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.

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LJ spotlight!

So this blog is now spotlighted on the homepage of Livejournal, which is very exciting and flattering. If you’re reading this for the first time, hello, and please allow me to introduce myself (all apologies to Mick Jagger/Lucifer). In RL I am Josh Neufeld, a Brooklyn, NY-based cartoonist (e.g. comic book writer/artist) who speciaizes in nonfiction. If you’ve read Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, or Art Speigelman’s Maus, or Joe Sacco‘s Palestine or Safe Area Gorazde, then you know comics can be a wonderful way to explore, explain, and illustrate the real world. If you haven’t read any of their work, then go out now and buy some!

In any case, I’ve been working in this corner of the "alternative comics" field for awhile now, as an illustrator of Pekar’s stories, as an autobiographer of my own backpacking adventures, and most recently as a chronicler of Hurricane Katrina, as seen from the perspective of seven real-life New Orleanians who survived the storm. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is coming out next month from Pantheon Graphic Novels. I’ll be going on tour to support the book, and maybe I’ll be coming to a city near you: stops include Austin, TX; Houston, TX; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Portland, OR; Miami, FL; and of course New Orleans and my hometown of New York City. (You can see all the details here…)

A.D. came about indirectly because I was an American Red Cross volunteer shortly after Katrina, where I worked for almost a month distributing food to Katrina survivors in Biloxi, Mississippi (about 90 miles outside of New Orleans). I wrote about those experiences as they were happening right here on my LJ, and eventually collected the posts — and readers’ comments — in a "blook," cleverly titled Katrina Came Calling. A little later, Jeff Newelt, the comics editor of the storytelling site SMITH, showed it to SMITH’s editor, who shortly thereafter asked me to do a comic about Katrina for his site. In January 2007, after about six months of research and reporting, and finding seven amazing, wonderful people willing to have their stories told in comics form, I began serializing A.D. on SMITH. Lo and behold, two-plus years later and a brand-new, expanded hardcover edition of A.D. debuts August 18 (right before the fourth anniversary of Katrina).

I’m extremely excited for the book to be out, not only because it’s the culmination of many years’ work, but because I think it’s so important that we continue to tell the story of New Orleans. I made a big effort with A.D. to show my characters’ lives continuing on after the hurricane, as the city begins to forge its post-New Orleans history. Four years down the line a lot has happened — some good and some bad — but the rest of America (and the world) needs to keep the "City that Care Forgot" and its people in our hearts and minds. I’m also excited about A.D. because I truly do believe that nonfiction comics are a vital part of the comics mosaic, and my hope is that if enough copies of the book finds their way into the hands of people who wouldn’t normally pick up a "funny book," it will help break down the continuing prejudices against the form.

I’m running on a bit, and I don’t want to bore my normal readers, so I’ll cut things short here. Normally, my blog is a place where I write about all sorts of things, not necessarily just comics, though I would say that 4-eyez (full title "Four-Eyes: Stories and Thoughts from One of Life’s Vagabonds") is mostly about what my comics are about: remarking on and treasuring the experiences of everyday life. Oh, and also my sad obsession with trivia, charts, and statistics.

So look back through some of my previous posts to see what catches your fancy. Meanwhile, to take advantage of LJ’s kind spotlight, I plan on posting once a day for the remainder of the week. Stay tuned!

Co-op Convert

This year I finally joined the Park Slope Food Co-op and I’ve decided I actually like working there. For years I had avoided joining, while enjoying the fruits (literally) of Sari’s membership, but I was forced to sign up about six months ago.

I grew up in the lefty/hippie enclave of 1970s Southern California, and my mom even shopped at a co-op out there— called "People’s Food," naturally. Years later, when I went to Oberlin College, I wanted nothing to do with their strong co-op movement. I was turned off by the hairy, crunchy, unshowered ethos of those places, not to mention that I was too preoccupied with other aspects of college life to think about actually working for my food! Flash forward many years later, and those were the same reasons I didn’t join the Park Slope Food Co-op. Now that I’ve been a member for a while, I’ve certainly encountered my share of smug, ideologically driven co-oppers, but the vast majority of members are "regular folks" who enjoy being part of the community. Like Sari & me, they just want a place to buy cheap, fresh food, and don’t mind donating three hours of their time once a month to get it.

I’m in the shipping & receiving squad, and basically I unload trucks, stock shelves, and crush boxes. It brings back fond memories of my Red Cross deployment after Hurricane Katrina.So much of the life of a freelance cartoonist is about "selling yourself," "putting yourself out there," and "expressing your vision" — it’s a relief to let go of my ego, to just be a cog, as it were, working for the "greater good." I’m also grateful that my co-op duties involve physical labor, enabling me to get out from the desk and the drawing table. And the food really is good.

Gustav in the Gulf: Here we go again?

The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has just passed, and now another huge storm — Gustav — is bearing down on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, with forecasts of it hitting the area late Monday. Predicting a hurricane’s path is a very imperfect science, so it’s possible the city may dodge the bullet (as it had so many times in the past—before Katrina). But Katrina taught us that it’s far better to be safe than sorry.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin called Gustav “the storm of the century” and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city today. Thousands of people are streaming out of the region as I write this. Things seem to be proceeding much more smoothly this time than in 2005, with government agencies working together to provide transportation options for just about everybody. Trains and buses are ferrying evacuees to Alexandria, Shreveport, and other northern Louisiana locations—and this time people can take their pets. To deter looting, the National Guard plans on sending a lot more troops into the city this time around. As an incentive to get everyone to leave, New Orleans is not providing any “shelters of last resort” (like the Convention Center or the Superdome), which seeing what happened at those places after Katrina might be a good thing. Even though the levees have been repaired and “shored up” since Katrina, they are still not designed to withstand more than a Category 3 hurricane; Gustav could end up as a Category 5.

