Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY

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I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Hurricane Story, the beautiful cloth-bound art book by New Orleans-based photographer Jennifer Shaw. Just out this month from Broken Levee Books (an imprint of Chin Music Press), the slim 7″ x 7″ volume boasts an eloquent foreword by my old buddy/collaborator Rob Walker.

Here’s the book jacket description, which of course doesn’t do justice to the photos themselves:

Jennifer Shaw was nine months pregnant when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005, she and her husband loaded up their truck with their two dogs, two cats, photo negatives, important papers, and a few changes of clothes. Give the pets CBD oils for cats and dogs to keep them calm during this situation. They evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried to avoid watching the news. Monday, August 29, brought two life-changing events: the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of a son.

Using a simple Holga camera, Shaw narrates her six thousand-mile journey with dreamy and haunting photographs of toys that illustrate her emotional state during a time of exile, waiting, and eventual homecoming.
 

Hurricane Story is a fairytale of birth and death, joy and sadness, innocence and infinite despair. Through the unexpected device of the Holga camera and the toy dioramas, all the familiar images of the Katrina story are brought back to vivid life, reminding even the most jaded reader of what it felt like to live through those dark days.

The book’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The book is highly personal yet somehow universal, mournful yet playful, striking a balance which to me seems perfectly New Orleanian.

The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book — or, if you will, a “graphic novel” — for grown-ups.

For links to purchasing a copy, click here.

Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY

The Dragon A.D. podcast

A.D., Publicity

The Dragon, a retailer based in the Kitchener/Guelph region of Ontario, just posted a podcast about A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge — and much more. Store owner Jenn, who was recently in New Orleans on a Habitat for Humanity excursion, discusses the book and present-day NOLA with store manager Amy. The conversation then segues into a discussion of the recent Sendai earthquake and tsunami. It’s a wide-ranging and serious discussion of the topics — just the sort of thing I hoped A.D. would spark. Check it out; well worth it.

Dressed to Impress

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I was invited to an “exclusive breakfast” the other day — so exclusive I was almost excluded!

The breakfast was to meet the author of a book about Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and discuss his work. It was sponsored by the French-American Foundation and was being held at New York’s famed Knickerbocker Club. (The event was part of a series of “meet-ups” organized by Villa Gillet, the same folks who invited me to be part of the “Catastrophe Practice” panel back in January.)

I was very happy to be invited, though not so psyched to have to wake up at 6:00 am to schlep all the way into Manhattan. (I also found it more than ironic that a discussion of the aftermath of Katrina — which so notoriously involved survivors being deprived of food and water for days — was the occasion of a fancy breakfast at a New York club.) All the same, I put on my gear and made the trip, arriving at the location at the appointed time.

And it was just about then that it hit me that the Knickerbocker was a private club. An exclusive private club. On Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And what was I wearing? A sweater over a black T-shirt. Brand new black jeans. A stylish pair of sneakers. (Not to mention a bright orange jacket.) As a general rule — other than weddings and funerals — I never wear a tie.

Sure enough, soon as I walked in the door, the coat check guy/bouncer gave me the once-over and started shaking his head. “There’s no way you’re getting inside, sir. The Knickerbocker has a strict dress code.” My heart sank. You mean I had made this whole trip for nothing, simply because I wasn’t in “business attire”? And to be honest, I hadn’t even considered the idea of a dress code — I wasn’t brought up in the world of private social clubs!

Knowing that places like that sometimes do such things, I asked if I could borrow a coat & tie. No dice. With my jeans and sneakers — nice as they were — I was a hopeless case. I was really at a loss.

Meanwhile, all during this time, distinguished gentlemen and ladies were coming in and being ushered upstairs to the breakfast. Finally, it occurred to me to appeal to my contacts at the French-American Foundation, the folks who had invited me in the first place. Some quick calls were made, and the “host” came down to assist me.

Conversations were had, arrangements were made, and I was finally allowed upstairs. Two flights of marble staircases later, I was in the posh room where the event was being held. It was just like in the movies: elegant furniture, carved wooden bookcases filled with leather-bound books, oil paintings of club members — the whole nine yards.

I met the speaker, Romain Huret, and we laughed over the hullabaloo. It turned out he hadn’t been “properly dressed” either, and the club had loaned him a coat and tie. What was interesting to me was how out of place I actually felt. As I said, I was wearing a nice sweater, expensive black jeans, and stylish sneakers, but I stood out from the rest of the crowd like a sore thumb. I don’t remember being so self-conscious since that time back in San Francisco when Sari & I went to a “clothing optional” hot springs!

