Early in the morning on Monday, October 9, 2017, wildfires burned through Northern California, resulting in 44 fatalities. In addition, 6,200 homes and 8,900 structures and were destroyed. Author Brian Fies’s firsthand account of this tragic event is an honest, unflinching depiction of his personal experiences, including losing his house and every possession he and his wife had that didn’t fit into the back of their car. In the days that followed, as the fires continued to burn through the area, Fies hastily pulled together A Fire Story and posted it online. It immediately went viral. He is now expanding his original web-comic to include environmental insight and the fire stories of his neighbors and others in his community. A Fire Story is an honest account of the wildfires that left homes destroyed, families broken, and a community determined to rebuild.
Brian Fies is a science writer, illustrator, and cartoonist whose widely acclaimed first graphic novel, Mom's Cancer, won the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic (the first web comic to win the award and inaugurate this new category), the Lulu Blooker Prize for Best Comic, the Harvey Award for Best New Talent, and the German Youth Literature Prize, among other awards and recognition. He lives in northern California.
A Fire Story by Brian Fies is a 2019 Harry N. Abrams publication.
This graphic novel depicts Brian Fies’ personal experiences when he lost his home during the 2017 Northern California wildfires.
His Webcomic and subsequent graphic novel has been a cathartic journey as he chronicles the various emotions he and his family felt, in the process of moving forward after such an incredibly difficult loss. He also adds others personal stories into the novel, adding even more poignancy to the devastation. The sense of community is also prevalent as people rose to the occasion to help their families, friends, and neighbors.
Brian’s sense of displacement, his broken- heartedness, and shock, leaps from the pages as does his temerity and the admission that while the process is slow and hard, and the days ahead were long and arduous, he and his family are determined to move forward and rebuild their lives.
My heart truly broke for Brian and the other families and people who shared their stories. Brian did a terrific job conveying his emotions and the way he and others around him dealt with the pain and what steps they had to take in order to move on with their lives.
From a personal standpoint, I have never experienced such a devastating loss. However, while in high school, two good friends of mine lost their homes to fire. It is so hard to comprehend, unless you experience something like that in an up close and personal way, how truly devastating it is to lose every single thing you own. It’s not just the obvious loss of things and stuff, it’s the sentimental loss, and the feeling of disassociation. Rebuilding, even if you have good insurance, even with the promise of a fresh start, just doesn’t offer all that much comfort when all you want to do is go home.
This is a very emotional and powerful story which started as a Webcomic, which is also included in this book. Because this is a graphic novel, and the visuals are of utmost importance within this format, I must admit I wasn’t bowled over by the artwork. The style may have been a statement, in part due to the gravity of the subject matter. The artwork is in black and white and maybe a little too simplistic, but again, but it does capture the essence of the situation, which is what counts at the end of the day. The timeline is also a bit choppy, but not hard to follow and is really a minor complaint. There are also real photos included driving home the reality of damage done by the raging fires.
I recommend this book to everyone, even if graphic novels aren't really your thing. Once the impact hits you, you will most likely feel compelled to count your blessings and will feel grateful for having a roof over your head, a toothbrush, a change of clothes, your personal papers, and a hundred other small things we all take for granted every day.
I was also inspired by Brian’s story, his bravery in sharing his raw emotions with us, and despite his depressing circumstances, his fortitude, his sense of humor, and compassion for others who shared in his loss.
The Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California in mid-October 2017 burned more than 36,000 acres and destroyed more than 5,000 structures and the Fies family home was one of them.
Brian Fies is a science writer and cartoonist whose works Mom’s Cancer (2005) and Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow (2009) I don’t much love, though his first one won a lot of awards. The issue: I’m not a fan of his art, kind of flat and stodgy and cartoony all at once, with rare backgrounds. I had pretty low expectations for A Fire Story (2019) but really came to like it a lot, and was moved by it.
I’ll admit, even as an environmental activist, to a touch of environmental disaster fatigue from time to time (I should say already, because we have so much more ahead of us). I have watched from afar (from the safety of my home in the Midwest) in particular the enfolding tragedy of California with its droughts and raging wildfires of recent years with great sadness and my own responsive rage, but I haven’t paid as close attention to it as I know I should. I am a couple degrees of separation from people who have lost homes, but I had driven through areas that were on fire a couple years ago so I know the Great Burning of the American West coast is real.
