Irma, Harvey, Katrina—when it comes to hurricanes, what goes around, comes around

The A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge website on SMITH was down for a while, but recent events with hurricanes Harvey & Irma made it imperative to get it working again—and so it is: smithmag.net/afterthedeluge. This terrible 2017 hurricane season obviously brings back memories of 2005 (and for older folks, previous big hurricanes that hit big cities). As I wrote in the book’s afterword, the stories in A.D. are highly specific yet somehow universal, and over the years I have found in my discussions about A.D. that the experiences of the real-life characters therein resonated strongly with other hurricane survivors in so many ways. People told me this over and over as I traveled around promoting the A.D. book—in New Orleans (of course), in Houston, in Miami, and even in New York City. By connecting to the stories of Denise, Leo, Michelle, Hamid, Mansell, Kwame, and the Doctor, people gained comfort—and context—for their own experiences.

Watching Harvey and Irma, the cycle feels so similar: tracking the storm, deciding whether or not to evacuate, dealing with the wind damage and flooding, confronting loss—of people, possessions, community—and the long rebuilding process. These are the perennial issues brought on by these epic man-vs.-nature events…

The New York Times‘ coverage of the storms has been particularly good, and these stories reminded me so strongly of specific moments from A.D.:

“Irma Shifting Forecasts: It’s All a Matter of Probability”  evokes “Should I Stay…”

A.D. chapter 2

The Daily story, “How Houston Was Built to Flood”  evokes the Prologue, Part II—“The Storm”

A.D. prologue

“Thousands Cried for Help as Houston Flooded” evokes Chapter 6—“Flotsam & Jetsam”

A.D. chapter 6

“After Harvey, a Return Home in High Water” evokes Chapter 8—“The Bowl Effect, Part II”

A.D. chapter 8

The Daily 360 piece “On Submerged Streets: ‘Houston Has Come Together'”  evokes Chapter 10—“Something in the Water”

A.D. chapter 10

The photo essay “What They Saved: Texans Reflect on Treasures Plucked From Harvey”  evokes the epilogue, “Picking Up the Pieces”

A.D. epilogue

… as does “We Lived Through a Flood. Now We Have a Very Long To-Do List.”

A.D. epilogue

Part of the A.D. experience on SMITH was the links embedded within certain panels that extended the story in various ways: to hurricane resources, YouTube videos, audio clips of the various characters. As part of resurrecting the A.D. site, I also updated all those links, which to my mind all remain relevant for these storms 12 years later. My hope—as it always was—is that the stories of the various real-life people from A.D. continue to give solace and understanding to this new generation of hurricane watchers and survivors.

Stay strong, Texas. Stay strong, Florida.

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3135 Calhoun St. and the A.D. cosmic connection

Crescent City Comics has just opened a second location, moving its flagship store to 3135 Calhoun Street, near Tulane University in New Orleans. (There’s a nice little article about the new store here, which features a time-lapse video of their logo being painted in giant scale on their ceiling.) That address, 3135 Calhoun, is the center of an A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge vortex. Let me explain…

One of the main “characters” in A.D. is Leo McGovern, currently the manager of Crescent City Comics. This is what Leo looked like in the book:

Leo-AD-300px

(Leo once told me that his fondest desire was to be “one of those sweaty guys in a comic book.” Wish granted!)

But what’s so remarkable about Crescent City Comics’ new location is that 3135 Calhoun Street is the former location of the Calhoun Superette! For many years, the Calhoun Superette was owned by Hamid Mohammadi, another main “character” in A.D. (His name was Hamid in the original webcomic, then changed to “Abbas”—with a mustache added to his face—for the book. When I talked to him last year for a Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary comic, he allowed me to use his real name again.) Here’s how Hamid looked in A.D.:

