BOOK REVIEW: A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
By Josh Neufeld, Pantheon Books, 2009, Hardcover, $24.95
I have never been to New Orleans, have never listened to the famous jazz bands or enjoyed the local crawdads and jambalaya that are the jewels of the vibrant city. Josh Neufeld's graphic novel, "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge," offers up a serving of The Crescent City that I had never expected to encounter in the depths of my Greenlake living room.
The first few pages of the book open with a bird's eye view of the metropolis: a two-toned work of art, masked in turquoise and black, depicting a city in a state of tranquility. The reader gets to envision New Orleans from afar, days before Hurricane Katrina decimated the antiquated buildings and upended the jovial inhabitants within them. Imagine: a drawing of a metropolis complete with high rises, a stadium and everything in between being engulfed by a hurricane that looks like a dust cloud coming over an anthill, until the flood waters have enveloped everything and the people are left with nothing but their lives.
Neufeld begins with landscape drawings of impending doom and then slowly ropes the reader into a more personal world that involves seven different people and their experiences, over five successive days: before, during and after the catastrophe. Take Leo, for example, who, after losing everything he has, declares to his girlfriend, "Look babe, together we've only got about $150 to our names. That's not even enough for a deposit. If we go to St. Louis with your folks, at least we'll have food and stuff paid for." And it is this statement, and many others, that lend this book its authentic feel.
Neufeld, in an interview, explains "the stories in 'A.D.' are highly particular and highly personal, but my hope is that they provide a window for readers who aren't Katrina survivors into a world that few of us understand, but that we'll be trying to make sense of for a long time to come." He had the opportunity to meet the survivors while helping with the aid effort shortly after the flood, and began to publish an online comic book, complete with edits from the real characters, YouTube videos, links to podcasts and personal details not mentioned in the hard copy publication. The finished version's dialogue and facts have been confirmed by the people who experienced them.
And yes, on the news, we all got an idea of what happened in "The Birthplace of Jazz" and shed tears over the unbelievable negligence of FEMA during the aid effort. Yet within the text, it is a character like Denise who makes the situation so much more real: "They bring us here, with no power, no sanitation, no food, no medicine -- and they can't even give us water? It's like some kind of sick joke!"
Neufeld centers in on characters like Denise, giving us well-developed characters who speak lines -- like, "Hey, it'll all be here when we get back in a few days. Let's go!" -- that make you shiver with the luxury of hindsight.
"A.D.'s" two-tone style evolves with the impending storm. Neufeld says, "I also thought of each individual color scheme as a sort of visual 'soundtrack,' a guide for the reader through the story's emotional ups and downs." For instance, he begins with calming colors like yellow and blue, which reflect the mood of the characters in the beginning, and then splashes the distress of the convention center with a sickly green that highlights the illness and confusion of that scene.
In the end, I would love to describe the trials and tribulations of each character in this book, or better yet, I would love to introduce you to each of them in full detail. But "A.D." is so beautifully drawn and developed that each person should experience it with the fullest naivet