But how do you make something real that needs to become real for everyone? Fies knows how, he tells his story, the story of his loss, and he does it well enough to really get to me. This is personal; one man, who happens to be a cartoonist, and his wife, leaving their home one night with a couple bags as the great wall of fire approaches them, expecting to be back within hours. Well, his wife left first with a neighbor, and he stayed through the night fighting the fire until he no longer could.
When they finally let him back in to his neighborhood, days later, “The only things I saw standing were the steel frames of garage doors and fireplaces and chimneys. That’s all I saw left,” Fies said.
“I got to our house, called my wife, [Karen, the Sonoma County Human Services director, who was helping others evacuate], and said, ‘I’m here, and it’s gone.’ She said, ‘All right, be careful and come on back.’ She was just working. She’s since said the work she had to do kept her mind focused on other things,” Fies said.
The art style I was complaining about earlier in this review? Well, screw me; how can I complain about it? In the aftermath, he used what was available to him: "Sharpie pens, highlighters and crummy paper," because Target was the only open store he could find within 20 miles. Yes, all of Fies’ art supplies (in addition to almost everything else they owned, was gone (and in case you are wondering, he did take with him a hard drive with most of his art work on it; artists also sent him supplies from all over the country, too).
In this graphic memoir, I saw that the art style was perfect for the tragedy, a no-nonsense, roll-up-your sleeves approach that allows us to connect to him and his family as humans facing what we have to consider might happen to any of us. And because he's an artist, he looks at what has happened and is happening and he makes art, as with the story of his mother, as artists often do, out of tragedy, but the story is central, not the art. That's just the means he has for him as a cartoonist to tell his story. What do we, each of us, have to express our voices?
And you know, he doesn’t have anything really inspiring to say about “what he learned,” or how he became a better human being. He just shares his story and that is in itself an act of courage, and a gift to those of us who are disaster-fatigued. I’m thankful I had enough compassion and empathy left in me to cry at several points in his narrative. I highly recommend you check it out. I don't know about the future of the environment, I'm not optimistic about that, but this story has hope in it.
This is the original web-comic Fies did in the days after the devastation, which went viral, and which I watched and shared, November 3, 2017:
In the wee hours of the morning on October 9, 2017, the electricity in the home of Brian and Karen Fies went out. Karen Fies snapped awake, smelled smoke, and walked to the bedroom window. There she saw smoke blowing sideways "like fog," and the sky glowing orange. Neither she nor her husband had received alerts telling them to evacuate, but they didn't need any to know they needed to get out as fast as possible. They grabbed a few cherished items but not all; they assumed they were leaving only as a precaution and would be back.
About one hour after the Fieses evacuated, what was known as the "Tubbs Fire" ravaged their neighborhood. As Brian Fies said in the afterword of this sad graphic novel, "It took the firestorm less than six hours to scour a good-sized subdivision from the planet." Photos he snapped immediately afterward show heaps of ash where houses had been.
Fies is a professional cartoonist who began crafting A Fire Story as a web comic on his blog in the days immediately following his evacuation. (He included this early version at the end, and it's neat to compare that rough version to this finished one.) Readers of the web comic clamored for more. A Fire Story the graphic novel was born.
Seeing Fies's photos and reading that the "napalm tsunami," as he put it, devoured "a football field of land every three seconds," I felt despondent but also felt something contradictory: awe-struck by the incredible destructive force and power of fire. At one point, Fies said something along the same lines--that in a weird way, the fire was beautiful.
This graphic novel isn't just about the fire and its destruction, however. Fies talked about how he and his wife managed in the days and weeks after evacuation. He showed the physical surviving but also the psychological--how emotions are all over the board in the face of such massive loss. I imagine one of the hardest things for the mind to accept is the finality of it all. Fies and his wife were in denial when they hastily grabbed this and that on their way out, truly thinking they'd be able to return to their house, that it was "just a drill." They were impressively thorough in the important things they did grab, but they lost so much.