Hamid-AD-300px

Hamid and his wife opened the Calhoun Superette in 1996 and kept it open for 16 years, through thick and thin. A lot of scenes in A.D. take place at the store. (I wasn’t able to visit the store in person when I was doing my initial research and reporting, so Leo, as a comics fan knowing what kind of reference I would need, kindly offered to drive over to the store, introduce himself to Hamid, and take a ton of photos for me. That was back in 2007, the first time the two long-time New Orleanians met each other—brought together by A.D. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”)

Here are some scenes from A.D. of the store… from right before the storm:

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To when part of the sign got blown off during the hurricane:

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To the first hint of flooding:

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To when the water had gotten waist-deep:

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To when the water was so deep the only thing to do was “abandon ship”:

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NOT wimpy! And here’s a scene from period of 16 months Hamid spent gutting the store and rebuilding it after Katrina:

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Hamid re-opened the store in 2007 (thank you, Google Street View):

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And this is how it looked in 2009 (the sign was finally fixed!):

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But sadly Hamid was forced to close the Superette in the summer of 2012. Here’s what he had to say about it:

Hamid-bitter

Forstall Art Supplies moved in to the space soon after (they used be located next door):

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But Forstall closed in the summer of 2015, opening the door for Crescent City Comics—they kept Forstall’s potted plants:

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Here’s Leo and CCC owner Les Arceneaux posing with other staff members (photo courtesy Bleeding Cool):

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After all the things Hamid went through, I was really bummed to hear that he had to close his deli. But I’m so glad its former location is back in the A.D. “family.”

Did I mention Crescent City Comics hosted a party for the paperback release of A.D. in 2010? That was a good time. They’re a great store. Go visit the next time you’re in NOLA, and pick up a copy of A.D. from one of the characters in the book… in the place where a lot of the book’s action happens!

Crescent City Comics
3135 Calhoun
New Orleans, LA  70125
(504) 891-3796
CrescentCityComics.com

Don Brown’s DROWNED CITY

There’s an old saying that journalism is the first draft of history. I was thinking of that recently when I presented A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge to students & teachers at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Pretty much the entire 10th-grade there had read A.D. in their English classes, so I spent a full day at the school, bringing the story behind A.D. to the more than 1,000 kids from that grade (and a selection of 11th-graders who had read the book last year). It’s crazy to think that those students were around four years old back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and nearly destroyed New Orleans. So to them my book is not a journalistic perspective on the disaster, but rather (ancient) history.

(One positive about that is in regards to the section of A.D. that deals with Denise’s experiences at the New Orleans convention center—without the burden of the false rumors about gang violence, rapes, dead bodies in freezers, etc. that flew around the media at the time, the kids will have a fresher understanding of at what actually went down at the convention center…)

I write at the end of A.D. that

… there are many, many stories about Katrina and its aftermath. Those of the seven people in A.D. are quite particular and highly personal, but my hope is that they provide a window into a larger world, one that few of us understand and that we’ll be trying to make sense of for a long time.

And I always paraphrase that sentiment when I discuss A.D.—that my book is merely one document of many about the storm and its aftermath. And I make sure to mention some of the other great narratives about Katrina/New Orleans (a few of which are much more expansive in scope). Documentaries like Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke or Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Trouble the Water. Books like Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge, or Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic, or Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, or Dan Baum’s Nine Lives. Or more recent works like Roberta Brandes Gratz’s We’re Still Here Ya Bastards, and Please Forward, edited by Cynthia Joyce. And even fictional works like HBO’s solid series Treme.

DrownedCityWell, now there’s another “graphic narrative” to add to that list: Don Brown’s Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Published last summer on the 10th anniversary of the storm, it’s the only other comic book format history of Katrina that I know of. (And I only just found out about it, though apparently it’s been very well received…)

