Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina

PleaseForwardTen years ago, Facebook was pretty much only for college students and Twitter was still in the planning stages. So in late August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the main way people communicated publicly on the Internet was via blogs. And those of you who remember my post-hurricane training with the Red Cross, and my eventual deployment to Biloxi, Mississippi, will recall that I wrote about the experience on my blog (at that point hosted on LiveJournal). (I even self-published all my blog entries—and the various online comments—in a slim volume called Katrina Came Calling.)

I was only a volunteer—for those directly affected by the storm, blogs, online forums, and email were the lifeblood that kept these communities connected while they were physically dispersed.

In late 2006, about a year after the storm, when I began working on A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge for SMITH Magazine, I used the blogs of two of my subjects, Leo McGovern and Denise Moore, as primary sources. They spoke with eloquence and urgency about their experiences during the storm and its agonizing aftermath.

It was around that time that I met journalist Cynthia Joyce, who had started a blog of her own, Culture Gulf, which documented the rebuilding of New Orleans. As Cynthia now writes,

. . . it’s already impossible to recall with any precision the depths of uncertainty that was life post-Hurricane Katrina. Much of the collectively kept digital diary of that catastrophe has already been forgotten—in some cases paved over in page redesigns or simply lost to “web erosion,” relegated forever to 404: Page Not Found status. . . . Contrary to what high school guidance counselors everywhere will tell you, the Internet, it turns out, is not forever.

Which is why, a few weeks shy of Katrina’s 10th anniversary, Cynthia has edited a fascinating—and essential—collection of blog entries from those first two years post-Katrina. Titled Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina, the book  (quoting Cynthia again) “is a cross-section of first-person entries that reveals a layer of post-Katrina life that wasn’t typically picked up by traditional news outlets or preserved in any official record. It’s as much a testament to lost memories as it is to memories about what was lost.”

Published by the University of New Orleans Press, Please Forward is a blow-by-blow street-level chronicle of New Orleans and Katrina. Reading through it again is definitely intense: the lead-up to the storm; the flooding; the loss of lives, homes, and possessions; the chaos of the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center; the fear and uncertainty; the hyperbolic media coverage; the racial issues exposed by the storm; the demoralizing debates about the future of New Orleans—it’s all in there. Contributors include Kelly Landrieu, Rob Walker, Joshua Cousin, Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, Clifton Harris, Dedra Johnson, Cree McCree, and at least 50 other bloggers, most of whom are residents of the Crescent City. I have a couple of posts in there too, one from my stint as a volunteer and one from back in New York City. There’s a wonderful excerpt from the book on Salon; Rob Walker’s contribution is particularly affecting.

If you’re in New Orleans, the Please Forward book launch is on August 18 at Press St. HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.) It should be quite an event—sad and joyous in equal measure. For now, you can pre-order the book on Amazon.

Help fund Eat More Comics!: The Best of the Nib

Eat More ComicsMatt Bors, the cartoonist/editor/visionary/energizer bunny of comics journalism, has left Medium.com and is taking his groundbreaking site The Nib with him. To kick-off this move, he (and assistant editors Eleri Harris and Matt Lubchansky) are Kickstarting a 300-page hardcover collection of “the best of The Nib,” by some of today’s most accomplished nonfiction/political cartoonists.

Titled Eat More Comics, the book features work by Emily Flake · Tom Tomorrow · Matt Bors · Jen Sorensen · Ruben Bolling · Ted Rall · Susie Cagle · Emi Gennis · Eleri Harris · Jess Ruliffson · Sarah Glidden · Wendy Macnaughton · Mike Dawson · James Sturm · Shannon Wheeler · Eleanor Davis, AND MORE (including this piece by yours truly).

If Eat More Comics is successfully funded, not only will all contributors be compensated for their work being republished, but exclusive new content will be commissioned!

This thing is coming together REALLY quickly: help KickStart the project, and you’ll have it in your hands by SPX (September 19). Eleri and “the Matts” are already 60% of the way there, with about two weeks to go, so please contribute… and then you too will be able to Eat More Comics!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mattbors/eat-more-comics-the-best-of-the-nib

Roberta Brandes Gratz’ WE’RE STILL HERE YA BASTARDS!

Gratz-We'reStillHereCrazy as it is to think, we’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Urban activist Roberta Brandes Gratz has written a compelling account of the city’s struggles—and successes—in the intervening years. Fetchingly titled We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City, the book was recently published by Nation Books. They asked me to write something in support of it; here’s what I came up with:

Ten years after the flooding of New Orleans, the city is still rebuilding. This book is a street-level portrait of the Crescent City that extends far beyond the tourist destinations of the French Quarter and the Garden District. Through her own observations and those of the people who came back to rebuild their homes, Gratz illustrates how the tight-knit communities of New Orleans are succeeding in reclaiming their city — despite the so-called experts, predatory free-marketeers, and government bureaucrats.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards is available online and at your local bookstore. It’s well worth checking out.

