A.D. BP

A.D.

I just want to go on record to say I’m as horrified and dismayed by the BP oil spill as anyone. I just haven’t had anything brilliant to say about it. Like everyone else, I’ve been a helpless witness to this unfolding disaster.

At first, I was led to believe that the spill wasn’t anything like the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdex spill. Unlike that event, which dumped almost 11 million gallons of oil into the water extremely close to the shore, the BP spill was "only" releasing 40,000 gallons a day from over 40 miles from shore. The implication was that there would be much more dispersal of the lesser volumes of oil into much larger quantities of ocean water.

But now it’s coming out that initial reports of how much oil was being released into the war were vastly under-estimated. Now we’re seeing the oil coming ashore, and those heartbreaking, all-too-familiar images of oil-saturated birds and water-life are being broadcast to our television screens. Now the tragic truth is becoming clearer.

The ironies for the Gulf Coast are obvious. Just as the region (in some ways) is emerging from the disaster of Hurricane Katrina (and Rita), now this. There are already reports of tourists canceling trips to the region — and to New Orleans in particular — for fear of unsightly beaches and contaminated seafood.

There’s a larger question of how a disaster like this is a direct result of our country’s — our world’s — insatiable need for oil. That’s something we all need to think about it. In the meantime, below is a list of organizations which are working to alleviate the effects of the oil spill. Some have even changed or adapted their focus from post-Katrina relief to this new ongoing disaster. Please consider donating something to their efforts while we continue to hope that a solution to the leak is found.

Some New Kind of Slaughter

Comics, Plug

Some New Kind of Slaughter: Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around The World, from Archaia Studios Press, is now out. Given my connection to a certain diluvian story, creators A. David Lewis & mpMann asked me to write the foreword to the book, which I did. Here it is:

For me, it all began with the 2004 Asian tsunami. Horrified by the huge loss of life, I was also fascinated by the imagery, by the idea that life-giving water could bring such epic death and destruction. I remember trolling the Internet for video from the tsunami, watching YouTube clips over and over again. What was most mesmerizing about what I saw was not that the water came in crashing waves, but rather that it seemed to surge from below, to inexorably grow deeper and deeper, like some nightmare from which you couldn’t wake. And that was exactly it — the tsunami, the flooding, the very themes of water and drowning, were like dreams, a nightmare millions of helpless people shared that late-December night in 2004.

Some New Kind of SLAUGHTERLess than a year later, when Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast, I experienced the same morbid fascination with the storm surge and the flooding of New Orleans. This time, however, I was moved to action. For whatever reason, I woke from my waterlogged reverie and volunteered with the Red Cross. Almost before I knew it, I was in the Gulf Coast, providing emergency relief to those left behind. Walking through the rubble of Biloxi, Mississippi, and listening to the clients’ survival stories made the experience all too real, but the rising waters still haunted my dreams. Perhaps they always will.

So for me at least, mpMann and A. David Lewis’s Some New Kind of Slaughter is especially resonant. Mainly through the visions of the ancient Sumerian king Ziusudra, adrift on his great ark, Mann and Lewis take the reader on a dreamlike tour through the world’s great flood myths. From Babylonia to the Nile Delta, from the Chinese tales of Da Yu to the Native American Menomines, and from modern-day eco-warriors to the Old Testament, we see how these disparate creation and destruction myths share themes of divine punishment, visionary pariahs, and… turtles? Even the familiar story of Noah comes to life in unexpected ways.

Humor leavens the tales. The ancient stories, cultures, and names go down easy via Lewis’s characters’ naturalistic, witty dialogue. And Mann’s beautiful, painterly art completely meshes with the story. The expert weaving of word and image is augmented by the landscape-style alignment of the pages, a device that would seem gimmicky in other contexts, but here reinforces the hallucinatory narrative.