I love Fies's artistic style. Aside from the fact that his illustrations are just plain fantastic, they're uncluttered, clean, and highlight just the right things to bring this horrible story to life. I also liked that he included four "fire stories" of friends or neighbors to show that everyone's fire story is unique, with varying challenges and close calls. My heart breaks for all victims.
I think A Fire Story will be a comfort to many in Fies's same circumstance, and it definitely was an education for me, someone who hasn't experienced what he did. The graphic novel format is perfect, as images (both drawn and photographic) are necessary to deliver full impact. Simple words aren't enough; this needs to be seen.
I won this on Fantasy Literature. com! A very special Thank you to the author Brian Fies!
I don't read a lot of Graphic Novels, A Fire Story is I believe the 4th Graphic Novel I've read. The first 3 were the March series which is a non fiction Graphic Novel about the life of civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. I haven't read a fiction Graphic Novel yet but at some point I hope too.
I hadn't planned on reading A Fire Story just yet but last week I fell into a reading slump. I didn't even pick up a book for 3 days ( Thursday, Friday & Saturday) and I only finished 1 book. I really needed something to get my reading juices flowing, so I thought what better way than to read a book with minimal words.
At 1:30 am on Monday, October 9, 2017 Brian and his wife awoke to the smell of smoke and a glowing sky. They packed a few things always expecting to return and fled to their daughters house. The next day they learned that their house and everything in it was burned to the ground. A lifetime of memories destroyed in minutes.
This book gave me anxiety. I have a lifelong fear of fire. I've been convinced since I was a child that I would die in a fire or drown. So this book was super triggering but you guys should know by now that I love being triggered(I'm not normal).
Brian Fies began illustrating this within days of losing everything. I don't know how he did it. I would have been balled up in a corner somewhere. I had never heard of Brian Fies before but I'm very interested in reading his backlist.
A Fire Story is a brutally honest and hopeful account of how to pick go the pieces after your life has been completely changed.
I would recommend A Fire Story to Graphic Novel readers and non Graphic Novel readers alike.
Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and hopeful. A narrative tale about the 2017 Northern California wildfires told by an artist who lost his home in the fire. Fies really draws you in with his retelling of what happened to his house and the struggle to find a new place to live. I think that's one of the things those of us who have never lived through this kind of tragedy forget. This will affect them for years to come. They have to find an immediate place to live and even simple things such as clothes or a toothbrush. Then they have to find a place to rent until they find out what is going to happen. Eventually they'll be able to sift through the rubble to see if anything survived. Then the process of dealing with the insurance and rebuilding the house begins. Fies really hits home with how long this will affect their lives. I do like how Fies incorporates a dark sense of humor into the book. The illustrations are great. I like his style. All things considered, there's no reason why you shouldn't buy this book.
Received a review copy from Abrams ComicArt and Edelweiss. All thoughts are my own and in no way influenced by the aforementioned.
The author of this book lost his home in the California wildfire of 2017. This graphic memoir tells that story. The artwork was incredible. The story felt personal detailing all the trauma of losing one’s possessions. Having experienced two hurricanes, one of which was extremely devastating, I could relate to much of that.
Wow. If you're looking for a powerful graphic novel to read, this is the one.
The 2017 fires in Northern California were absolutely devastating. I live in San Francisco, and while the fires themselves never came close to our city, the air was full of smoke for weeks -- schools ending up closing, people were warned to stay inside and to wear masks while outside, and everyone had headaches and coughs from the lousy air quality. But of course, this is nothing compared to the suffering of those who perished as well as the thousands of people who lost their homes.
Author Brian Fies lived through it. A Fire Story is his memoir of the fire, starting with him and his wife waking up to red skies and the smell of smoke, grabbing a few items on their way out the door, and evacuating along with all of their neighbors -- then returning the next morning to find that the entire neighborhood was just gone.
The author initially drew/wrote some of these pages in the moment, using sharpies and a pad of paper, to capture and process the experience as it unfolded. From the book's notes, I understand that these images were initially shared online and went viral. He's now expanded from the initial drawings to convey a more encompassing picture of what he and others went through. Sprinkled throughout are the "fire stories" of others who lost their homes, how they dealt with their losses, and how they're still dealing with rebuilding and recovering. This is incredible stuff, truly.