Apparently I had reason for being so insecure, because a moment later I was tapped on the shoulder. The apologetic host explained that the club really couldn’t allow me upstairs without at least a coat and tie. After all, if I break that rule, who knows what chaos could further ensue?

So down the stairs I went again, back to the entrance, where the “bouncer” presented me with a coat & tie. I explained that I wasn’t even wearing a collared shirt, but he assured me that “it’ll look good.” What it looked like was a Chippendales dancer, but once I took my sweater off, the ensemble almost blended together (if you ignored my neck poking out underneath the tie).

Thus attired, I made my back upstairs to the meeting room. The talk and breakfast ensued with no further disruptions. And at the end, the host and my pals from Villa Gillet enjoyed some laughs about the whole thing. It also turned out that I wasn’t the only interloper: every woman there was as well — the Knick is a men’s only club, and women are only allowed on the premises for “special occasions.”

We even took some photos to commemorate the new style I had inaugurated.

Knickerbocker attire

STATE OF EMERGENCY: Evolution of a Cover

A.D., Illustration

I’ve written previously about State of Emergency, Sari’s adaptation of both my A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge and Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun. Part of Scholastic’s On the Record series, the book is aimed at high-school “reluctant readers” (thus the appeal of the graphic novel format). I think Sari did a really great job of adapting and abridging the two books.

For me, it’s a thrill to be paired with Eggers. I really admire Zeitoun, and of course I’m grateful to Dave for his blurbing of A.D. And what makes this project even sweeter for the whole Josh & Sari family is that Scholastic asked me to draw the cover for State of Emergency. I was happy to oblige, and thought you might enjoy seeing how the illustration developed.

We quickly determined that they were looking for images of post-flooding New Orleans and "people helping people." So the first thing I did was come up with a few sketches:

State of Emergency sketches

Wednesday, Feb. 2: Walls & Bridges' "Catastrophe Practice"

A.D.

This Wednesday evening I’ll be taking part in a round-table discussion at the New School on the political, social, individual, and literary imagination of catastrophe. Titled "Catastrophe Practice," the panel is part of the Walls & Bridges series, co-sponsored by the French cultural institute Villa Gillet and n+1 Magazine. Other participants will be French thinker Jean-Pierre Dupuy, American philosopher Jonathan Lear, French geographer Michel Lussault, and moderator Marco Roth.

To quote from the program description: "Catastrophes are the nightmare flip-side to the record of human progress and achievement. The idea of disaster haunts how we think about our lives on every level, from global planning to individual relationships. Could planning more for catastrophes help eliminate/neutralize them, or do already we give them more attention than appropriate? Will we, no matter our precautions, forever be victims of the vagaries of nature and existence in all its complexity? If so, how may we learn to live and think with and within the expectation of catastrophe?"

Pretty heady stuff — let’s hope I can keep up! I’ll discuss both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and will present a 10-minute slideshow of images to accompany my remarks.

The event is free:

Wed., Feb. 2, 7 pm
The New School – John Tishman Auditorium
66 West 12th St (btwn 6th & 5th Aves)
New York City
Click here for more info.

 

2010: Frequent Flyer Cartoonist

A.D.

As the year draws to a close, the experiences that stand out the most for me were all the amazing travel opportunities I was afforded. Not only did I hit American locales like Manchester, NH; Philadelphia, PA; Dudley, MA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Chestnut Hill, MA; Madison, WI; and of course, New Orleans, LA; but I had some incredibly memorable foreign excursions as well: Burma, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, and Israel/Palestine. (I was also invited to Ravenna, Italy, for a comics festival, but had to turn it down because it conflicted with another, previously scheduled, trip.) That’s enough for a lifetime — and this was just one calendar year!

To this day, my backpacking adventures of 1992-1993 remain the most formative experiences of my "adult" life. I learned so much about myself and, of course, different places and cultures. When I was first began doing alternative comics, chronicling my backpacking experiences in Keyhole, The Vagabonds, and A Few Perfect Hours, I always held out hope that my work would get me noticed in a way that would enable more travel. Unfortunately, that never really happened.

Yet, somehow, thanks to A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, and a few lucky breaks, my long-ago wish is now coming true. A.D. has led to invitations to literary festivals (viz. the trip to Australia), academic conferences (Chicago), and college visits (Manchester, Dudley, Madison). And the book played a big part in my new part-time role as a State Dept. "comics ambassador" (Burma, the Middle East). It’s all too incredible for me to really process.

