A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, Josh Neufeld. (Pantheon) $24.95
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is Josh Neufeld’s first book-length graphic narrative. It contains five interconnected pieces of non-fiction from five disconnected groups of New Orleanians (some many generations deep) who lived through Hurricane Katrina. These five people were brought together by Neufeld’s blog—which evolved into a non-graphic book—written about Katrina after he served three weeks in Biloxi, Mississippi doing rehabilitation work with the American Red Cross. The book does a great job of assembling a diverse group of people who stayed and weathered the storm for reasons that are more interesting and complex that the public see was led to believe by the media at the time.
It’s a welcome telling that personifies the obfuscated series of events, its aftermath still being felt years later. What makes the book different from most of what’s been told about Katrina so far is its focus on the personal. Neufeld writes almost entirely about his five characters, and how such a devastating event affects them on a human level. He effectively uses narrative to humanize the tragedy, rather than dissect the bureaucratic and social-cluster train-wreck of the New Orleans and U.S. Government until the analysis melts into blind rage.
Despite the great writing and the credential of being a long-time contributor to Harvey Pekar’s acclaimed American Splendor series, it should be noted that some color schemes are unpleasant. Neufeld decided to bathe the series in several combinations of desaturated, low-value color schemes that make reading certain sections—specifically the “Saturday, August 20 2005” section with just a yellow background and orange lines—very difficult. It could be that Neufeld had a reason for choosing his combinations, but that reason isn’t clear and it’s sometimes very distracting.
As the story progresses its hues become more contrasted for the figures and background respectively, which at times works like the little girl in the red dress in Schindler’s List but doesn’t work consistently enough to not be distracting. This could have perhaps been solved by well-planned value planning.
Overall, though, instead of producing aimless anger at the mysterious, Kafkaesque nightmare of the Man’s response to national disaster, I’m left with a pure, sincere empathy for those involved, like maybe we lost more than an epic Mardi Gras vacation spot. The book ends with the slightly hopeful yet sullen rebuilding of the city—both physically and emotionally—that steadily carries on in spite of gentrification efforts and FEMA blunders.