Josh Neufeld's Blog
August 28, 2015
I often get asked by readers of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (both its web and print incarnations) about its real-life subjects: Denise, Leo & Michelle, Abbas (Hamid) & Darnell (Mansell), Kwame (Kevin), and The Doctor (Brobson). The answer is I’ve been in touch with all of them, to varying degrees, over the years, and for the most part they’re doing well.
So, with Hurricane Katrina’s tenth anniversary coming up (officially tomorrow), I thought folks might be interested in a little update. Over the last month I’ve reconnected with Leo, Hamid, Kwame, and Dr. Lutz, asking them about how they’re doing, the state of New Orleans, Katrina’s legacy, and their feelings about the 10th anniversary. (Denise, sadly, chose not to be interviewed for this update.) I’ve structured the piece as a sort of conversation among the characters. As you might expect, A.D.’s characters harbor a multitude of feelings around these issues, some in alignment and some in conflict. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
After a marathon editing and drawing session, the piece is done, and it’s now up on Fusion.net’s “Graphic Culture” section. (I also want to thank the Economic Hardship Reporting Project for this assistance on this piece.)
The new comics story is called “Where are they now? Revisiting 4 Katrina survivors 10 years later,” and I hope you find it food for thought.
Defend New Orleans!
August 5, 2015
Ten years ago, Facebook was pretty much only for college students and Twitter was still in the planning stages. So in late August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the main way people communicated publicly on the Internet was via blogs. And those of you who remember my post-hurricane training with the Red Cross, and my eventual deployment to Biloxi, Mississippi, will recall that I wrote about the experience on my blog (at that point hosted on LiveJournal). (I even self-published all my blog entries—and the various online comments—in a slim volume called Katrina Came Calling.)
I was only a volunteer—for those directly affected by the storm, blogs, online forums, and email were the lifeblood that kept these communities connected while they were physically dispersed.
In late 2006, about a year after the storm, when I began working on A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, I used the blogs of two of my subjects, Leo McGovern and Denise Moore, as primary sources. They spoke with eloquence and urgency about their experiences during the storm and its agonizing aftermath.
It was around that time that I met journalist Cynthia Joyce, who had started a blog of her own, Culture Gulf, which documented the rebuilding of New Orleans. As Cynthia now writes,
. . . it’s already impossible to recall with any precision the depths of uncertainty that was life post-Hurricane Katrina. Much of the collectively kept digital diary of that catastrophe has already been forgotten—in some cases paved over in page redesigns or simply lost to “web erosion,” relegated forever to 404: Page Not Found status. . . . Contrary to what high school guidance counselors everywhere will tell you, the Internet, it turns out, is not forever.
Which is why, a few weeks shy of Katrina’s 10th anniversary, Cynthia has edited a fascinating—and essential—collection of blog entries from those first two years post-Katrina. Titled Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina, the book (quoting Cynthia again) “is a cross-section of first-person entries that reveals a layer of post-Katrina life that wasn’t typically picked up by traditional news outlets or preserved in any official record. It’s as much a testament to lost memories as it is to memories about what was lost.”
Published by the University of New Orleans Press, Please Forward is a blow-by-blow street-level chronicle of New Orleans and Katrina. Reading through it again is definitely intense: the lead-up to the storm; the flooding; the loss of lives, homes, and possessions; the chaos of the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center; the fear and uncertainty; the hyperbolic media coverage; the racial issues exposed by the storm; the demoralizing debates about the future of New Orleans—it’s all in there. Contributors include Kelly Landrieu, Rob Walker, Joshua Cousin, Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, Clifton Harris, Dedra Johnson, Cree McCree, and at least 50 other bloggers, most of whom are residents of the Crescent City. I have a couple of posts in there too, one from my stint as a volunteer and one from back in New York City. There’s a wonderful excerpt from the book on Salon; Rob Walker’s contribution is particularly affecting.
If you’re in New Orleans, the Please Forward book launch is on August 22 at Press St. HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.) It should be quite an event—sad and joyous in equal measure. For now, you can pre-order the book on Amazon.