Coming May 11 to Greenlight Books: BATTLE LINES by Fetter-Vorm & Kelman. I’ll be there too.

BattleLinesThis coming Monday, May 11, I’ll be in Fort Greene at the wonderful Greenlight Bookstore, discussing Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, by cartoonist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and historian Ari Kelman.

I was given a chance to read an advance copy of the nonfiction graphic novel, and was profoundly impressed. Featuring Fetter-Vorm’s inspired storytelling, delicate line work, and haunting watercolor washes, Battle Lines is a tour-de-force of ground-level storytelling. Each chapter takes a single object and works ever outward, increasing in scope—through salient detail, it brings the epic conflict into focus. Profound and strangely beautiful, in my opinion Battle Lines is the best graphic novel ever produced about the Civil War.

The book came out this week (from Hill & Wang), and the authors will be presenting it to readers at Greenlight “on the big screen” on Monday. I will be there to admire the work and help guide the discussion. Please come by if you can make it; it’s really a special book. Here are the details:

Monday, May 11, 2015, 7:30pm
Greenlight Books
686 Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

And here’s the Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/356409167895594/

Debuting at MoCCA: The Vagabonds #4 and Terms of Service

I’m debuting not one but two new comics at this year’s MoCCA Art Festival, this coming weekend April 11–12!

vagabonds04-cover-250pxFirst off is THE VAGABONDS #4 (my second issue with Hang Dai Editions). This issue serves up a spicy blend of journalism, social commentary, memoir, and literary fiction. The lead piece is a new work of comics reportage called “Crossing the Line,” about profiling at the U.S./Canadian border. I’m also very proud of three collaborations with my wife, writer Sari Wilson (whose debut novel is coming out next year!). Throw in a couple of light-hearted travel tips, and The Vagabonds #4 is chock-full of goodies! The Vagabonds #4 is 24 full-color pages, and is only available for sale directly from me, or from HDE.

Terms of ServiceThe other book I’m debuting is the print edition of Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data. Between social media profiles, browsing histories, discount programs, and new tools controlling our energy use, there’s no escape from Big Data. As we use technology to record (and share) new information about ourselves (such as FitBit health data), what are the questions we should be asking? What is the trade-off between the benefits we gain from sharing data and how that data can be used against us? And what are the technologies that seem invasive today but in five years we’ll unthinkingly accept? How do we keep up with new technology while not letting our data determine who we are? Terms of Service examines the role of technology and the implications of sharing personal information. Our hope is that it is a thought-provoking field guide to help smart people understand how their personal—and often very private—data is collected and used. Co-produced by myself and Al Jazeera America reporter Michael Keller, the 48-page “graphic novel” follows our comics avatars as we learn about such topics as the “Unravelling Theory” and the so-called “Internet of Everything.” Terms of Service debuted online on Al Jazeera America’s website in late October 2014, and is now available for the first time in print. Editor & Publisher calls Terms of Service “funny, informative, and ridiculously readable,” and Panda Daily calls it “smart, breezy, and beautiful.”

So come get signed copies of both new comics from me at MoCCA Fest (at its swanky new location, Center548, just steps from the High Line). And while you’re at it, pick up new books from my HDE partners Dean HaspielGregory Benton, and Seth Kushner (making his triumphant post-leukemia return!). Here’s a lineup of all of HDE’s debut books.

We’ll be at the Hang Dai table (#314, Third Floor, Yellow Zone) both days, April 11 and April 12, from 11am–6pm. (I’ll also have copies of The Vagabonds #1–3, and my other books, should you be looking for those.)

Once again, here at the key details:

MoCCA Arts Festival
April 11–12, 2015, 11am – 6pm
Center548
548 W. 22nd St., NYC

My collaboration with Martha Rosler for THE ART OF SAVING A LIFE

salk-comic-tile7My mother, Martha Rosler, and I have a new collaboration, in the online art/public service campaign The Art of Saving a Life. Sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the project brings together over 30 “world-renowned musicians, writers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and photographers” to promote vaccinations (particularly in the third world). Some of the other creators involved the project include Annie LeibovitzChristoph NiemannDeborah KellyMary Ellen Mark, Mia Farrow, and Yiyun Li. (The project has been covered by, among others, The New York Times.)

My mother’s and my piece, titled “Gift to the World,” tells the story of Jonas Salk and his development of the polio vaccine. The nine panels of the comic float, bubble-like, on the surface of a radiating ripple. As a child of the polio era, this project seemed particularly personal to my mom. We were both moved by Salk’s comment (quoted in the piece), “Who owns the patent to this vaccine? Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” I can safely say that Jonas Salk is one of my mother’s personal heroes.

My mother and I have collaborated on a number of other projects over the years, including a monumental piece about the European debt crisis, a billboard graphic about education & prison spending, and a two-page comic on the Iraq War and Guantanamo. It’s funny, because when I got into the comics game, I figured our two creative worlds would never intersect, what with comics being a “low art” and her career firmly ensconced in the academy. Times have changed! Of course, the subjects of our respective work overlap in some places, particularly our shared interest in real people’s stories. Which is no surprise, as my mother has, through her raising me and through her long career as an artist, shaped my life’s moral compass.

