Thursday, April 07, 2011

Reader's Diary #699- Josh Neufeld: A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge

I'd first heard of this book through reviews by Nicola and Gavin over at the Graphic Novels Challenge blog but didn't get around to reading it until almost two years later when I decided to take a trip to New Orleans myself.

Strictly speaking, Josh Neufeld's A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge isn't a novel, in that it's nonfiction, but it is a long form comic and pretty much most of us call all of those graphic novels anyway. Semantics aside, A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is the stories of seven individuals (it looks like 5 on the cover, but if you look closely at the 2nd and 3rd pictures, the 2nd shows a couple and the third shows two friends) and their days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, during, and after.

I read this just before going to New Orleans and really appreciated all the perspectives, mostly because I could keep track. I've read novels with less characters than this and had trouble keeping track. I think Neufeld accomplishes this mostly by choosing to interview people with such different backgrounds and lives; black, white, wealthy, poor, etc. Granted, not all characters seemed to get as much page time as others, and I personally found some stories more compelling than others, but such would be the case in real life.

And in real life, I appreciated all the perspectives even more. From an outsider it's easy to think of New Orleaners(?) as all having the same thoughts and opinions on hurricane Katrina. After all, the media usually picked a slant and told it that way. For whatever reason, it was easier to just show one side. We met people who talked about how the media made it worst than it was, we met others who felt it was devastating and damaged the city for ever. One tour guide refused to call it a natural disaster, but insisted it was a man-made disaster. Some thought the disaster was due to short-sightedness, others that it was more intentional than that. The only consistency was that everyone had an opinion. And it's now a part of their tourism as much as Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras, and jazz music. Here are some houses we saw, still not repaired or lived in since Katrina, almost 6 years ago. Granted, as our tour guide pointed out, some of the hardest hit areas were poorer and more run down to begin with. But the ones with the numbers painted on the side were ones checked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with numerical codes to indicate what they found inside. You didn't want to see one with any number except 0 at the bottom, for that number indicated how many bodies were inside. On one house, not shown here, I did see a number 1.

Back to Neufeld's book, I also appreciated the artwork. While the characters are similar in style to Daniel Clowes, Neufeld's real strength is in the pacing, using the artwork to build up tension and dramatic effect by choosing wide, varied angles and shadows, and slow zoom-ins on some scenes. It's amazing how many graphic novelists I've read that would make amazing movie directors.

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is a wonderful comic documentary and I'd love to more such books if anyone can recommend some!


John Mutford said...

You can read it for free here.

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, the new Shigeru Mizuki release from Drawn & Quarterly. (Full disclosure: I translated it.) It's an account of Mizuki's experience as a soldier in the Pacific in the closing weeks of WWII. He says it's 95% true, which made me wonder how he can live with such awful images behind his eyelids. But he did turn that experience into an amazing work of art.

John Mutford said...

Hmmm, I didn't think of our trip to the lower ninth ward as exploitative or unethical. Never even heard of the term "poorism." But this CBC article gave me pause for thought.