"The Persisence of Memory…"

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


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

A.D. paperback events


The A.D. paperback — with a brand-new cover! — debuts August 24. I’ll be making a few appearances here in New York City and down in New Orleans, so here are the details…

Tuesday, August 24: On-sale date. Book signing and giclée print-sale to raise money for New Orleans nonprofits. Desert Island Comics, 540 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY, 7 p.m. [Facebook event page]

Saturday, August 28: Signing at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia Street, New Orleans, 2 p.m. [Octavia’s event page]

Saturday, August 28: In-store signing, art show, and party, with appearances by A.D.’s characters. Crescent City Comics, 4916 Freret Street., New Orleans, LA. 6–9 p.m. P.S. Crescent City Comics is co-owned by A.D. character Leo McGovern!

Sunday, September 12: I’ll be part of the panel "The International Graphic Novel: Behind the Scenes or Drawing from Life" — Four graphic novelists whose work takes on "big themes" talk about the on-the-ground research and background work they have done in preparation for creating their books. With Jessica Abel and Nick Abadzis. Moderated by Matt Madden. Brooklyn Book Festival, Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY, 2 p.m.

Monday, September 20: A.D. slideshow presentation followed by conversation with Publishers Weekly Editor Calvin Reid. Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY, 7:30 p.m. [Facebook event page]
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge



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.

New Orleans' Perfect Storm


Yesterday kicked off a momentous fortnight in New Orleans, with a mayoral election, the Saints’ participation in the Super Bowl, and Mardi Gras all taking place in a span of eleven days.

Saturday’s election of Mitch Landrieu ushered in the city’s first new mayor since Hurricane Katrina. (Ray Nagin was term-limited — and surely would have been voted out this time). You may recall that back in August, I signed a copy of A.D. for one of the mayoral candidates, State Senator Edwin R. Murray, at The Doctor’s A.D. release party. Well, Senator Murray pulled out of the mayoral race last month. In any case, although Landrieu will be New Orleans’ first white mayor in over thirty years, he won 66% percent of the vote, including a large share of the African American electorate. Let’s hope Landrieu truly is a mayor of unity and progress, and speeds up the Crescent City’s post-Katrina rebuilding.

As for the Saints, all eyes will be on them and their stars Drew Brees and Reggie Bush this evening. And when I say "all eyes," I really mean it — I’ve never seen a more football-crazy town than the Big Easy. I’ve lived in some big sports towns in my day, including Chicago and my own New York City, but New Orleans beats ’em all when it comes to the Saints. They truly are a team that unites folks from disparate backgrounds: black & white, rich & poor, corporate-type & artiste, etc. — which is all the more remarkable given that for most of the Saints’ history they’ve been worse than mediocre. But this year they’ve been pretty damn good, and it should be a good match with the (slightly) favored Indianapolis Colts (whose quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a New Orleans boy himself).

So what’s A.D.‘s connection to the Saints and the Superbowl? Check this out: Last August, right at the beginning of the NFL season, A.D. character Leo McGovern published an editorial in his music zine Antigravity. It took the form of a dream he’d had, and went like this: "It’s the morning of February 7th, 2010. I’m cleaning my Mid-City apartment and making the final preparations for what will surely be the greatest party ever thrown. All the food is simple — chips, dips, vegetable trays, and pre-made sandwiches, as to not give the hosts (me, my wife and our roommate) any chance of having to be away from the television for any reason. . . . So I’m now putting the finishing touches on a clean apartment, tapping the kegs and arranging the sandwiches, because tonight we’re watching the Saints play in the Super Bowl."

Unfortunately, Leo’s dream didn’t reveal who won the big game, but like any good New Orleanian, Leo will "have two kegs of a local amber and, for backup, a few bottles of a local rum — enough to make us forget, if it comes to that." But should the Saints win tonight, you can be sure next Tuesday’s Mardi Gras parade will be a city-wide party to remember.

Ninth Ward Sunday

A.D., Travel

[Wherein I continue my rundown of the A.D. book tour, picking up in New Orleans on August 23, 2009]

My last full day in NOLA was mostly a day off. Sari & I started with a room service breakfast (one perk of the book tour) and then headed over to Beth’s Books, a small store located in the Marigny/Upper Ninth Ward area. Leo came along again as well, but I was most glad to see A.D. character Denise, who drove down from Baton Rouge (where she often stays on the weekends to spend time with her grand-nephews) for the day. It was great to finally introduce her to Sari and to see her in person again after more than a year. She was looking great, and is doing really good work as a Ford Foundation fellow. The crowd at Beth’s Books was similar in spirit to that of Maple Street Books the day before, and by the end of the event we had sold out all their copies.

