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:

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(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.:

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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:

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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!

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.

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.

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

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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.

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:

Jennifer Shaw’s HURRICANE STORY

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:

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. 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.
 

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.

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.

Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY