plenty of touching scenes in this ultimately positive recounting of the tragic event.
Here’s a nice birthday present: a swell review of A.D. by John Sledge, the Book Page Editor of the Mobile Press-Register. He calls me "an engaging and talented artist" — thanks, Mr. Sledge! — and writes that my "work exhibits an appealing sort of cartoonish verisimilitude. [Neufeld’s] double-page spreads, depicting New Orleans before the storm, then with massive clouds towering above it, and finally swept by floodwaters from bursting levees, are no less gut-wrenching than the full-color video of those same scenes that became so familiar."
After a very nice synopsis of the book and its themes, Sledge goes on to write that A.D. "is a fine contribution to our understanding of Hurricane Katrina and what it did to the people of the Gulf Coast. Because it depicts true events, it seems somehow inappropriate to call it a graphic ‘novel.’ ‘Comic book’ doesn’t work either — not much funny here. The difficulty is only one of labeling, however. The work itself is superb."
Just had dinner at my neighborhood sushi joint, Gen, with the awesome Berliner couple, cartoonist Andreas Michalke and his girlfriend Julia Tagert (as well as the equally awesome Nicholas Kahn, one-half of the art team Kahn & Selesnick). My connection to them was through my frequent collaborator, poet/memoirist Nick Flynn. Andi & Julia were visiting the States for a week, and we had the good fortune to meet up while our paths crossed. I wasn’t familiar with Andi’s work since it has yet to be published in English, so we got a chance to share war stories and trade books. (I fear he got the raw end of the deal, as all I was able to give him were The Vagabonds #1 & #2, while I came away with his beautiul Reprodukt tome BigBeatLand.)
It was interesting to compare notes and see how similar the histories of Germany and America are in terms of popular acceptance of the comics form. As with us, comics as a "serious" pursuit didn’t begin there until the late 1960s, and literary-type graphic novels are still an incipient field, with much of them coming in the form of translated books from France, Canada, and the U.S. We both got a laugh about the similarities of our respective comics convention cultures, with the people in silly costumes, the sad lonely men, and the inevitable groups of kids wanting drawings for their sketchbooks. Seems fan-boys the world over conform to the same sterotypes.
It was worth missing Phoebe’s bedtime tonight to get a taste of the traveling life again, to make new friends, and have a place to stay should I find myself in Berlin.