From there, Sari and I drove a little bit around the Lower Ninth Ward, where some of the worst flooding occurred. That was an eye-opener. I had known that large parts of the area were still empty and abandoned, but I wasn’t prepared for the desolate, overgrown reality. Block after block of wild grasses, overgrown bushes, and trees, with one or two occupied houses dotting the wilderness. Intersections that were so overgrown you couldn’t see the street signs or stop signs. Occasionally a mowed plot of land with just the empty concrete slab where the house used to be. It was all quite shocking, and left us wondering how this once vibrant community of long-time residents could ever be brought back. (After all, four years down the line, many former residents have re-settled — whether by choice or circumstance — in other cities.)

We also happened by the Ninth Ward headquarters of Common Ground Relief, an organization I’ve been raising money for by having fundraisers and selling A.D. prints. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, Director Thom Pepper was there, keeping shop, as well as an assortment of dedicated volunteers. Thom showed us around a little and told us in detail some of Common Ground’s projects: gutting and rebuilding houses, and working on wetland restoration, hoping to revitalize the natural surrounding flood barriers. Common Ground is good people.

Some shots of our tour of the Ninth Ward:

The Doctor Lets the Good Times Roll

A.D., Publicity, Travel

After reuniting Saturday evening with Sari back at our French Quarter hotel, we headed over to Doctor Lutz’s (A.D. character “The Doctor”) home for a cocktail party. He had gone all-out in preparation for the shindig, hiring an event planner and ordering 50 copies of A.D. to give out to guests (in addition to the 25 donated by Pantheon). The event planner had images of the Doctor from the book printed onto the hors d’oeuvre serving trays!

The party was everything I would have thought it would be given the host and location — a savory gumbo of New Orleans upper crust society, libertines, and eccentrics — with a politician thrown in the mix. (Edwin Murray, a 2010 candidate for mayor, was there, and Dr. Lutz had me sign his book “To the next mayor of New Orleans.”) In addition to the Doctor and his dogs Kip and Rose (both of whom also appear in A.D.), also present were A.D. characters Leo & Michelle, as well as the Doctor’s partner Ken Combs, and Ken Colditch and Edwin Curry, who all make brief appearances at the Doctor’s house during his “hurricane party”. And of course SMITH editor Larry Smith, who made a very gracious toast to the Doctor. There was copious food and drink, and a barefoot “gypsy band” playing fiddles and a washboard, that Dr. Lutz had pulled off the streets in Jackson Square. People lingered late into the night, spread out around the pool, at the back yard tables, and in the Doctor’s sitting room.

About halfway through the festivities, I was again sat down at a table to sign books. Again it was a long string of great encounters with amazingly gracious and grateful people. I was thanked again and again for telling the story of Katrina and keeping it in the public eye. (It only occurs to me now, four years after the storm, that much of the rest of the country really has “moved on” from Katrina and doesn’t spend some portion of every day thinking about the hurricane and its effect on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.) Nonetheless, in the midst of that crowd, I did feel a little bit like some kind of curious creature on display for the evening — “Come see the funny Brooklyn cartoonist!” — but I soaked it up regardless.

By evening’s end, the Doctor was slumped against his couch with assorted hangers-on, at least “three or four sheets to the wind,” as Leo so eloquently put it. After my long day, I was beat, and Sari & I called it a night.

I found out the next day that the band went skinny-dipping in the Doctor’s pool; when I mentioned it to him later he drawled, “That’s fine, because they needed a bath.”

Dr. Lutz, yours truly, and Leo
The Doctor, yours truly, and Leo

“To Marta, my Life Raft”

A.D., Travel

[Wherein I continue my rundown of the A.D. book tour, picking up in New Orleans on August 22, 2009]
Saturday in New Orleans was a breathless chain of events, where I met what seemed like the full gamut of my New Orleanian readers. All in all, it was an amazing, profound experience.

The day started with picking up Sari at the airport, as she finally made it to town after being waylaid by Hurricane Bill. We drove straight from the airport to the Garden District, where I signed some stock (appropriately enough) at the Garden District Book Shop. From there we drove over to Maple Street Book Shop (also in the Garden District), a wonderful, winding bookstore situated in a former residence. The folks at Maple Street were very welcoming and appreciative of my coming there.

