‘A.D.’ and Hurricane Katrina: After the flood

Sept. 06, 2008 | 1:47 p.m.

'A.D.'One of the most compelling Web comics to date is Josh Neufeld’s sobering documentary effort "A.D." at SMITH Magazine. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, now is the time. The final chapter of the epic has been posted and, not surprisingly, it’s a thoughtful, candid and gripping finale to many months of labor by Neufeld.   

I talked to Neufeld last year about the project. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

The pen-and-ink drawings are clear, simple and so static in their muted colors that they suggest an airless calm — but the real-life events in those drawings pulse with tension, confusion and fear.

“It’s an account of Hurricane Katrina by a small group of survivors,” artist Josh Neufeld said by phone recently, “but really, at its heart, it’s a story of loss and how we deal with loss.”

On Sunday, New York artist Neufeld posted online the sixth chapter of “A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge,” an illustrated work of nonfiction storytelling that springs from the tradition of comic books but, like so many similar projects these days, is poorly served by the clunky term.

Referring to “A.D” or one of Joe Sacco’s illustrated memoirs as a comic book is a bit like calling “Schindler’s List” a talkie.

“A.D.” tells the tale of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history through the experiences of six people: Denise, a poet and sixth-generation New Orleanian; Hamid, an Iranian-born father of two who owns an uptown market; Kevin, a high school student and the son of a pastor; a young couple, Leo, who works with developmentally disabled youngsters, and Michelle, a gymnastics instructor; and Dr. Brobson Lutz, a man about town and former health department official.

One person who is not in the story is the man holding the pen. Neufeld, 40, perhaps best known to comics fans as a frequent collaborator with Harvey Pekar on “American Splendor,” is the unseen journalist at work in “A.D.” But that doesn’t mean he didn’t witness the destruction of Katrina firsthand.

Neufeld was overwhelmed as he watched the media coverage of the hurricane and the destruction in its wake from his home in New York. After a few days, he had to act. He became a Red Cross volunteer and was shuttled down to the ravaged Mississippi coastal communities of Biloxi and Gulfport.

You can read the rest of that article right here. "A.D." will be collected in a printed graphic novel scheduled for release next summer, probably in August, right around the grim fourth anniversary of Katrina’s devastation. I encourage you, though, to check it out now in its Internet incarnation; it’s really a turning point for the medium of Web comics and it also has audio files posted that add different dimensions to the documentarian effort.

– Geoff Boucher

BONUS: See more artwork and other reviews of "A.D." after the jump.

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Underwire (Wired blog): "A.D. is a sterling example of comics with a social consciousness, and is exactly the kind of thing we need to keep the human dimension of this unimaginable disaster and its ongoing aftermath in the public eye. SMITH has also done its usual great job of bringing it all together with a related blog, podcasts, video and a rich resource guide."

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BoingBoing: "It’s an excellent way to present the personal stories of people affected by the natural disaster and the monumental government failure that followed."

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Pop Candy (USA Today blog): "Neufeld’s work is very accessible, informative and beautifully drawn — even if you don’t read comics on a regular basis, you’ll be able to appreciate it. A.D. combines comics and journalism by telling the stories of real-life people who survived Hurricane Katrina."

All images from "A.D." by Josh Neufeld, courtesy of Neufeld and SMITH Magazine.

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