It’s impossible to capture the scale and scope of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, and a smart creator wouldn’t even try. Josh Neufeld is a smart creator, and he’s a talented one, and I like the approach he takes to A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge (Random House). Instead of trying to capture everything, he focuses on the experiences of a handful people who lived through the storm and are muddling through its aftermath.
His subjects offer a socioeconomic mix, from upper to working class. Some of them stayed in New Orleans through the storm, and others watched it unfold from a distance. Again, I don’t think Neufeld is doing this to try and tell “the whole story” so much as to offer different vantage points on what the city and its residents endured.
There’s Denise, who has no means of evacuating, and she ends up at the convention center, waiting for help that seems unlikely ever to come. Abbas sticks around to protect his family’s convenience store. Twenty-something Leo and his girlfriend, Michelle, evacuate, as does young Kwame with his family. A doctor stays put, confident in the sturdiness of his historic home.
Neufeld refrains from imposing a narrative on these survivors, instead illustrating their individual stories and interspersing them as they chronologically unfolded. Their testimonies are all vivid and engrossing, and Neufeld renders them with detail and restraint. There’s terror, anger, and sadness, but there’s also perseverance and hope.
It’s a durable and valuable work, and Neufeld’s illustrations hold up to the content. Like Rick Geary of the Treasury of Victorian Murder series of books, Neufeld doesn’t illustrate for photo-realism. His style is still evident, though he’s scrupulous in rendering people and settings.
I remember text pieces in this vein from my newspaper days, when a sensible reporter would get out of the way and let people tell their stories. (As Neufeld is illustrating these stories instead of merely transcribing them, there’s obviously a higher degree of difficulty.) There seem to be fewer of those kinds of meaty, personal portraits that flesh out major events. I miss them, and I’m glad to see Neufeld translate some of that same journalistic spirit into comics form.
(This review is based on a black-and-white “advanced reader’s edition” provided by the publisher. It’s one of those books with a really interesting provenance, so I encourage you to go read Tom Spurgeon’s interview with Neufeld to find out more. I nominated this book for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Anyone can nominate a title, assuming they aren’t one of the book’s creators and/or don’t work for the publisher of the book being nominated. Creators and publishers can certainly nominate the work of others.)