Check out The Art of Saving a Life here. And support vaccination!

ACA Thank-you Card Thanksgiving

This is a week for giving thanks, so I’m penning a little shout-out to my Atlantic Center for the Art associates. They were a great group: so talented, dedicated, and inspiring! And after 20+ years of working solo in my home/studio, I have to say the experience of sharing a studio with them has made me rethink my aversion to studio environments. We shall see…

In the meantime, I wanted to show off the beautiful hand-made card my associates presented me at the end of our residency. Cliodhna Lyons fabricated the card (which measures 4″ x 5-1/2″) as an accordian-style pamphlet. It is now one of my most prized possessions. Check it out:

First, the cover, with a very snazzy French flap! “Team Bogota[s]” refers to a slight miscommunication between Neil O’Driscoll and Sara Woolley and the subject of her project:

ACA-card-cover-web

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Twitter #FF: the JoshComix Collection

Today’s Friday Follow suggestions are all folks who are currently using my art for their Twitter avatars:

mhkeller Michael Keller (@mhkeller)—interactive news reporter @ajam, fellow @towcenter, co-founder @csvsoundsystem, @TreasuryIO. comic book character → http://bit.ly/ajam-tos
justinmaiman Justin Maiman (@jmaiman)—Executive Producer, Business Insider Video, fellow KWF’13 alum
joshdneufeld Josh D. Neufeld (@joshdneufeld) (name sound familiar?)—Associate Professor of microbial ecology studying the diversity, function, phylogeny of environmental and host-associated microbial communities.
scottpeppet Scott Peppet (@speppet)—Law professor with passions for privacy, technology, and various other aspects of law. And a major character in Terms of Service!
aramsinnreich Aram Sinnreich (@aram)—Media Professor @RutgersCommInfo. Bassist @BNGsoul. Author of 2 books: Mashed Up (http://Mashed-Up.com) & The Piracy Crusade (http://PiracyCrusade.com). [The latter book features my cover illustration]
joshneufeld Me! (@joshneufeld)

The ACA’s Closets of Legacy

I’m in Master Artist Cabin #3 (aka Andersen Cottage) here at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, nestled amidst the palms and Spanish moss, accessible by wooden walkway. The cabin itself is a nice size, sort of a semi-duplex with the bedroom up the stairs. I very much think I can deal with these accommodations for the next three weeks!

IMG_5562 IMG_5566

My first introduction to a long-standing ACA tradition came when I opened my closet door to unpack. Scrawled all over the closet walls were signatures—lots of them—from previous Master Artists who’d stayed there. Cabin #3 is traditionally the writer’s cabin (which isn’t entirely inappropriate for me, as comics are, after all, an amalgam of writing and art), and the names on the closet walls are like a who’s who of literary stars: Rick Moody, Ishmael Reed, Richard McCannSamuel R. Delany, the late writer/monologist Spalding Gray, Douglas Coupland… even my old buddy Nick Flynn! Some artists’ names popped out at me too, including the late great sculptor Duane Hanson and MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner Carrie Mae Weems.

It’s pretty inspiring to be (metaphorically) sharing this space with such a roster of creative minds—to think they cooked their meals in the same kitchen, slept in the same bed, woke up to the Florida sunlight pouring through the same skylight…

Flynn & Moody Reed
Flynn & Moody Reed
Samuel R. Delaney Spalding Gray
Delany Spalding Gray (and his son Forrest)
Hanson and Weems Amy Bloom
Hanson and Weems Amy Bloom
Coupland, Dyer, Waldman Doty
Douglas Coupland, Geoff Dyer, and Anne Waldman poet Mark Doty
Mat Johnson Patricia Smith
Mat Johnson (of Inconegro fame) poet Patricia Smith
Richard McCann Quincy Troupe
Richard McCann poet Quincy Troupe

Joel Christian Gill’s STRANGE FRUIT

Strange FruitIn 2007 Boston-area cartoonist Joel Christian Gill started drawing a story about a 19th-century man who escaped slavery by mailing himself to freedom in a box. The following year he made a minicomic and went to his first comics show to sell Strange Fruit #1 (followed by six additional issues). Today those stories and more are collected in Strange Fruit, vol I: Uncelebrated Narrative from Black History (Fulcrum Publishing)—with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates!

These offbeat stories of heretofore-obscure African-American pioneers are filled with heartbreak and triumph. Without whitewashing the realities of slavery and racism, Strange Fruit has a wry, welcoming tone—much aided by Gill’s dynamic, inventive storytelling. After reading about such real American heroes as chess master Theophilus Thompson, bicycling champion Marshall “Major” Taylor, and lawman Bass Reeves, I’m eager to learn more—and so should you!

So buy the book—and check out Gill discussing it recently on HuffPo: http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/537e66e3fe34440f9d00011c

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