July 27, 2015
Matt Bors, the cartoonist/editor/visionary/energizer bunny of comics journalism, has left Medium.com and is taking his groundbreaking site The Nib with him. To kick-off this move, he (and assistant editors Eleri Harris and Matt Lubchansky) are Kickstarting a 300-page hardcover collection of “the best of The Nib,” by some of today’s most accomplished nonfiction/political cartoonists.
Titled Eat More Comics, the book features work by Emily Flake · Tom Tomorrow · Matt Bors · Jen Sorensen · Ruben Bolling · Ted Rall · Susie Cagle · Emi Gennis · Eleri Harris · Jess Ruliffson · Sarah Glidden · Wendy Macnaughton · Mike Dawson · James Sturm · Shannon Wheeler · Eleanor Davis, AND MORE (including this piece by yours truly).
If Eat More Comics is successfully funded, not only will all contributors be compensated for their work being republished, but exclusive new content will be commissioned!
This thing is coming together REALLY quickly: help KickStart the project, and you’ll have it in your hands by SPX (September 19). Eleri and “the Matts” are already 60% of the way there, with about two weeks to go, so please contribute… and then you too will be able to Eat More Comics!
July 21, 2015
Crazy as it is to think, we’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Urban activist Roberta Brandes Gratz has written a compelling account of the city’s struggles—and successes—in the intervening years. Fetchingly titled We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City, the book was recently published by Nation Books. They asked me to write something in support of it; here’s what I came up with:
Ten years after the flooding of New Orleans, the city is still rebuilding. This book is a street-level portrait of the Crescent City that extends far beyond the tourist destinations of the French Quarter and the Garden District. Through her own observations and those of the people who came back to rebuild their homes, Gratz illustrates how the tight-knit communities of New Orleans are succeeding in reclaiming their city — despite the so-called experts, predatory free-marketeers, and government bureaucrats.
We’re Still Here Ya Bastards is available online and at your local bookstore. It’s well worth checking out.
June 3, 2015
This Saturday, I’ll be in the heart of Williamsburg at the 3rd annual edition of Pat Dorian’s Grand Comics Fest. The original plan was for myself and Hang Dai Editions co-founder Seth Kushner to both be at the festival, but as you probably know, Seth tragically passed away less than two weeks ago.
Seth’s presence at Grand Comics Fest (and going forward) will be sorely missed, but his work will be there nonetheless, including his newest comic, Secret Sauce. I’ll try to have Seth’s other comics on hand as well, including Force Field Fotocomix and Schmuck Comix. And there may be some sort of raffle/giveaway to help raise money for Seth’s outstanding medical bills.
As for my own work, I will have copies of The Vagabonds, issues 1-4 (issues 3 & 4 being published through Hang Dai), as well as my books A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, A Few Perfect Hours, and The Influencing Machine. In other words: pretty much everything!
Other cartoonists scheduled to be at the curated show—which is open and free to the public—include such luminaries as Derf, R. Sikoyrak, Kriota Willberg, Jess Ruliffson, James Romberger, Marguerite van Cook, Box Brown, Paper Rocket Comics, and Ink Brick. Come on by!
Grand Comics Fest
Saturday, June 6, 12 noon – 8pm
Bird River Studios
343 Grand Street (corner of Marcy & Havemeyer)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 7, 2015
This coming Monday, May 11, I’ll be in Fort Greene at the wonderful Greenlight Bookstore, discussing Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, by cartoonist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and historian Ari Kelman.
I was given a chance to read an advance copy of the nonfiction graphic novel, and was profoundly impressed. Featuring Fetter-Vorm’s inspired storytelling, delicate line work, and haunting watercolor washes, Battle Lines is a tour-de-force of ground-level storytelling. Each chapter takes a single object and works ever outward, increasing in scope—through salient detail, it brings the epic conflict into focus. Profound and strangely beautiful, in my opinion Battle Lines is the best graphic novel ever produced about the Civil War.
The book came out this week (from Hill & Wang), and the authors will be presenting it to readers at Greenlight “on the big screen” on Monday. I will be there to admire the work and help guide the discussion. Please come by if you can make it; it’s really a special book. Here are the details:
Monday, May 11, 2015, 7:30pm
686 Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217
And here’s the Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/356409167895594/
April 9, 2015
A couple of days ago I wrote about the two comics I’ll be debuting at the MoCCA Art Festival this weekend. I also wanted to mention a work of mine that, depending on how you look at it, is nearly eight years old—A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. (The web version appeared on SMITH in 2007–2008, the hardcover came out in 2009.) Believe it or not, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up this August, and it’s an event whose repercussions continue to resonate. Apparently, the book continues to resonate as well: just this month, I’ll be traveling to Amsterdam to speak about it and some of my other comics reportage at a narrative journalism festival. The week after that I’ll discussing A.D. with students at a college in Boston who’ve been studying it during this school year.
To commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the hurricane, my publisher Pantheon put together a special oversize “Remember Katrina” postcard, and I’ll be signing copies of A.D. at the Pantheon table on Saturday at MoCCA. Look for me from 2-3 pm at table 405.
One more time, here are the MoCCA Fest deets:
MoCCA Arts Festival
April 11–12, 2015, 11am – 6pm
548 W. 22nd St., NYC
April 7, 2015
I’m debuting not one but two new comics at this year’s MoCCA Art Festival, this coming weekend April 11–12!
First off is THE VAGABONDS #4 (my second issue with Hang Dai Editions). This issue serves up a spicy blend of journalism, social commentary, memoir, and literary fiction. The lead piece is a new work of comics reportage called “Crossing the Line,” about profiling at the U.S./Canadian border. I’m also very proud of three collaborations with my wife, writer Sari Wilson (whose debut novel is coming out next year!). Throw in a couple of light-hearted travel tips, and The Vagabonds #4 is chock-full of goodies! The Vagabonds #4 is 24 full-color pages, and is only available for sale directly from me, or from HDE.
The other book I’m debuting is the print edition of Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data. Between social media profiles, browsing histories, discount programs, and new tools controlling our energy use, there’s no escape from Big Data. As we use technology to record (and share) new information about ourselves (such as FitBit health data), what are the questions we should be asking? What is the trade-off between the benefits we gain from sharing data and how that data can be used against us? And what are the technologies that seem invasive today but in five years we’ll unthinkingly accept? How do we keep up with new technology while not letting our data determine who we are? Terms of Service examines the role of technology and the implications of sharing personal information. Our hope is that it is a thought-provoking field guide to help smart people understand how their personal—and often very private—data is collected and used. Co-produced by myself and Al Jazeera America reporter Michael Keller, the 48-page “graphic novel” follows our comics avatars as we learn about such topics as the “Unravelling Theory” and the so-called “Internet of Everything.” Terms of Service debuted online on Al Jazeera America’s website in late October 2014, and is now available for the first time in print. Editor & Publisher calls Terms of Service “funny, informative, and ridiculously readable,” and Panda Daily calls it “smart, breezy, and beautiful.”
So come get signed copies of both new comics from me at MoCCA Fest (at its swanky new location, Center548, just steps from the High Line). And while you’re at it, pick up new books from my HDE partners Dean Haspiel, Gregory Benton, and Seth Kushner (making his triumphant post-leukemia return!). Here’s a lineup of all of HDE’s debut books.
We’ll be at the Hang Dai table (#314, Third Floor, Yellow Zone) both days, April 11 and April 12, from 11am–6pm. (I’ll also have copies of The Vagabonds #1–3, and my other books, should you be looking for those.)
Once again, here at the key details:
MoCCA Arts Festival
April 11–12, 2015, 11am – 6pm
548 W. 22nd St., NYC
February 24, 2015
Two of my biggest heroes when I was a kid were Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. I had posters of them on my wall! I read Douglass’s autobiography a number of times, and I thrilled to the daring exploits of Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
Many of the residents of Oberlin, Ohio, home of my alma mater, Oberlin College, were active in the Underground Railroad in the years before the Civil War. (Ohio borders Kentucky, which, during that period, was a slaveholding state.)
