One Punch Reviews #24: A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

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It’s not often that webcomics tackle serious subject matter. It’s even rarer when creators take the time to interview people who lived through traumatic real world events, then captured their experiences through illustrations. Creator Josh Neufeld, though, a Xeric Award winner and a founding member of ACT-I-VATE, was up to the task. Neufeld interviewed six different people about what the trials and tribulations they faced on the worst storm that New Orleans ever experienced and made a comic out of it.

This month, the highly acclaimed webcomic A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge hits the bookshelves. (Amazon.com places the release date at August 18.) The “deluge” in the title is, of course, Hurricane Katrina. The comic was originally serialized online between 2007 and 2008 in Smith Magazine. It was recognized in several publications, including Rolling Stone, the LA Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. USA Today named it as one of 2007′s best comics.

Notices like these, by the way, can sometimes be detrimental. They can intimidate potential readers who see the attention the comic is getting from mainstream media reviewers and deduce that the work is difficult, given how praise is usually only bestowed to difficult works. Well, don’t be frightened. The voices of A.D. are those of everyday people, and the straight forward storytelling puts you in the shoes of those who witnessed it.

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A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
A.D. doesn’t take political sides … not overtly, anyway. There are times when the comic is filled with outbursts of anger at the mismanagement of the evacuation and rampant speculation about a conspiracy to wipe out the poor. The accusations, however, are outbursts from people who are tired, thirsty, and exhausted. People who were herded into a crowded encampment that, in many cases, was worse and more dangerous than the houses they just abandoned. You can hardly blame them for being paranoid.

When you get past the cinematic prologues, which depict the full fury of the storm, A.D. begins rather low-key. New Orleans residents have heard the news of the coming storm, and they are waiting to see what to do next. There’s a general air of dismissal. Hurricanes have come close in the past, but they’ve never done serious harm to New Orleans. A shopkeeper stays behind to protect his shop. A man and his wife leave most of their possessions at home, fully expecting to return soon. A doctor decides to stay behind at a restaurant, expecting to ride out the storm.

And then it begins to rain. And then the levees break. And the story builds up to a crescendo of chaos and uncertainty as the unstoppable force of nature changes New Orleans forever. Unlike the prologue, we see things from the eyes of those who lived it.

Neufeld uses colors sparingly and to great effect. It’s a black-and-white comic, or more precisely two washed out color tones. This simple style effectively sparks the senses. As we watch two men lying on the shed behind their store, we feel their chills and the sickness. A restaurant, spared form the floods but without electricity, feels musty and dank. Later, as we watch a mass of humanity crowd around a convention center, the yellows and oranges remind you of the sickening heat and thick, muggy atmosphere.

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Some of the experiences are harrowing. One woman holds on to her life as strong winds smash through her windows. Others are smaller and more personal losses, like when a man realizes that his prized comic book collection has been destroyed by the flood. I was personally drawn to the story of Hamid and Mansell. They were given an opportunity by a passing Samaritan in a motorboat to leave for safety. They stayed behind, however, to defend the goods from looters — looters that never came, and goods that would soon spoil due to the lack of power and the rising floodwaters.

The most remarkable thing about A.D. is that is may be the most honest and candid account about Hurricane Katrina that you’ll find in any medium. There’s an absence of the more sensational stories, such as the alleged incidents in the Superdome. Rather, we see people simply trying to survive, and later, move on. Neufeld interviews the subjects at one year intervals after the Hurricane. We get to see how adversity changes people, but it doesn’t destroy them. We also see the charity and goodness shine through. One woman starts counseling Katrina survivors. The comic book fan’s library is rebuilt through the contributions of generous individuals who heard about his plight through his blog.

I hear that the book offers 25% new content. It’s a great way to support Josh Neufeld, who should rightfully be compensated for this project. However, the webcomic is indispensable. Below the illustrated panels are links to audio and video clips of the people featured in the comic, blogs, photo essays, and newspaper articles. Admittedly, I haven’t clicked on many of them, but I do plan on doing so when I revisit the comic in the future. It’s a fine example as to how comics can aspire to be more than just entertainment, and also how comic’s don’t have to be hemmed to the sequential panels. Comics — webcomics in particular — can be the very voice of history.


Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on August 11, 2009, in 5 Stars, dramatic webcomic, historical webcomic, One Punch Reviews, real life webcomic, slice-of-life webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

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