Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 15 (2/18) -- A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

Every big event generates a thousand stories -- once for each person who lived through it. (Though the people who didn't make it through also have their stories, those are much harder to hear, afterward.) Those stories often get homogenized and combined to form an average story, afterward, something that it's quite like what happened to anyone but is vaguely like what happened to everyone.

That has its place -- those of us who weren't there need to get some perspective, and a thousand separate, different stories won't do that -- but those separate stories need to be told as well. They need to exist in their specificity and idiosyncrasy, and not be smoothed out.

Oral history has a long tradition...though not in comics, where the rise of non-fiction is still only about a decade old and books are expected to be the personal story of the creator. But what Josh Neufeld has done in A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is to tell the story of five people (or groups of people) through their own words, showing how each of them came through Hurricane Katrina and the days afterward.

Their stories aren't equally interesting, or given equal space -- "The Doctor," who stayed in the central city the whole time, gets the least space and stays a cipher throughout the book, though in some ways he's the most traditionally New Orleansian of them all. And the reader has somewhat less concern for Kwame (a young man who evacuated with his family) and Leo & Michelle (two young hipster types) and their concerns about the stuff they left behind when the other two stories -- Denise and her family at the Convention Center and Abbas & Darnell guarding the former's convenience store as the waters rise up to drown it. But Neufeld has chosen these five to give a good picture of the different populations of New Orleans, and the different reactions and dislocations of the storm.

A.D. is more workmanlike than inspired; Neufeld got his subjects to talk about their experiences clearly but not, in most cases, to really make it vivid in their words. His art is on hand to do that, of course, but he uses a distracting (and changing) limited color palette, for no clear purpose. (At first, I thought he was giving each story its own distinctive color, but that's not it -- it seems to be just that each section of the story has a color or two, for no obvious reason.)

It's great to see that comics can take up the job of oral history, and of preserving what are nearly primary sources for a major event of our times. A.D. tells these stories with dignity and feeling, and I hope it will still be around for future generations who wonder what it was like to be there when the big one hit.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Surfer Blood - Floating Vibes
via FoxyTunes

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