Definitely for a younger audience than A.D., Drowned City takes the reader through the breadth of the Katrina story, from the storm’s formation as “a swirl of unremarkable wind” in Africa to its building in the Gulf of Mexico and finally sweeping into Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The book shows New Orleans preparing for the storm and the city’s belated & haphazard attempts to evacuate. It shows the breaching of the levees, the people trapped in their attics, and the drowned bodies. The book details how helpless/useless the authorities in New Orleans were to deal with the flooding and the aftermath, and how thousands of people were abandoned at the so-called “shelters of last resort,” the Superdome and the Convention Center. Drowned City shows the chaos that settled over the city, how people were forced to help themselves to much-need supplies—and the instances of looting—and how some brave groups and individuals performed heroic rescues. The book spares no blows in its depiction of the ineptitude and infighting of officials like FEMA head Michael Brown, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and President George W. Bush. The book ends in October 2005 with the city finally dry, but totally devastated. It talks about New Orleans’ subsequent depopulation, particularly the decline of the city’s poorest (mostly African-American) populations. Nevertheless, the book ends on a tentative note of hopefulness.

Drowned City is gorgeously illustrated, mostly in large panels of pen & ink and watercolor. And it is meticulously researched & documented, with a full source list/bibliography at the back.

I often speak of A.D. as a “people’s history” of Hurricane Katrina. Don Brown‘s Drowned City takes more of a holistic perspective, and in that way is a perfect complement to A.D. I highly recommend you check it out.

AD10K

AD10K-charactersI often get asked by readers of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (both its web and print incarnations) about its real-life subjects: Denise, Leo & Michelle, Abbas (Hamid) & Darnell (Mansell), Kwame (Kevin), and The Doctor (Brobson). The answer is I’ve been in touch with all of them, to varying degrees, over the years, and for the most part they’re doing well.

So, with Hurricane Katrina’s tenth anniversary coming up (officially tomorrow), I thought folks might be interested in a little update. Over the last month I’ve reconnected with Leo, Hamid, Kwame, and Dr. Lutz, asking them about how they’re doing, the state of New Orleans, Katrina’s legacy, and their feelings about the 10th anniversary. (Denise, sadly, chose not to be interviewed for this update.) I’ve structured the piece as a sort of conversation among the characters. As you might expect, A.D.s characters harbor a multitude of feelings around these issues, some in alignment and some in conflict. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

After a marathon editing and drawing session, the piece is done, and it’s now up on Fusion.net’s “Graphic Culture” section. (I also want to thank the Economic Hardship Reporting Project for their assistance on this piece. EHRP has created a nice process page about creating the story…)

The new comics story is called “Where are they now? Revisiting 4 Katrina survivors 10 years later,” and I hope you find it food for thought.

Defend New Orleans!

A.D. to be Featured at the Pantheon Table this MoCCA Weekend

A couple of days ago I wrote about the two comics I’ll be debuting at the MoCCA Art Festival this weekend. I also wanted to mention a work of mine that, depending on how you look at it, is nearly eight years old—A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. (The web version appeared on SMITH in 2007–2008, the hardcover came out in 2009.) Believe it or not, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up this August, and it’s an event whose repercussions continue to resonate. Apparently, the book continues to resonate as well: just this month, I’ll be traveling to Amsterdam to speak about it and some of my other comics reportage at a narrative journalism festival. The week after that I’ll discussing A.D. with students at a college in Boston who’ve been studying it during this school year.

To commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the hurricane, my publisher Pantheon put together a special oversize “Remember Katrina” postcard, and I’ll be signing copies of A.D. at the Pantheon table on Saturday at MoCCA. Look for me from 2-3 pm at table 405.

One  more time, here are the MoCCA Fest deets:

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

katrina-plus10-postcard

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge academic links

[cross-posted from A.D. on Smith]

I just stumbled upon a long essay about A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge in the new book Comics and the U.S. South, edited by Brannon Costello and Qiana J. Whitted (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). The essay, “A Re-Vision of the Record: The Demands of Reading Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge,” is by Anthony Dyer Hoefer, a professor at George Mason University. And a PDF of the essay is available as a free download right here.

Leaving aside the fact that I was stunned to see 30 pages of academic writing devoted to A.D., I was excited to see how much Dr. Hoefer gets from the project—particularly its online component, which debuted on Smith Magazine. He focuses on A.D.‘s “pedagogical impulse” and how it uses the comics form to expose the highly mediated way in which we were informed about Hurricane Katrina. In this context, Hoefer quotes the great Scott McCloud from Understanding Comics, “No other artform gives so much to its audience while asking so much from them as well.”