Brian Fies shares his own experiences with candor and grace, and even some humor, as well as conveying the bigger picture of the reasons for the calamity and the scope of the loss -- and manages to keep a focus on the human impact that can be lost when dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. We may hear about thousands of people losing their homes, but as the author points out in this excellent book, each of those thousands has a unique, individual story to tell.
I live in earthquake and fire country. I have lived through three major earthquakes. I have not, as yet, had to live through a fire storm.
I thought, because i read Brian's original post, that he made during the firestorms of Santa Rosa, in 2017, that I would have read all he had to say. I wanted to read this full book, to see if there was more. I started reading it, when I should have been working, and could not put it down.
It is raw, it is in the moment, it is very moving.
This is a view of escaping the fire by freeway.
How the fire affected everyone.
What they found in the debris.
And how it felt.
How does it feel to have lost everything. Your home is gone. All the things you have gathered through the years. And not just you, but your neighborhood. Your friends. Your neighbors.
Well written. Sad. Funny. Good book to document what this sort of disaster is like for those who survive.
Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
I have lived through a few things. I have been robbed, my house has caught fire (twice), and I very nearly floated my car in a flash flood. I had to drive on the wrong side of the road and got swept sideways. I have not yet, thankfully, lived through a firestorm and the aftermath. Brian Fies has, however. A Fire Story is a memoir of the experience, pain, fear, regret, and most importantly...hope. His family lost everything. Everything...from pencil to pillar when the Northern California wildfires of 2017 blew through his home and swept away everything but their lives.
A Fire Story is the real world experience of famous Eisner award-winning comic artist and writer, Brian Fies. It starts with the initial smell of a fire, no alarms rang or phones went off. Just the smell of fire and a burning light out in the distance. Then the escape with his family, his dog and cat, and what few belongings he could remember at the moment. Next, is recovery. Being a nomad, the shock and fear of displacement on his animals and how his family rallied together to help them. He talks of starting over, moving on, and trying to rebuild a home both literally and figuratively.
This is a powerful memoir. It makes you stop for a moment, and think about what is truly important. What would you grab? What would you be ok with losing? How do you move on? Graphically, the panels are simply done. Purposefully, not even fully rendered to give the feeling of incompleteness. Even in his use of simplified panels, never think for a moment that emotion, a sense of place and timing are not conveyed. Fies conveys it all and there is a reason why he has won so many awards in the past.
This is a testament to his work as a writer and worth the read.
A straightforward, effective reminder that the destructive power of the natural disasters we see on our screens echoes far beyond the physical damage to structures and property. Even for those like Brian Fies who escape with their lives and health, the aftermath can be a slow and arduous process of recovery and rebuilding.
I am too close to the incidents of this book to be unbiased about it. The 2017 California fires didn't take my home, but came within less than 10 miles or so of us. I had a friend who had been evacuated staying on my couch, and a go-bag packed on my floor for a week. I had met the author, Brian Fies, before the fires and I read his original comic online the day he posted it. If you want to know more about this natural disaster, I highly recommend this book. It's clear, direct, and honest. There are a few dense text pages which tell the experiences of others, and other lighter comic sections which share moments of grim humor found a midst the disaster. Brian Fies has a real talent for this kind of work, and I am glad he chose to use his skills to document this story.
Brian Fies lost his home in the California wildfires of 2017. This graphic novel is the story of that night, as well as the months that followed. What do you do when, not just your house, but your entire neighborhood burns to the ground? How do you begin the process of rebuilding? By telling his story, as well as those of others affected by the fires, Fies gives us a glimpse of people coping with massive tragedy, and of the resilience of the human spirit.
Actually, that oversimplifies the emotions involved. As always, reality is more complex and nuanced than fiction. Fies himself states towards the end of the book, “People seem to want a story with uplift and closure, but I have no uplift to give, and anyone who says ‘closure’ around me may get a punch in the nose.” Stories are told, but sweeping generalizations about Life and the Human Spirit are discouraged.
At the end of this book, Fies includes his original webcomic drawn in the days immediately following the fire. As he explains, this shorter version of the story served as a rough draft that was reworked and greatly expanded to produce A Fire Story. It's a fascinating look at an aspect of the creative process that readers don't often get to see.