Reading this book reminded me of my youthful backpacking days. Traveling through Southeast Asia and Central Europe, I read author Gore Vidal’s series of historical novels tracing the exploits of one family through American history. Completely captivated by Vidal’s unique vision and his gleeful assault on our cultural myths, when I returned home I sought out the primary sources, reading up on events I hadn’t thought about since high school. I thoroughly enjoyed that journey, and will always be grateful to Vidal for his expert use of the art of fiction to teach fact. Some New Kind of Slaughter does the exact same thing.

The human instinct to tell stories — to make sense of the senseless, to impose order on what seems like the capricious whims of nature — is timeless. What began with poems around a fire, or ancient symbols on cracked parchment, comes to us now in the form of viral video and the pages of the graphic novel. Like a dream shared across cultures and history, Some New Kind of Slaughter ties our modern present to the ancient and/or biblical past. It is a triumphant demonstration that the graphic novel may be the future’s best teaching tool.

A.D. goes Dutch

A.D.

I’m excited to announce that A.D. will be translated into Dutch! The upstart publisher De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) is going to be releasing A.D. in The Netherlands some time next year. (They have also done Dutch translations of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Y the Last Man, Stitches, and Logicomix, among others, so I’m in good company.) 

I find it only fitting that an Amsterdam-based publisher would relate to my story of broken levees and flooded cities: in 1953 the Netherlands was flooded when the dikes protecting the southwest of the country were breached by the joint onslaught of hurricane-force winds and exceptionally high spring tides. The flood came in the night without warning, killing 1,835 people. Their very own Katrina… 50 years earlier.

"Nine Lives" reminds us that New Orleans is much much more than Hurricane Katrina

Review

Nine Lives: Death and Life in New OrleansI recently finished reading Dan Baum‘s remarkable book, Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. Published this past March (right around Mardi Gras), in alternating, rigidly chronological chunks, the book follows a diverse group of New Orleanians and their disparate paths through Hurricane Katrina. Sound familiar? Yeah, on the surface, the premise is similar to A.D.‘s, but Nine Lives is much more than a Katrina book.

In my career as a cartoonist I’ve come to treasure the many things that comics can do to bring a fullness to storytelling, that unique combination of words and pictures which bring a tale to life. When I took on A.D. I really felt that comics was a groundbreaking way to explore the Katrina story in a way that the magazine stories, photographs, news footage, and even documentaries could not. Fortunately, many have agreed, and in fact no less than Baum himself recently wrote about A.D. that “Who’d have thought that after watching all that video we’d come upon a fresh visual way to experience Hurricane Katrina? Josh Neufeld’s drawings — and his tender, dead-honest dialogue — brought it all back in a way that made me feel it in my gut."

Anyway, it’s my turn to repay the compliment. Baum, who was a New Yorker staff writer sent to cover New Orleans when Katrina hit (and who a few months ago posted a notorious post-mortem of his New Yorker career on Twitter), has talked about how he soon realized that "Katrina was not the most interesting thing about New Orleans, not by a long shot." No, rather it is the city itself — its history, its people, its communities, its soul — that made it so compelling. And by writing about his subjects in such a fully realized way, Baum really proves that point.

Nine Lives picks up the stories of its characters in 1965, right after Hurricane Betsy ravaged New Orleans, and takes us through the next forty years — and Katrina. With incredible skill and imagination, Baum evokes each of his subjects’ circumstances. Whether they’re the quirky county coroner, the Mardi Gras indian, the Ninth Ward union leader, the transsexual bar owner, the cynical white cop, or any of the book’s other wonderful subjects, Baum gets into each of their heads in an amazing way. He does this through novelistic techniques unusual for a nonfiction book.

And Nine Lives uses one distinct advantage of prose, the ability to really delve deeply and thoroughly into a topic. It’s a profound trip through these characters’ lives, as they grow from young men and women, succeed and fail, fall in and out of love, have children of their own, and grow old. The result is an amazing 40-year journey which brings real context to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and reminds us what a complex, contradictory, bizarre, infuriating, lovable, alien, and yes, unique, city, New Orleans was — and is. Nine Lives refuses to let tragedy be the final note. As Baum notes, his writing mandate for Nine Lives was "all happy endings. All nine of these people are, in their own way, heroes. And while [I] could have ended any of their stories on a down note, [I] instead end all at a moment of ascendance."

