NOLA pal Blake Boyd has opened a gallery and I'm in the inaugural show!

Publicity, Work
Blake Boyd

Blake Boyd (Brooklyn Cereal), 2011

My New Orleans buddy Blake Boyd—puckish artist & performer—has opened a gallery on Julia Street along with his paramour Ginette Bone. The Boyd Satellite Gallery (“BS” for short!) inaugural show has been curated by Hollywood actor Blake HOWARD Boyd, and it is in honor of our own Blake NELSON Boyd.

Entitled Megalomania, it features work by such esteemed creators as Andres Serrano, Billy Name, Dave Eggers, Al Jaffee, and Steve Martin. And I have a piece in there, too, a pen-and-ink portrait of Blake in homage to his Louisiana Cereal Polaroid portrait project. The show opened on Saturday (I was sad to miss it) and has already gotten some nice coverage from the Times-Picayune and NOLA Defender. Should you be in NOLA for the next few months (the show will be up til mid-February), be sure to check out the show.

Boyd Satellite Gallery
440 Julia Street, New Orleans
Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30–5


A.D., Travel

It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and I’m just now coming to understand how devastating the impact was. A good part of the reason for this disconnect is that I am currently living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship. (One of the conditions of the fellowship is that you must live in Ann Arbor for the academic year, and you are forbidden from publishing anything professionally during the duration of the program.)

Weirdly enough, the first person I heard from after Sandy passed was Leo, one of the heroes of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Obviously, a guy who lost everything in Katrina would be supremely attuned to the effects of the “superstorm” which hit the East Coast. He wasn’t sure whether I was back home in Brooklyn or still away, and was relieved to hear me and my stuff were okay. (Our apartment is on the fifth floor of a building in Prospect Heights—e.g., not near sea level.) In fact, thankfully, my family and pretty much everyone I know well in New York was relatively unaffected by the storm.

But as the days have gone by, we’ve been hearing more about others in our wider circle who weren’t so lucky. There’s the staff member at Wallace House whose family lives in Breezy Point (they lost everything), and one of my fellow Fellows, Amy Haimerl, who hails from Red Hook. Her husband Karl drove back to NYC the day after the storm to help with clean-up; Amy is coordinating efforts from afar via social media.

I think, understandably, my main focus has been on what’s going on in my hometown. This morning I was streaming WNYC radio, which was performing their civic duty of spreading the word about the storm, and cleanup and relief efforts. They were crowdsourcing listeners: people calling in from Staten Island, the Rockaways, and other devastated areas. As with Katrina, certain mantras were repeated over and over: the police didn’t know where to go or to contact to donate stuff or labor; FEMA was hardly in evidence; rumors swirled. (Although the New York City Department of Sanitation was getting high marks for their round-the-clock cleanup efforts. Let’s hear it for New York’s Strongest!) Again like with Katrina and New Orleans, there are so many communication gaps: people in one part of the city have no idea what’s going on in another.

And there are still so many regions without power; even now, a week later! The areas most badly hit—no surprise—host large numbers of public housing high-rises, and residents there, especially in the upper floors, are trapped with no elevator access, no lights, no heat, and often no way to get food & water. And the cold is setting in. (Word is that the Occupy Wall Street folks have been down in affected areas like the Rockaways doing great work.)

Sari pointed out this morning that, as New Yorkers we’re used to manmade challenges—political red tape and corruption, socio-economic barriers, over-crowding, etc. We’re not used to dealing with natural disasters like this. It’s almost like we grew up believing things like this only happened to other people, far away—sort of like that famous Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue.”

So now we’re facing the reality of up to 40,000 people permanently displaced, maybe up to 40 public schools that won’t be able to re-open until next summer. Again, these are the images from post-Katrina New Orleans.

I had been thinking a lot about A.D. this week, regardless of the storm. Last Thursday I presented my work to my Knight-Wallace compatriots; on Friday I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, site of a series of devastating tornadoes in April 2011, to present A.D. to freshmen students there.

Back in 2005, when I volunteered with the Red Cross, and in 2007–2008, when I was working on A.D., I was an outsider come to document the post-Katrina Gulf Coast experience. Now, with Sandy, now I am an “expatriate” New Yorker forcibly removed from the event. I desperately wish I was in New York right now: to help, to bear witness, to be where I belong.

Katrina, Year 6. Irene, Year 1?


In late August 2005 I was at Sari's parents' house in the Berkshires as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast. It was a frustrating, heart-wrenching time, made worse by our being so far "off the grid." As I wrote at the time, "We've got spotty radio reception, no TV, only the occasional New York Times, and a slow dial-up connection, so my ability to comprehend the enormity of the Katrina disaster is severely curtailed."

Last Sunday, Sari, Phoebe, and I came up to Sari's parents' place in Austerlitz, NY, or a two-week working vacation. Summer camp is out, Phoebe starts pre-K after Labor Day, and we've been enjoying the end of summer here in the "country." And now, with a new hurricane forming — ironically heading to my neck of the woods — it all comes around again.