The A.D. characters are all preparing for the storm in their own ways. Read more of this post

That’s my bro!

Congrats to my half-bro, moviethinker, for his admission into MCNY’s Masters Program in Public Administration in Emergency and Disaster Management! The 16-month program, which starts in January, includes a ten-day visit to Isreal to study with the IMI Academy for Advanced Security. Ultimately, it could lead to a position with the Red Cross, FEMA, or the NYC Office of Emergency Management. Kudos to Jake for his pursuit of such a pro-active, altruistic career path.

Those Cali Wildfires are Serious!

I was just asked by the Red Cross if I would be available to deploy out there for three weeks. If they’re taking disaster responders from the East Coast, then they are really hurting.

Even though the fires are sweeping through the counties north of San Diego where I grew up, I have to decline the invitation to respond this time around. New babies (and A.D. deadlines) do that to a man.

It’s someone else’s turn this time.

Ringing the closing bell on Katrina

As a Hurricane Katrina Red Cross volunteer, I was invited to commemorate Katrina’s one-year anniversary by taking part in tomorrow’s NASDAQ closing bell ceremony. And it will all be viewable on web-cam! So look for me in a gaggle of NY-area Red Crossers as we mark the hurricane by celebrating the unstoppable storm of hyper-capitalism.

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 4 pm
http://www.nasdaq.com/reference/marketsite_about.stm
– Windows Media Player required
– scroll to the bottom of the page under the heading MarketSite Live Web cam and click on Windows Media Player
– any time before 3:50 pm the webcam will show the tower, at 3:50 the router is switched and you can see inside the studio

Katrina Came Calling Has Come Calling

Katrina Came CallingAfter a week’s delay at the printer, I finally got my 100 copies of Katrina Came Calling. It’s exciting to have a tangible testament to my Mississippi adventure.

I’ve already sent out copies to all those who ordered them (thank you very much!), as well as the comps to the folks who contributed to the project (thank YOU very much!). I also plan to bring a bunch to the New York Comic-Con, which will be happening at the Javits Center next weekend (Feb. 24-26), and where I’ll be at the Alternative Comics table.

Katrina Came Calling

Image hosting by PhotobucketAs many of you know, in October 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, I served a three-week stint as a Red Cross volunteer in Biloxi/Gulfport, Mississippi. I’ve just self-published Katrina Came Calling, a book (not a graphic novel!) about my experiences.

Taken from my LJ from that period, Katrina Came Calling is an intimate look at my reaction to the hurricane; signing up for Red Cross training; getting deployed; the conditions in the Gulf; working with the survivors; a visit to New Orleans; Port-a-Potties; my co-workers; issues of race, religion, and regional background; returning home; and much more. It also includes tons of photographs and a brand-new introduction. And — in a unique marriage of print and the ongoing conversation of the Internet — Katrina Came Calling includes many of your comments — and my responses to them. They augment the discussion, inform the reader, and otherwise enhance the project.

To all those who read my online journal and took time to respond, you inspired me to keep going, both as a volunteer and as a documenter of the experience. Specifically, these folks “made the cut”: aciddust_420, alibi_shop, al_monster, deadredfred, drockdamian, l8blmr, leborcham, man_size, nexusnrg, purvision, pivovision, rojogato, spaceman_fromrc, sugarc0atdlies, thamesrhodes, tracerchick, and wjcohen. (Throughout the book, I use your LJ screen-names — partly for privacy reasons and partly because I don’t know some of your real names!) In addition, Michael Simon and a few non-LJ users left anonymous comments.

This self-published booklet is a limited-run “vanity” edition, and as such, I beg your forgiveness for using your words without getting your prior permission. I am offering the book, such as it is, free of charge to everyone cited above. If, after seeing the book, you would rather I took out your comments, just let me know, and I will remove them from all future editions (if there are any). Hopefully, that won’t be the case!

So there we go. Katrina Came Calling is: limited-edition, 100 print-run, black-and-white, digest-sized, saddle-stitched, 102 pp. If you’re one of those cited above, claim your free copy by emailing me at joshcomix@mindspring.com with your real name and mailing address. Anyone else who’d like a copy can send $5 to: Josh Neufeld, 175 Eastern Parkway, #5C, Brooklyn, NY 11238.

(Thanks to alexdecampi), here’s a way to buy the book using PayPal:

That is all.

Moral Certainty

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of World War II movies. My local library has a bunch of classics on DVD and I’ve been picking up just about everything they’ve got. I started with black-and-white films like The Best Years of Our Lives and From Here to Eternity, and moved on to Twelve O’Clock High, Stalag 17, and a couple of John Wayne flicks, The Sands of Iwo Jima and They Were Expendable. I augmented those with movies of more recent vintage: Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Sand Pebbles, The Big Red One, A Bridge Too Far, Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor, Enemy at the Gates, Charlotte Gray, The Great Raid. Those viewings are just in the last few months. Over the years I’ve probably seen 75 or more WW II movies, including many of the ones above previously. A few are great, many are good, many are dreck — the point is I’m obsessed.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s fixated on the Vietnam War and Vietnam-era movies. Beginning with (of all things) Magnum P.I. (remember he was a Vietnam vet?) and First Blood (embarrassing!), and moving on to staples like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket. As the years passed, I gobbled up more and more: Born on the Fourth of July, Coming Home, Big Wednesday, Good Morning Vietnam, Air America, The Boys in Company C, In Country, Hamburger Hill, Hearts and Minds, 84 Charlie MoPic, Casualties of War, Jacob’s Ladder, Tigerland, even apologist crap like The Green Berets. I gloried in the moral ambiguity of those films.
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