Thanks to Dan Baum and Nine Lives, we all have reason to hope the real story of New Orleans ends happily too.

[cross-posted to A.D. site]

LJ spotlight!

Publicity

So this blog is now spotlighted on the homepage of Livejournal, which is very exciting and flattering. If you’re reading this for the first time, hello, and please allow me to introduce myself (all apologies to Mick Jagger/Lucifer). In RL I am Josh Neufeld, a Brooklyn, NY-based cartoonist (e.g. comic book writer/artist) who speciaizes in nonfiction. If you’ve read Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, or Art Speigelman’s Maus, or Joe Sacco‘s Palestine or Safe Area Gorazde, then you know comics can be a wonderful way to explore, explain, and illustrate the real world. If you haven’t read any of their work, then go out now and buy some!

In any case, I’ve been working in this corner of the "alternative comics" field for awhile now, as an illustrator of Pekar’s stories, as an autobiographer of my own backpacking adventures, and most recently as a chronicler of Hurricane Katrina, as seen from the perspective of seven real-life New Orleanians who survived the storm. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is coming out next month from Pantheon Graphic Novels. I’ll be going on tour to support the book, and maybe I’ll be coming to a city near you: stops include Austin, TX; Houston, TX; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Portland, OR; Miami, FL; and of course New Orleans and my hometown of New York City. (You can see all the details here…)

A.D. came about indirectly because I was an American Red Cross volunteer shortly after Katrina, where I worked for almost a month distributing food to Katrina survivors in Biloxi, Mississippi (about 90 miles outside of New Orleans). I wrote about those experiences as they were happening right here on my LJ, and eventually collected the posts — and readers’ comments — in a "blook," cleverly titled Katrina Came Calling. A little later, Jeff Newelt, the comics editor of the storytelling site SMITH, showed it to SMITH’s editor, who shortly thereafter asked me to do a comic about Katrina for his site. In January 2007, after about six months of research and reporting, and finding seven amazing, wonderful people willing to have their stories told in comics form, I began serializing A.D. on SMITH. Lo and behold, two-plus years later and a brand-new, expanded hardcover edition of A.D. debuts August 18 (right before the fourth anniversary of Katrina).

I’m extremely excited for the book to be out, not only because it’s the culmination of many years’ work, but because I think it’s so important that we continue to tell the story of New Orleans. I made a big effort with A.D. to show my characters’ lives continuing on after the hurricane, as the city begins to forge its post-New Orleans history. Four years down the line a lot has happened — some good and some bad — but the rest of America (and the world) needs to keep the "City that Care Forgot" and its people in our hearts and minds. I’m also excited about A.D. because I truly do believe that nonfiction comics are a vital part of the comics mosaic, and my hope is that if enough copies of the book finds their way into the hands of people who wouldn’t normally pick up a "funny book," it will help break down the continuing prejudices against the form.

I’m running on a bit, and I don’t want to bore my normal readers, so I’ll cut things short here. Normally, my blog is a place where I write about all sorts of things, not necessarily just comics, though I would say that 4-eyez (full title "Four-Eyes: Stories and Thoughts from One of Life’s Vagabonds") is mostly about what my comics are about: remarking on and treasuring the experiences of everyday life. Oh, and also my sad obsession with trivia, charts, and statistics.

So look back through some of my previous posts to see what catches your fancy. Meanwhile, to take advantage of LJ’s kind spotlight, I plan on posting once a day for the remainder of the week. Stay tuned!

"A.D." all night

A.D.

A.D.: New Orleans After the DelugeDone! On Thursday I uploaded A.D. to the Random House/Pantheon FTP. Finally, after two solid years on the project, I completed the book.