The house still has no TV, but they've upgraded to DSL, which helps us stay abreast of things. Like the residents of the Gulf Coast back in '05, we're tuning into the latest developments, doing our own storm-tracking, and preparing for things like power outtages, flooding, and the like. But here in the Berkshires, Irene shouldn't be too bad, nothing how it could impact coastal areas from the Carolinas all the way to New York City. Our whole lives — our home, our friends, most of our family — are back there, and once again I'm absent — not there to experience the event for myself, to prepare, to help do what I can. And if the storm is bad enough here to knock out our electricity, I'll be just as in the dark (literally) as I was six years ago. Actually, more so!

As you know, the events of Katrina prompted me to volunteer with the Red Cross; which led me to getting trained in disaster relief; which led to me being deployed to Biloxi, MS; which led to Katrina Came Calling; which led (iindirectly) to A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. I'm glad New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, as they continue to rebuild from Katrina (and Hurricane Rita), have mostly escaped nature's fury since 2005; the fact is we on the East Coast are far less prepared than they were. And all we can do here is watch, wait, and hope for the best.

By the way, the upcoming anniversary has instigated a few journals to cite A.D. Here are a few recent mentions:



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:

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.

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 cbd oils for 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.

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.


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.

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

2010: Frequent Flyer Cartoonist


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 Part 2


I never got around to posting about the rest of my trip down to NOLA for the Katrina five-year commemoration (and paperback release of A.D.), so here it is:

Saturday was when the rain really came, and given the occasion, I couldn’t help but note the appropriateness of the weather. On my way to Cafe du Monde for a morning order of beignets, I almost walked right into former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in Jackson Square. He was just coming back from a "remote" interview, and I snapped a quick photo as I passed by. I dodged the drops back to my hotel before hailing a cab up to my first event of the day, a signing at the wonderful Octavia Books, where I had such an amazing event last year.

This time around the rain — and all the other anniversary events — conspired to keep the turnout for the signing pretty light, but that just gave me the chance to spend more time with the customers and staff. One guy I was thrilled to meet in person was G.K. Darby of Garrett County Press, publisher of Rob Walker‘s brilliant Letters from New Orleans. G.K. recently reworked my and Rob’s old collaboration Titans of Finance,  producing a vibrant color edition for the iPad — a steal at $4.

While at Octavia, I had a great conversation with co-owner Judith Lafitte and the staff about the excellent HBO series Treme. After initially being "scared off" of the show by of the somber intensity of the first episode, I was coaxed into watching the rest of the season, and ended up really enjoying it — and admiring its creators. To my outsider’s eyes, I thought Treme did a really good job of capturing something essential about New Orleans — especially post-Katrina New Orleans. I know that native New Orleanians usually cringe when they see their city represented on film or TV, but for the most part, the "Octavians" agreed with my assessment of Treme. The thing I think Treme show-runner David Simon does really well is capture the special moments evoked by NOLA’s unique intersection of people, history, culture, and place.

My new buddy Blake Boyd met me at Octavia and drove me to his place, located right near Commander’s Palace and eerily beautiful Lafayette Cemetary No. 1. From there, Blake, Ginette, and I grabbed a late lunch at one of my favorite NOLA joints, Juan’s Flying Burrito, where I gleefully chowed down on the Pork’n-Slaw taco. Mmmmm, mmm!

Then it was time to hit my second A.D. event of the night, the paperback release party at Crescent City Comics. CCC was A.D. character Leo’s comic shop of choice before the storm, but the hurricane and subsequent flooding ruined the place and forced it to close down. But last year, CCC reopened in a new Freret Street location — this time with Leo as a managing partner! It warms my hear to think that five years ago Leo lost his entire comic collection, and now he is co-owner of a comic book store. He and Michelle were at the store, of course, and the clouds parted just as the party began.

It was a great turnout, and I spent most of the two-plus hours signing books and chatting with readers. I particularly enjoyed talking to local cartoonist Caesar Meadows, who edited the excellent FEAST anthology which I had a piece in. I also got to meet in person Sean Mallin, whose academic article "Steps to Nowhere? Rebuilding Haunted Landscapes in New Orleans," inspired the piece I did for FEAST.

Blake and Ginette graciously drove me back to my hotel after the party, but as we were driving down Freret Street I noticed something: a boxing gym with apartments above. Suddenly, it struck me that this was the house A.D. character Denise lived in when the storm hit. Denise having told me in such exquisite and chilling detail about her traumatic experiences there during the storm, I felt like I knew the place even though I had never never seen it in person before. Not having photos to work from, and having drawn A.D. before Google Maps with Street View had made it to New Orleans, I had drawn it from my imagination. Of course the actual building was much cooler than what I came up with, damn it! (See photos below.) if I ever do a special anniversary edition, I’ll go back and redraw all the panels with exteriors of her place.

I spent a few minutes outside, peering up at the residential windows above, contemplating the scene and how it would have appeared back on August 29, 2005…

Blake & Ginette
Blake & Ginette

Denise's former house on Freret
Denise’s former abode

Denise's house -- A.D. edition
My lame imagining

New Orleans K+5 Day One


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

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