As with many other reviews and discussions of A.D., I learned a lot from Hoefer’s essay: it’s always fascinating to see the things that readers pick up from my work that I didn’t consciously intend to put there—and are really just an accidental result of the never-ending attempt to simply make “good comics.”

Hoefer’s essay is the latest (and greatest) in a number of academic resources related to A.D. that are available online. Since A.D.‘s book publication, it has been used as a common read text for a number of colleges & universities, including the the University of Wisconsin, the University of Alabama, and SUNY Brockport. My wonderful and talented wife Sari Wilson wrote an extensive teacher’s guide to A.D., and there are other online resources, bibliographies, and so on for both high school and college students. Since Hurricane Katrina is clearly a historical event which we will be studying for generations to come, I figured this would be a good opportunity to list all A.D.‘s academic resources in one place:

Let me know of other useful links out there!

A.D.: NYC

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.

I’ll be interviewing Shannon Wheeler at MoCCA, and vice-versa

This weekend sees the latest edition of the MoCCA Art Fest, at the Lexington Avenue Armory here in New York City. I’ll be there on Sunday, doing a panel with Portland, Oregon-based cartoonist Shannon Wheeler.

Wheeler’s recent book is the quite wonderful Oil and Water, about the BP oil spill and its effects on the region. Shannon and I will ll be interviewing one another about our work in comics, especially as it relates to our approaches to documenting tragedy on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve occasionally been asked if I ever thought of doing a sequel to A.D. Well, Oil and Water could be seen as that sequel—and done far better than I could have ever hoped to do. Anyway, it should be an interesting conversation. Please come!

Details:
Sunday April 29, 2 p.m.
Lexington Avenu Armory
68 Lexington Ave. (btwn. 25th & 26th Sts.)
“Room B” (downstairs)

A.D. hits France (part I)

A.D.: La Nouvelle Orleans apres le DelugeI spent the period January 19–31 in France, promoting the French translation of A.DA.D.: la Nouvelle-Orléans après le Déluge (published by La Boîte à Bulles)—and attending my first Angoulême International Comics Festival. As you recall, I was in France just last summer, in Lyon as part of Les Subsistances’ Points de Vue festival, but I hadn’t been to Paris since the early 1990s. As a true-blue Francophile, I couldn’t have been more excited about the trip.

Thursday, Jan. 19

The most economical flight I found was a red-eye from Newark, so as I headed off to “Newark Liberty International Airport” via the seldom-used (by me) PATH train, I felt like I was traveling already. And somehow I ended up with my very own private “first-class” cabin on the Newark AirTrain. Woo-hoo!

As usual, I got very little sleep on the plane, despite having my own row to sack out on. Even with the extensive traveling I’ve been doing of late, I still get excited by plane travel (and the allure of free movies on the seat back in front of me).

Friday, Jan. 20

Flying into Dusseldorf very early the next day, I made the connection to the short Paris flight. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport, I found my way to the RER B suburban train, which took me to my publisher’s home in the town of Antony, right outside of Paris. In fact, the train took me right through the heart of Paris, all the while being serenaded by live accordion music! I couldn’t help but smile at the cliché come to life

Weighed down by my old traveling backpack and my laptop bag, I made it to my publisher Vincent Henry’s place, meeting him and his two teenage girls before collapsing on the bed for a power nap. That was all I got, as I had an event scheduled for that night. With Vincent as my guide through the maze of the Parisian metro, it was off to the 17th arrondisement for an A.D. “dedication” at Librairie Apo(k)lyps. The store was remarkably similar to your typical American comics stores, with a healthy collection of American mainstream comics and “alternative” graphic novels to go with their selection of French BDs.