This last deadline was by far the toughest, requiring me to basically work nonstop from Thanksgiving ’til Thursday, and even demanding an all-nighter right up to the very end. (I was up continuously from 8:30 AM Wednesday ’til about 11:30 Thursday. Then I took a two-hour nap and fine-tuned things until about 10:30 that night. Ugh.) I’ve had my head buried deep into the book for the last 45 straight days, and am just now starting to blink my eyes and look around again.

Thank you, Sari, for picking up all my parenting slack! And thank you, Rachel and Ben (my assistants), for all your hard work down the stretch run. Last of all, thank you, Charlie Orr, for coming in with a week to go and putting together an awesome publication design.

The Pantheon version of A.D. will be greatly expanded from the online version, with lots of new material covering the Convention Center and the characters’ lives since the hurricane. In total, there are 65 new pieces of art out of a total of 290. The reason I call them "pieces of art" instead of "pages" was because of the format I drew A.D. for the web, where each "page" of the web version became in essence half a page of the book version. Forget it, it’s too complicated. The simplest thing is to say that the book will have nearly 25% more original art — as well as major revisions, text changes, and re-colorizations of the previous work. The whole thing is gonna weigh in at just about 200 pages.

Much more to come on that front.

Gustav in the Gulf: Here we go again?

A.D.

The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has just passed, and now another huge storm — Gustav — is bearing down on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, with forecasts of it hitting the area late Monday. Predicting a hurricane’s path is a very imperfect science, so it’s possible the city may dodge the bullet (as it had so many times in the past—before Katrina). But Katrina taught us that it’s far better to be safe than sorry.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin called Gustav “the storm of the century” and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city today. Thousands of people are streaming out of the region as I write this. Things seem to be proceeding much more smoothly this time than in 2005, with government agencies working together to provide transportation options for just about everybody. Trains and buses are ferrying evacuees to Alexandria, Shreveport, and other northern Louisiana locations—and this time people can take their pets. To deter looting, the National Guard plans on sending a lot more troops into the city this time around. As an incentive to get everyone to leave, New Orleans is not providing any “shelters of last resort” (like the Convention Center or the Superdome), which seeing what happened at those places after Katrina might be a good thing. Even though the levees have been repaired and “shored up” since Katrina, they are still not designed to withstand more than a Category 3 hurricane; Gustav could end up as a Category 5.

The A.D. characters are all preparing for the storm in their own ways.

"A.D." Epilogue: "Picking Up The Pieces"

A.D.

A.D.: New Orleans After the DelugeJust in time for the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (and in the shadow of the approaching Tropical Storm Gustav), SMITH has just posted the final chapter of "A.D."

Finally, after a year and a half, and 15 chapters, "A.D." concludes its online run with a final look at all our characters. In this extra-long chapter — which picks up a year and a half after the hurricane — we find out about Denise’s escape from the Convention Center; Hamid & Mansell’s rescue from the flooded store; Kevin’s years-long odyssey; the Doctor’s formation of the New Orleans Health Dept. in Exile; and Leo & Michelle’s return to their flooded home. And your humble author even makes a guest appearance.

On this third anniversary of Katrina (and on behalf of SMITH), I want to thank every reader, blogger, journalist, and teacher who believed in "A.D." And of course a special thanks to Denise, the Doctor, Leo, Michelle, Hamid, and Kevin, all of whom courageously and graciously shared their stories with us.

Now, I will get to work on expanding "A.D." into a full-length book from Pantheon (due out NEXT summer, on Katrina’s 4th anniversary).

Read "A.D."’s final online installment: "Picking Up the Pieces": http://www.smithmag.net/afterthedeluge/2008/08/28/chapter-14/

"A.D." Chapter 13: "If It's The Last Thing We Ever Do…"

A.D.

A.D. chapter 13A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge returns with a new installment, “If It’s The Last Thing We Ever Do…” Denise and her family are still trapped at the New Orleans Convention Center. The New Orleans police roll by in armored SWAT vehicles, with rifles loaded — but no food or water. This penultimate chapter of the A.D. saga on SMITH tells the real story of what went down at the Convention Center in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

A.D. Chapter 13 — FREE — on SMITH.