Besides getting to visit some really fascinating places, I’ve sharpened my skills as a presenter and workshop leader, met some really cool people, and most of all, been able to continue spreading the word about the people of New Orleans, post-Katrina. This is a story which continues to unfold, and will for many years to come. (Just today, I heard the news that the City of New Orleans is starting to crack down on residents who still have FEMA trailers parked in front of their homes.)

Next year I already know I’ll be visiting Atlanta, GA; Vancouver, WA; and Little Rock, AR; and if conditions are right, I hope to do another "ambassadorial" trip. I’m already excited about the places I’ll be visiting in 2011.

Happy New Year, everyone — and Happy Trails.

New Orleans K+5 Day One

A.D.

I flew into New Orleans Friday night, a double-barreled trip to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the paperback release of my document of the storm, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.

Dark clouds were in the air as we touched down, and the humidity hit me like a soggy blanket as I stepped into the Louisiana night. My publisher Pantheon was kind enough to book me a room at the French Quarter institution the Hotel Monteleone, famous for its rotating bar and rooftop swimming pool (neither of which, sadly, I got to sample during my trip).

I had made tentative plans to hang out with artist Blake Boyd and his partner Ginette Bone, but they were still at the New Orleans Saints game (where they had gone to shoot Saints’ coach Sean Payton) for Blake’s Polaroid portraits project. While I waited for their call I was able to catch the last hour of an absorbing Katrina documentary called New Orleans Rising, by John Patrick King. Like many documents of Katrina — from A.D. to Dan Baum’s Nine Lives to Mari Brown & Deanna Pacelli’s 23 Feet in 12 Minutes — the doc weaves together stories of a number of New Orleans residents as they attempt to make sense of and rebuild their lives since the storm. The most fascinating account was of Darryl Montana, Mardi Gras Indian chief and son of the late “chief of chiefs” Allison “Tootie” Montana. Since watching Treme, and the story of Albert “Big Chief” Lambreaux, I’ve been interested in the Mardi Gras Indian phenomenon, and New Orleans Rising goes in-depth into the pride and dedication of this unique cultural expression.

Finally, around midnight, I hooked up with Blake and Ginette, who had also made plans to see writer Dave Eggers that evening. Eggers (who very kindly blurbed A.D.) was in town to discuss his incredible book Zeitoun, and Blake had shot his portrait for his project as well. Eggers had expressed some interest in meeting me, and I was quite anxious to meet him, so we all agreed to get together. Blake and Ginette picked me up in the Quarter and we drove out to the St. Claude area, to a wonderful dive called the Allways Lounge. The place had just hosted some kind of wacky event — a transvestite jello wrestling contest, maybe — and they were still mopping up when we arrived. The lounge was filled with that particular assortment of grungy tattooed hipsters which I always associate with New Orleans, and Blake and Ginette, being long-time NOLA residents immediately recognized numerous friends and acquaintances. (In the next couple of days, I talked to at least two other people who had also been at the Allways that evening who I had just missed seeing myself.)

Soon enough I got to meet Eggers, who was just as humble and down-to-earth as I had been told. Turns out he had at one point been an aspiring cartoonist, and really related to my comic book retelling of the characters’ stories. Eggers was with some other folks, and after awhile our whole gang headed over to a nearby after-party. The shindig was in someone’s upstairs apartment, and was throbbing with dance music and awash with booze. Again, I was struck by the similarity of the evening to scenes from Treme, particularly Davis McAlary’s house party. And just to prove what a wonderful small-town New Orleans really is, the minute I walked in I was embraced by Cree McCree, writer, designer, post-NOLA blogger, and all-around great human being.

The group of us hung out at the party until the wee hours, drinking wine and talking about all things New Orleans and Katrina. I was struck by one resident’s ironic comment that this “Katrinaversary” was “The one where we pretend it [e.g., the hurricane] never happened.” I was already getting a sense of the visceral truth of that statement, that no one suffers from so-called “Katrina fatigue” more than those folks who’ve had to live with it for the last five long years. As much as New Orleanians don’t want the rest of us to forget what happened to their city, they are completely sick of reliving August/September of 2005, and of constantly being reminded of it by the descending media hordes.

By this time it being about 1 a.m. and the party breaking up, Blake and Ginette took pity on me and drove me back to the Monteleone. I had two events scheduled the next day, and I needed to get some sleep.

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers

Cree McCree

Cree McCree

NOLA artist Blake Boyd

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Blake Boyd portrait

I just had my portrait taken by New Orleans visual artist Blake Boyd. He and his partner Ginette Bone drove up from NOLA (whew! that’s no joke of a drive!) for an event, and while they were in town they swung by my place to snap my mug.