One thing I had been fretting about before my trip was knowing that French B.D. fans expect more than just a quick sketch in their books. I had heard stories about artists doing fully realized illustrations in each copy, some taking as long as a half hour to create. In my years of doing signings in the U.S., I’d never faced that sort of pressure! But I discovered that a head-and-shoulder shot of a customer-selected A.D. character did the trick. Add a little spot color with some pens I had brought with me, and voila! a nice memento in under ten minutes.

Fighting through my jetlag, I pulled off the signing pretty well. It wasn’t overly crowded, but there were a couple of people waiting when we got there, and I had a chance to talk with each buyer—in a combination of my bad French and their better English. And I loved chatting with the owner Laurent and the store manager Remi about comics in France & in the U.S. Then it was back to Antony with Vincent before my Saturday day trip to Metz.

I’ll get into that next time.

A.D. at St. Ed’s

A.D. event posterSt. Edward’s University chose A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge as its freshman Common Read book for 2011–2012, and last week they had me come down to speak about it. It was the first time I had officially presented A.D. in about six months, and I before I left I re-read it for the first time in a while. This turned out to be really useful — revisiting elements of the book I had long since thought “settled,” and appreciating things that worked, while cringing at things that didn’t. I’m sure the whole exercise will be quite helpful when it comes to future creative decisions.

I flew down to Austin, TX, last week, where I was met by my excellent host, Assistant Dean Jennifer Phlieger. She then set me up for my lunch with St. Edward’s students, a subsequent hour-long Q&A, dinner with some  faculty members, and finally an hour-long presentation for about 300–400 kids.

I didn’t know much about St. Ed’s before I got there, other than that it was a private, Catholic institution that had been founded by the same guy who founded Notre Dame in Indiana. I have to admit about being a little curious about the Catholic aspect, and there’s still a nun in charge of major decisions, but it was explained to me that the school’s religious underpinning is pretty downplayed nowadays. Some of the elements that still remain, admirably, include a requirement that students spend at least one spring break doing some kind of community service, whether it be working for a homeless shelter or helping to build houses in communities like the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The school also does major outreach to the Latino community, offering all sorts of scholarships and the like, to the point that 25% of the student body is currently Hispanic. In most other respects, however, the school is a “typical” private liberal arts school located in the heart of Austin (which, as you may know, is not your typical Texas town).

The first official event was for me the highlight of the visit. About eight students joined me for lunch in the school cafeteria. They were mostly freshmen, and ranged from natives of New Orleans to students in a graphic novel class. We started off with questions about A.D. but soon branched off into the current state of New Orleans, race relations, and politics. I found the students incredibly engaged, not only with the book but with the world at large. They were opinionated, lively, and willing to challenge me about elements of the book. I really enjoyed our conversation.

From there I did a free-wheeling Q&A with about 150 students who had read A.D. I didn’t have a presentation prepared, but there was a video projector in the lecture hall, so I used the web version of A.D. to illustrate various points. In both this class and the lunch, the very question I was asked was about A.D.‘s unique color schemes, so I must make a note to myself to discuss that question in future presentations.

After a nice dinner with about six faculty members I headed back over to the university for my official presentation. As a result of my re-reading of the book, I also made a major revision of my usual presentation, and this was the first chance I’ve had to share it. (Because of a paper written by a U. of Chicago grad student, and my being asked to talk about the “Art of Catastrophe” as part of another event earlier this year, I’ve come to see that a major part of why I was so moved by Hurricane Katrina — from volunteering with the Red Cross to then doing A.D. — was because of emotional trauma I suffered from 9/11. Makes sense, but I never realized that until recently. Duh.) Anyway, the talk went well, though it was such a big venue (they repurposed the university gym) that I felt a bit disconnected from the audience. Still, there were a lot of great questions, and I must have signed about 100 copies of the book for eager (and patient) students afterward.

As always, I was struck and humbled by how A.D. has connected with so many people from so many different ways and stages of life. I really know what it means now when people say that as an artist all you can do is put the work out there. What the world does with it is, poignantly, beautifully, beyond your control.

Me and a few of St. Ed's students