Having already cut his teeth as an illustrator for the ne-plus-ultra of American nonfiction comics, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Josh Neufeld would already be considered a dead-on solid choice for the right guy to do an epic graphic treatment of Hurricane Katrina. Add to that the fact that not long after the hurricane slammed through the Gulf Coast, Neufeld spent three weeks as a Red Cross volunteer in Biloxi, Mississippi, soaking up stories of the storm and its aftermath (which he blogged and then collected as a self-published book, Katrina Came Calling), and you have what seems to be a perfect match. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is Neufeld’s webcomic, published by one of the more exacting online magazines, SMITH, lives up to its promise by being the exact kind of knowing and humane document the victims of Katrina well deserve — and the rest of us need. Parceled out in a dozen installments a month at a time (it’s now up to Chapter 7, “The Bowl Effect”), A.D. follows five real people, and their assorted relatives and friends, through the buildup to Katrina, and what they went through after.
While the webcomic format is an attractively democratic one, requiring hardly anywhere near the resources that physical printing does, there are some limitations here. SMITH‘s previous comic, the justly acclaimed Will Eisner-nominated war satire Shooting War, benefited from the jaggedly episodic structuring, packed as it was with dramatic close-ups and sharp angles. Neufeld’s more graceful construction may in fact look better on the printed page once some publisher wises up and puts it out there (Shooting War was picked up by Grand Central for publication this month). That being said, Neufeld makes good use of the expanded abilities offered by the web, embedding appropriate links, like to the National Hurricane Center’s archived site for a particular date, and even sticking in MP3s at critical junctures in the story. For all this new media construction, though, Neufeld never lets the format take over from his elegantly elegiac story; all of which is taken, by the way, word-for-word from accounts of the people it depicts. And somehow, even though there’s of course no question about how things will turn out, Neufeld keeps you coming back, month after month, to see not necessarily what happens but who it happens to.