Recently, Oberlin Alumni Magazine commissioned me to illustrate an article about Oberlin’s role in anti-slavery activism. In reading the piece, by J. Brent Morris, and researching the era for my illustrations, I was fascinated to learn that many escaped slaves stayed openly in Oberlin—despite the fugitive slave laws—and became active abolitionists. Here’s a great quote from the article illustrating the fierceness of Oberlinians’ defiance of the “peculiar institution”:
Even though federal marshals and Southern slave catchers seemed a ubiquitous presence in Oberlin, it was nearly impossible to reclaim a free Oberlinite or “fugitive slave” from the town’s protective grasp. . . . Brooklyn abolitionist William Watkins could tell that Oberlin African Americans were “not afraid of the white man.” He noted “a sort of you-touch-me-if-you-dare” attitude about them and would not have been surprised by the security plans of a man like Gus Chambers, who declared that “If any one of those men darkens my door, he is a dead man.” In his blacksmith shop, Chambers always had a hammer and iron bar at the ready for protection, and most often also had a red-hot poker in the fire. Above his door was a loaded double-barrel shotgun, and beside his bed were razor-sharp knives and a pistol. He would never kill a man, he conceded, but clarified that a “man-stealer”
was not fully human. “The man who tries to take my life,” Chambers declared, “loses his own.”
A number of brave former slaves even journeyed back across state lines into Kentucky to recruit slaves to escape back north with them! In a four-panel comic I did for the piece, I show what one hapless U.S. Marshall based in Oberlin was confronted with when he tried to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, from being run off with a shotgun to being beaten with a walking stick, to finally being run out of town by a group of Oberlin citizens. Ha!
I was given my choice of what to draw for a full-page illustration, and there were many amazing anecdotes of Oberlin’s place in abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. But the story I ultimately chose was a key moment in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. In 1858, an escaped slave named John Price was abducted by Southern slave catchers, who intended to bring him back to Kentucky. A large group of Oberlin residents, including many African-Americans, rushed to the nearby town of Wellington, where the slave catchers had holed up in a hotel for the night. In blatant defiance of the “law,” the Oberlin residents forced their way into the hotel and rescued Price.
My illustration shows the aftermath of the rescue, as the joyous crowd of rescuers carry Price out of the hotel on their shoulders. Photos from the era showed many of the Obies who took part, as well as the Wellington hotel itself, all of which I incorporated as best I could into the illustration. I even portray the slave catchers, cowering up in the attic, peeking out the windows as their “prize” is taken away.
It turned out that the Oberlin-Wellingto Rescue was a key moment in the lead-up to the Civil War. Ohio state officials defended the rescuers, despite their flouting federal law (the Fugitive Slave Law), and even tried to repeal the law at the 1859 Republican convention. (Remember, the Republicans were the “good guys” back then!) The resulting attention kept the issue of slavery very much in the public eye right up until secession and the shots fired at Fort Sumter.
Seeing as how it’s Black History Month, I’m proud to share this story, and my visual representation of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, which has rarely been portrayed.
(Thanks to Emily Crawford, the OAM art director, who was so accommodating to work with, and so supportive all along the way. I also want to draw attention to cartoonist Bentley Boyd‘s Oberlin: Origins and Onward! , a comic book history of Oberlin from 1833 to the present.)
February 9, 2015
My mother, Martha Rosler, and I have a new collaboration, in the online art/public service campaign The Art of Saving a Life. Sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the project brings together over 30 “world-renowned musicians, writers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and photographers” to promote vaccinations (particularly in the third world). Some of the other creators involved the project include Annie Leibovitz, Christoph Niemann, Deborah Kelly, Mary Ellen Mark, Mia Farrow, and Yiyun Li. (The project has been covered by, among others, The New York Times.)
My mother’s and my piece, titled “Gift to the World,” tells the story of Jonas Salk and his development of the polio vaccine. The nine panels of the comic float, bubble-like, on the surface of a radiating ripple. As a child of the polio era, this project seemed particularly personal to my mom. We were both moved by Salk’s comment (quoted in the piece), “Who owns the patent to this vaccine? Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” I can safely say that Jonas Salk is one of my mother’s personal heroes.
My mother and I have collaborated on a number of other projects over the years, including a monumental piece about the European debt crisis, a billboard graphic about education & prison spending, and a two-page comic on the Iraq War and Guantanamo. It’s funny, because when I got into the comics game, I figured our two creative worlds would never intersect, what with comics being a “low art” and her career firmly ensconced in the academy. Times have changed! Of course, the subjects of our respective work overlap in some places, particularly our shared interest in real people’s stories. Which is no surprise, as my mother has, through her raising me and through her long career as an artist, shaped my life’s moral compass.
Check out The Art of Saving a Life here. And support vaccination!