Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interv. w/ Leo McGovern of Antigravity and A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge

Every Thursday in August, we're trying to put something together about Hurricane Katrina as its 4th anniversary is upon us. First was a review of Zeitoun, then a review of A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge and today an interview with Leo McGovern, editor of Antigravity Magazine and a character in A.D.

Leo McGovern

Even if Leo McGovern was not in a graphic novel about Hurricane Katrina, he'd deserve a nice Q&A on this website anyway. He's consistently put out Antigravity (August ish features The Generationals) for the past five years, a New Orleans music zine/magazine and community resource highlighting what's cool about south Louisiana. His staff in that time has some nice cred, as they've moved on to larger national music mags, regional pubs or to start their own blogs that rhyme with "check light." (That was a full disclosure reference, in case you haven't figured it out).

But Leo is in A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge, the new graphic novel by Josh Neufeld about Hurricane Katrina out now on Pantheon. It's kind of a cool honor for Leo since he's a huge comic book collector. Below, Leo answers a few questions about the book, Antigravity and Hurricane Katrina. Also, the Antigravity website features some before and after photos of Leo's house as well as his full sked of book release fun.

How'd you get connected with Josh Neufeld for this project? Were you already familiar or aware of his previous work?

Shortly after Katrina, my then-fiance and I returned to New Orleans, salvaged what little we could from our Mid-City apartment and then, because my parents' house had very little damage, began a nine-month stay in my childhood bedroom, about fifteen minutes outside of New Orleans. September and October of 2005 were spent helping friends get their houses or businesses in order and, upon the suggestion of a friend, I began a blog to catalog our story and all of the photos we'd take and experiences we had venturing into the city.

In October 2005, I saw, on a comics news website, that Josh Neufeld (whose work I knew from American Splendor and Titans of Finance, a book he drew for Rob Walker, who lived in New Orleans for awhile) was in Biloxi doing a stint with the Red Cross, and he was writing about his experiences on LiveJournal. I read that he and a few Red Cross colleagues were planning a trip to New Orleans, as one of them had a family home he wanted to check on, so I got in touch and offered to act as a tour guide. We actually didn't meet at that time (the opportunity to re-start Antigravity suddenly came up and I was on a pressing deadline while Josh was here), but Josh remembered me when A.D. began development and here we are.

What was the process like for getting him your story? And did you know any of the other featured characters before work began on the web comic?

My part of that process was probably the easiest of all the "characters'", due to all the blogging I'd done. A lot of my story in the book comes directly from what I wrote in September 2005. After Michelle and I agreed to be in the comic, Josh and Larry Smith (whose website SMITH published the first version of A.D. as a serial webcomic) came to New Orleans in early 2007 and interviewed us about specifics, like how we felt about certain personal things appearing in the comic. While he was working on the comic, Josh would call if he had a question or needed reference for something. I imagine the interview process with everyone else was much more in-depth.

I didn't know any of the other "characters" before A.D., though I probably did see Abbas at the Calhoun Superette by chance, never realizing we'd both be featured in the same book.

Do you view the finished version as accurate? Or is it more of a fictionalized tale in the "based on a true story" mold?

I think it's as true as any adaptation of a real-life story can be. One thing about Katrina is you don't have to exaggerate to create emotional tension or to find a story—there are plenty of emotions built in and there's literally a story in every flooded house and in every person who lives in New Orleans. Is it the whole story? There's no way any book or movie could contain the entirety of Katrina, but A.D. succeeds in what it set out to do, and that's expressing the true stories of a variety of real New Orleanians who span gender, class, religion and race.

In reading the comic and the book, in a couple of places your character is saying a couple of foreboding statements, such as about the fate of your comics and asking Michelle if she was packing enough clothes. Were you fairly concerned about Katrina when it was coming? Or did Neufeld take some creative liberties there?

We weren't really worried about it until the weekend! On the 27th, I was still working on finishing the September edition of Antigravity and we didn't decide to leave until later that night (we finally left New Orleans in the early morning of the 28th). We were definitely conflicted as to how bad we thought it'd be, hence the hemming and hawing over how to pack clothes and whatnot. My "Screw it. If it floods, a foot here or there won't make a difference" line is something I specifically remember saying while debating whether or not to stack boxes of comics on a table.

Some piece of me must have known how things would turn out, though, because I took pictures of our apartment before we left—something I'd never done when evacuating for a hurricane. It was pretty surreal when, after we'd gone into our apartment following the flood, we could put the before and after pictures side by side.

What's the weirdest/oddest thing about seeing yourself in a comic & graphic novel?

For some reason, characters awkwardly sweating in indie comics has always been something I've empathized with. It was a great moment when I saw myself sweating in Chapter 1 and though, "Hey, now I'm a sweaty guy in a comic!" It's weird, I admit.

Antigravity just turned 5. Are you doing much differently with the magazine after the storm? How has the magazine's role in the community been any different since Katrina?

Antigravity is doing as well as it ever has. We're not rolling in dough or anything like that, but we can pay our printing bills, pay a small freelance rate (which is something we couldn't do a few years ago) and I can pick up a bar tab every once in awhile. I still have a day job, but quitting that was never really the point anyway. If anything, AG has become even more local-centric since 2005, and also more varied in terms of content. We cover local fashion, comics, new bands, old bands—it's really an exercise at shining a light on artists we care about, regardless of whether they fit in some "editorial mandate." As far as its role in the community, we've expanded our Alternative Media Expo (which features over 100 local artists in a convention-style event), but most importantly we're still publishing, and I hope by sticking around we give many local artists the feeling that they're being acknowledged in a way traditional newspapers and media outlets can't.

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