The portrait was for a documentary art project, a series of personalities significant in their contribution to the diverse culture of New Orleans pre- and post- Hurricane Katrina. Blake started the project as a response to the devastation following the storm, hoping to present the vitality of the community rather than its near destruction. Born and raised in New Orleans, Blake seeks to reveal the essence of the Crescent City’s culture through the documentation of individuals recognized and associated with the city’s unique spirit.

I’m honored to be included in that list, which features a range of first responders and local celebrities — Allen Toussaint, Brad Pitt, Kermit Ruffins, Susan Spicer, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Leah Chase — as well as representatives of local icons like Cafe du Monde, Mother’s Restaurant, New Orleans Saints players, and St. Augustine’s Marching Band.

I was amazed at how quick and painless the whole process was. Blake brought along a portable backdrop, and we took the photos on the stoop of my apartment building in natural light. He uses one of those cool old Polaroid cameras that produce super-high-resolution photos suitable for poster-sized prints. As you can see from the attached samples, each image is shot the same, head and shoulders only against a white backdrop.

I look forward to seeing this exhibition in a museum and/or book collection some time in the near future — supposedly a London show is in the works…

Blake Boyd photos

"The Persisence of Memory…"

Comics
The Persistence of Memory

I just posted a new one-pager on ACT-I-VATE called “The Persistence of Memory…” It was “commissioned” by A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge character Leo McGovern, who recently published Feast, an anthology of comics by New Orleanians and a few invited others, including folks like Caesar Meadows, Happy Burbeck, and Jeff Pastorek; as well as out-of-towners like Josh Simmons and myself. You can buy a copy of Feast here.

As Leo wrote when he invited me to contribute, “the only thing we ask is that if you’re not currently living in the New Orleans area, your cartoon would be about New Orleans or something New Orleans-related.” I welcomed the chance to revisit New Orleans in my comics — especially now that the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is looming.

After thinking it over a little bit, I decided to address the passage of time since Katrina, and the way that New Orleans is still dealing with the storm. I was inspired by a paper an A.D. reader shared with me. Sean Mallin is a PhD Student in the Dept. of Anthropology at UC Irvine, and his paper is called “Steps to Nowhere? Rebuilding Haunted Landscapes in New Orleans.” I remembered being particularly struck by the lines (quoting Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose) “Everywhere you go now, there’s some memory staring you in the face. What it used to look like;” as well as Mallin’s passage, “Memories of things they had or the way things were ‘before’ haunt [New Orleans residents] on a daily basis. Just like the ‘steps to nowhere,’ all the ‘stuff’ washed away by the floodwaters maintain a haunting presence in the lives of city residents.”

I try to get at those feelings in “The Persistence of Memory…,” which tracks one New Orleans house (or, rather, one piece of property) through the storm, the flooding, the aftermath, and subsequent stages of destruction and renewal. To make it extra fancy, I attempt to show all this one shot, broken up into five panels, each representing a different time in the life of the property.

It’s a subtle piece, requiring close reading; I hope it works for you.

23 Feet in 12 Minutes: The Death and Rebirth of New Orleans

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What looks like an amazing one-woman play about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina will debut next week at the New York Fringe Festival. Written by Mari Brown, 23 Feet in 12 Minutes: The Death and Rebirth of New Orleans follows six real-life New Orleans characters whose lives were irrevocably changed by the storm. Their raw and poignant stories are based on over sixty interviews conducted over three years with Katrina survivors and New Orleans transplants. All six characters are brought to life by actress (and real-life post-Katrina volunteer) Deanna Pacelli, and directed by David Travis.

Sounds like Dan Baum mixed with The Civilians mixed with Anna Deavere-Smith! (And maybe even a little A.D.…) Anyway, I can’t wait. Here are the dates and show times (only $15 ea.):

The Players Loft, 115 MacDougal Street b/w West 3rd and Bleecker, NYC 10012

  • Monday 8/23 at 5:15pm
  • Wednesday 8/25 at 5:15pm
  • Thursday 8/26 at 8pm
  • Friday 8/27 at 7:45pm
  • Saturday 8/28 at 3:30pm
  • Sunday 8/29 at 1:15pm

All shows are one hour long. To buy tickets, call 866.468.7619 or click here.

P.S. Mari and Deanna are raising money to have 23 Feet in 12 Minutes professionally videotaped. To contribute on KickStarter, go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1362945517/23-feet-in-12-minutes-rebirth-in-new-orleans