This is an excellent book, well worth reading. Recommended!
There's a reason that Fies' original comic about the devastating Northern California fires went viral. This longer form version is just as good, and expands beyond Fies' experience to interludes about some of his neighbors. His amiable drawing style made it easier to read about the heartbreak and trauma of the fires.
Heartfelt memoir about losing your home in the worst wildfire in decades. A Fire Story is sad but ultimately uplifting.
Multiple fires merged into a Northern California firestorm of epic proportions. The resulting burn area was the size of 15 Manhattans. Entire neighborhoods burned to the ground overnight. Warnings were mishandled so many survivors had virtually no time to take any belongings. Others didn’t escape in time.
The author, a graphic memoirist, uses his craft to document, in real time, the horrific experience of losing your home and all your stuff in a split second. While he is grateful his family is safe, he states, “Well-meaning people say, ‘It’s just stuff.’ But it’s our stuff. Stuff we created. Stuff we treasured. Stuff from our ancestors we wanted our descendants to have. Stuff is a marker of time and memory. It’s roots.”
Wow, A Fire Story is so real! It throws the reader into a situation that, luckily, few will experience. It will make you appreciate your own stuff more. For myself, I live in a fire-prone area. We’ve been across the street, literally, from two major fires in two different homes and subject to voluntary evacuation orders. I have a bug-out bag of my family pictures and heirlooms ready to go. Are you ready?
If you have been toying with prepping for disaster as a New Year’s resolution, A Fire Story is an excellent shove in that direction. But it is also an exceptional look at human resilience and resourcefulness. I can’t recommend it highly enough. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Abrams ComicArts, and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
I live close enough to the California wildfires to be affected by the smoke, but haven't given a lot of thought to the people who lose their homes and possessions. The breadth and magnitude of the destruction is impressive, but it's kind of like that saying about deaths, one is a tragedy and a million is a statistic. Fies brings a close and personal perspective allowing an insight into a visceral experience of the loss. He shares his family's story but also that of community members and their various responses. The emotional swings of terror, anger, grief, gratitude, and yes. humor make this make this very relatable. The graphics only make the story more powerful- for example there's a drawing of a hole representing a catastrophe where some are getting sucked in, most treading hard, and some flung suddenly away, wondered about. but never seen again. I'll search out more by this author.
The fires in California dominated the news for such a long time, but in such a distant way. And this book puts it front and center in the way that reading New York Times accounts on the East Coast can never do. Most of my graphic novel reading tends to be fiction but this was a real story of a real person, a cartoonist and an artist who got directly affected by the fires, who got rendered homeless by the fires. And I must say based on this book, graphic memoirs are really enjoyable. It wasn’t an easy book to read, because it was so sad. But the style of the art was so bright and fun with so much color, it provided a nice counterbalance to the tragic themes. The book traced the author’s own journey from the night the fires came to the eventual rebuilding, but it’s the time in between spent trying to adjust to the new reality, to cope with the disintegration of a lifetime of accumulated memories and treasured possessions, that’s the heaviest aspect. They say things we own own us and I believe that, but also in a way our possessions are integral to who we are, we can be simultaneously weighted down and elevated by our beloved things, because they are so imbued with meaning and values to us. There’s an inherent trauma and a certain unmooring associated with suddenly finding oneself without. And this book did a terrific job of conveying that, it’s all there beneath the facts and statistics, and it’s really tragic. The book mainly follows the author and his family, but there are text asides that give accounts of other real people affected by the fires in their own words, each story its own tragedy. Somehow it isn’t all hopeless (must be the bright colors), just really sad. What really did it for me was the sort of immediacy with which the story was conveyed, the way it did away with any remove of being just another story on the news and made it real, made you think and fear and care. The author did a great job with all that and one can only hope this book sells tons of copies and helps the author rebuild or, in a way, build a new life. Lovely book. Recommended.
First off, thank you to Abrams Books for my ARC of this wonderful book.
This was my first time reading a graphic novel. While I did not get the full color experience of the final print, I still felt the power of the words and drawings throughout my uncorrected proof.
