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  • An Interview with Josh Neufeld
  • Jonathan Najarian (bio)

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JOSH NEUFELD

Photo courtesy of Sari Wilson

[End Page 134]

In the opening sequence of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (2009), Josh Neufeld’s penetrating comics account of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, readers witness the slow drama of the devastating storm unfold over the course of nineteen pages. A panoply of aerial shots surveys various neighborhoods in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Biloxi, Mississippi, the two cities that endured the most severe effects of the storm. The panels in the first few pages, which take place on August 22, 2005, a week before the storm made landfall, suggest an eerie sense of normalcy: people socialize on the French Quarter’s distinctive balconies, tourists stroll casually through Jackson Square, and locals lean against their cars chatting with friends resting on neighborhood stoops. In Biloxi, cars traverse the distinctive shoreline while pedestrians enter and exit the President Casino Broadwater Resort, one of several floating casino barges that, before Katrina, decorated Biloxi’s Gulf Coast. In one haunting panel, visitors snap a photo in front of the S. S. Hurricane Camille, a tugboat-turned-gift shop that survived the 1969 storm for which it is named. Though Camille largely missed New Orleans, the hurricane has drawn frequent comparisons to Katrina, especially with regard to the destruction it caused in Mississippi. In a tidy historical echo, Camille dissipated on August 22, 1969, exactly 36 years before the scene in A.D. takes place.

Hurricane Katrina arrives in New Orleans in a scientifically dramatized but emotionally powerful two-page spread, the storm clouds looming colossally over the city (see fig. 1). Chaos ensues. A Canal Street sign is ripped from its post and whips down the [End Page 135] street’s median; the President Casino is engulfed by riotous waves that pound its exterior; and the storm surge overwhelms a New Orleans Jersey barrier, flooding private homes and snapping telephone wires. Panels labeled Tuesday, August 30, depict houses flooded nearly to their roofs, people wading through chest-high waters clutching loved ones and belongings, and, most distressingly, a corpse floating face down and alone. Biloxi’s piers are gone, its decorated shoreline permanently reshaped. The President Casino is now landbound. Nearly all of the neighborhoods surrounding New Orleans are flooded. This opening sequence enacts the entire story of Hurricane Katrina in narrative miniature, largely inattentive to the specifics of personal human suffering that are so important to the rest of the narrative.


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Figure 1.
Graphic Novel Excerpt from A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld, copyright © 2009 by Josh Neufeld. Used by permission of Pantheon Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

In addition to providing a brief overview of the storm itself, these opening pages offer a sophisticated meditation on the aesthetics of comics form. Neufeld riffs on several distinctive features of comics art to capture the chaos and uncertainty of the hurricane. In an implicit nod to Scott McCloud’s seminal Understanding Comics, first published in 1993, the opening pages of A.D. employ five of the six types of transitions between distinct panels that McCloud [End Page 136] identifies, all but the so-called “non-sequitur” transition: moment-to-moment, action-to-action, subject-to-subject, scene-to-scene, and aspect-to-aspect. Whether we accept McCloud’s terminology or not, his analysis helps identify the formal complexity of the comics page. Neufeld sometimes spends three panels observing changes over time from a fixed spatial perspective (what McCloud labels a “moment-to-moment” transition), as when the gushing flood waters swell above the roofs of homes. Other panels avoid or obscure temporal progression, instead contrasting individual responses (a person lugging a garbage bag through a flooded street) with structural damage to buildings (parts of the roof being ripped off the Super-dome). The chaotic uncertainty of the storm becomes the chaotic uncertainty of the comics form: some sequences present the same geographical location at different times, others the same time in different...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9949
Print ISSN
0010-7484
Pages
pp. 134-161
Launched on MUSE
2021-06-16
Open Access
No
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