Comics are not synonymous with superheroes. American cartoonist Josh Neufeld presents an alternative by telling real life stories through the medium of comics. Presenting his latest work “A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge,” Neufeld introduced a new kind of book at the Townhouse Library on Saturday.
Neufeld’s comics cross into the realm of travelogue and journalism. “A Few Perfect Hours” records his excursions into South East Asia and Central Europe, while “Titans of Finance” is an example of financial journalism documenting tycoons that were “not playing the game fairly.”
Inspired by Joe Sacco, who illustrated Palestinian and Bosnian conflicts through comics, and whom he describes as a “combat journalist,” Neufeld was introduced to the powerful form of “comic journalism.”
Neufeld was a volunteer in the Red Cross when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. A year later came his document of the tragedy in comic form. Following the lives of six survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the stories in “A.D.” were first serialized in SMITH Magazine, where it is freely accessible (smithmag.net/afterthedeluge).
Neufeld finds that “a lot of trust” was invested in him by the people who agreed to have their stories retold in comic form. In turn, while storytelling allows opportunities for “allegorical references and veiled commentary,” Neufeld said he aims to maintain the authenticity of the characters’ lives.
Kwame is one of these. Neufeld begins Kwame’s story with image of a Spiderman who falls face down in the bath water, an image echoing that of a corpse later collected from the flood water.
While Kwame truly had filled the tub in case no running water was available after the hurricane, the Spiderman was a poetic but authentic insertion on the author’s part. Neufeld ensured elements of the story reflected Kwame’s reality — Kwame’s sibling did indeed collect superheroes and played with them in the bathtub.
Details allow the artist to show the story rather than tell it, Neufeld tells Daily News Egypt. He remembers being struck by Abbas’ memory of an “incredible image” of rats that had clambered up trees to escape the flood.
Besides finding “visual hooks” to tell stories, Neufeld also has an empathic connection with some characters. Leo in “A.D.” has a nightmarish vision of losing his comic book collection to the flood.
“You become so attached to your possessions. Each one has a story,” said Neufeld, adding that when losing one, “it feels like a part of you has been lost.”
Water in the comic on the hurricane “has a character of its own,” the author said. “It has menace.”
Neufeld said it was the late Harvey Pekar who “opened my eyes to the potential of comics.” Pekar and David Greenberger “taught me to treasure the strangeness of real life and appreciate the little details of daily existence,” Neufeld says on his website.
Comic book icon Pekar, who passed away in July this year, was best-known for his autobiographical cult series “American Splendor” that documented his daily life in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Starting off with his reminiscences as a curmudgeonly clerk at a hospital with a passion for jazz, Pekar’s later works also featured his comic artists and writers, including Josh Neufeld, as characters in his comics.
“He was so aggravating and so wonderful,” said Neufeld recalling Pekar whom he had known for 15 years.
Around five future series of Pekar’s “American Splendor” are slated to be released posthumously, Neufeld informed Daily News Egypt.
“Making comics is not making rich,” says the artist, who has to invest time more wisely in projects following the release of “A.D.”
Neufeld may have learned his art by tracing characters like Tintin, which he still maintains is a good way to begin. He even once had his own superhero called “Tim” who was a “rip-off of Tintin.” Now, however, Neufeld considers superheroes “childish fantasies.”
Otherwise working with rigorously structured script, facts, and detail, when inspiration strikes Neufeld allows moments of creative fiction to slip in as poetry in his narrative. His characters are drawn from real life, but even in their stories, Spiderman sadly ends up as a collectible floating in a bathtub.
Josh Neufeuld’s next project is a comic book called “The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media.” For more information on the artist, visit http://www.joshcomix.com/.