A.D. character Leo McGovern met us at Maple Street and signed copies as well. We signed for a couple of hours as a steady stream of readers came by, including my New York friend (and long-time, dedicated A.D. supporter) Anne Heausler, who hails from NOLA and was in town for the weekend. (Later, she and Sari and Anne’s friend Barbara, who lost EVERYTHING in the storm, went off together for lunch.) All in all, it was a pleasant time, and I was happy with the way things were going. After my initial fear that the book might be greeted by indifference or derision by the residents of New Orleans — it is a comic book, after all, about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina — I felt reassured. People were welcoming and even grateful to have their story being told. The Maple Street signing was a nice opportunity to meet my “readers” and hear their own stories of flooding, evacuation, and rebuilding.

Leo headed off to a conference, so I drove solo over to Octavia Books for the last signing of the day. I arrived at the store a little early and walked in, ready to introduce myself to the manager and get myself settled for another sedate session. To my extreme surprise, there were over twenty people waiting on line for me! I was hustled over to a table and set down to sign books. From that point on it was a continuous sequence of autographing copies of A.D. I tried my best to exchange at least a couple of words with each person as they appeared in front of me, but the line was so long that I had difficulty doing even that. One of those on line I did get a chance to meet and (give my thanks to) was Susan Larson, the Times-Picayune’s book editor, who had written a very complimentary piece about the book in the paper earlier in the week.

There were two encounters I had at Octavia that particularly stuck in my mind. One was with a heavyset man in his 40s who gave me his book to sign with tears in his eyes. He asked me to sign it to “Marta, my life raft.” I could see from his expression that he was this close to completely losing his composure. A bit flustered, I tried to fix a look of quiet compassion on my face, and did as he asked. He shook my hand, still very much on the verge of tears, thanked me, and walked stiffly away. Whew!

The other encounter I’ll never forget was with the A.D. character Denise’s uncle John and one of her nieces. They introduced themselves and also thanked me for doing the book. We talked for a while, about Denise and how things were going, and as they walked away he said, “We will always treasure this book.” Suffice it to say that I never had any responses like that to my backpacking book!

At long last, the line of readers finally came to an end — only because Octavia had sold out their entire stock of books, over 60 copies of A.D.! Near the end of the event, they had actually sent some customers back to my previous venue at Maple Street, to buy signed stock I had left there. Some of those readers made the trip over and back just to have me personalize their copies. By the time I finally got out of there, I was overwhelmed from the experience — and I still had the Doctor’s cocktail party to look forward to…

Houston–NOLA, 8/21

A.D., Publicity, Travel

The drive from Houston to New Orleans, on I-10, took longer than I thought, over five hours — partly due to rush hour traffic outside of Baton Rouge. Thought it’s not the most scenic drive — except when passing over the Atchafalaya Swamp — it was important to me to drive the route so many New Orleanians — including Leo & Michelle — took as they evacuated the city in advance of Hurricane Katrina, It was easy to imagine — especially in the Baton Rouge traffic — the agonizingly slow advance of cars leaving the city for the storm.

I was sweating a bit getting into New Orleans because I was due at the A.D. book party and was behind schedule. In the end, I skipped checking in at my hotel and headed straight over to Republic, in the CBD, for the party. I didn’t have time to change out of my driving outfit of shorts and a T-shirt, but fortunately it was a casual affair so I offended no one.

The party was put together by A.D. character Leo, in conjunction with Crescent City Comics, a store that closed due to the flooding but is finally set to re-open. There was free beer and a nice atmosphere, with a steady crowd. It was a great introduction to the New Orleans response to A.D., as people were very gracious and excited to have me sign their books. I had some great exchanges with people anxious to tell me their Katrina experiences. I also had a selection of oversize giclée prints for sale, to benefit Common Ground Relief. Later, SMITH editor Larry Smith and A.D. characters The Doctor and Michelle also made appearances.

Sari was due to fly in that evening for the party, but perhaps fittingly her flight out of New York was cancelled due to Hurricane Bill. She ended up catching another flight, via Dallas, but missed her connection, and had to stay the night in the Dallas area.

By party’s end, Crescent City had sold over 30 copies of A.D., I had sold four prints, and all the beer had been drunk. Leo and Crescent City owner Les took me out to Juan’s Flying Burrito for some delicious pork and coleslaw tacos, and then I dragged myself over to the hotel to check in and sack out.

Michelle, Larry Smith, Leo, some dude with a strange haircut, and The Doctor

New Orleans Sounds Off On "A.D."

A.D., Publicity

Well, at least the NOLA papers the Times-Picayune and the alternative weekly the Gambit did. Both journals ran features on A.D. in the last couple of days, and I was really gratified by their positive response to the book. And check out Deckfight’s interview with A.D.’s very own Leo McGovern, who talks about being the "sweaty guy in the comic book" and other realities of life as a character in A.D.

I’m looking forward to debuting A.D. in the Crescent City this weekend!