Critics' Picks: The Hurricane Katrina comic book

Josh Neufeld's haunting account of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history gives new meaning to graphic tragedy

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 31, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

You don’t have to be a fan of graphic novels to fall under the spell of "A.D.," Josh Neufeld’s haunting chronicle of Hurricane Katrina. The book, which first appeared in SMITH (where readers can find a bounty of additional audio and video extras on the making of the story), tells the tale of seven New Orleans residents who lived through one of the worst disasters in U.S. history, following them from the eerie anticipation before the storm through the desperate, terrifying days after the levees broke and on to the heartbreaking diaspora and rebuilding efforts. Even knowing how badly it all turned out for the city doesn’t make the suspense any less excruciating, nor does it diminish the outrage at how government indifference and mismanagement exacerbated the catastrophe. Instead, by presenting an unfathomable nightmare through the eyes of these very real and disparate individuals, Neufeld makes the loss tangible.

Neufeld, who has drawn for Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor,” is blessed with an artist’s eye and a storyteller’s ear. He introduces us to Leo, a comic book collector whose home, along with his entire trove of comics – with the exception of a single, framed edition of “Transmetropolitan” – is wiped out. There’s Denise, who sweats it out with her family at the Superdome while gun-toting gang members prove unlikely heroes. He takes us up on the roof to wait with Abbas and Darnell as the waters rise and Darnell’s asthma worsens. And in the end, we understand how one person could insist “I don’t want to return” while another could declare, “For better or worse, I’m married to this place.” Call it an art book, call it a novel, call it nonfiction, “A.D.” is, simply, an American tragedy.

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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