I was deeply touched by this profound look at the effect of the wildfires and the impact of loss of Brian Fies and his family. I feel that the author did an excellent job demonstrating the chaos, confusion, and overwhelming grief of this disaster.
I really liked that Fies didn’t just make this story about him, although I would have still loved it if that had been the case. He included other people’s stories. He provided an outlet and a voice to those who I would, otherwise, know nothing about.
From afar, I know that these fires cause great tragedy as they consume homes and lives. But this book really helped me comprehend the depth of trauma each individual faces when this type of devastation strikes.
A Fire Story is a beautifully written story of loss with a glimmer of new beginnings. The author captured the emotional impact so vividly and I am thoroughly impressed with his work.
This is a very well-researched, approachable, yet emotional account of the Oct 2017 California wildfires that took thousands of peoples' homes and livelihoods, as well as the lives of 44 individuals. Fies gives an account of both his family's loss of their home, and how that affected them, as well as stories of neighbors and friends who lost their homes. Fies' storytelling is empathetic and well-researched, making it easy for the reader to step into the shoes of fire victims and get a better understanding for what it felt like to have everything taken from you in only a couple of hours. Losing all of your possessions, memories, family heirlooms, and even small household items is unimaginable to me, but Fies' writing made it all the more real.
I would recommend this if you're at all interested in learning more about the 2017 wildfires, or interested in visual reporting. While Fies' art style isn't my favorite, the brilliance of his story shined through and made this a valuable read.
On October 9, 2017 Brian Fies and his wife fled their house after wildfires ripped through their Northern California neighborhood. The fire consumed 8,900 buildings, including 6,200 homes, and killed 44 people through eight counties. The Fies fled with a few belongings and their dog and cat figuring they'll return. To his shock, the fire destroyed their home losing everything. The graphic book chronicles their loss and the steps taken to rebuild their lives. What does it feel like to have lost not only your home, but every home you lived in as an adult, the family movies, holiday decorations, family heirlooms, and so much more? Everything is new now. He features several other survivors' stories. He wrote this first as a blog right after the fire to share his experiences.
A heartbreaking, but also hopeful, memoir of losing all of your physical possessions and having to start over from literally nothing. Based on a short webcomic Fies did in the days immediately following the loss of his home in the wildfires that devastated Northern California in 2017 and interspersed with the stories of other victims, A Fire Story is a snapshot of a time, a place, a community but it is also a universal story of human fear, frustration and fortitude in the face of disaster.
Santa Rosa has a special place in my heart, because I spent 3-4 years in that area growing up. So reading about the 2017 fire was a little more interesting and personal. I loved the format of this book- it's a graphic novel with a good amount of text, so you still get the satisfaction of reading a book, but you also get pictures. I hope I can make something like it someday. :) Fies did a great job going into detail about what it's like to lose your home and belongings, how it feels and what it takes to rebuild your life after that. I'd highly recommend this.
A Fire Story was a heartbreaking and touching read complete with real photographs from the damage and aftermath, as well as accounts of the fire and people's lives afterwards from the authors neighbours and friends. The illustrations were fantastic and the narrative was really well done and felt like it didn't leave any details out. I thought this was very well done and despite the dreadful circumstances, I enjoyed reading this.
Being in my natural disaster-free, Midwestern bubble, I had no concept of how urgent and upending living amongst wildfires could be. This graphic novel popped that bubble with the authors real life experience of losing his home in a single hellish hour. I laughed more than I expected from a book about loss. The author perfectly showed the absurdity of what it takes to get through a tragedy.
Fire is one of my biggest fears. I have lost family to fires, so it was a hard subject to read about. It took me a few days to read this and almost every time it brought tears to my eyes. I commend the author and artist for turning this horrifying situation into a work of art that hopefully more people will notice.
I thought the author made a good point about how even though our stuff is just “stuff”, our stuff is also a part of us and is hard to lose forever. His anger, sadness, and humor about the situation felt real. I liked that he went into detail about things people might not think about during these tragedies, such as all of the things you still have to do, like cancelling services to a house no longer standing.
The illustrations went well with the story, especially with the pops of color among grayscale drawings. As an artist myself, I ache in sympathy for all of the drawings, art, and awards that are lost forever. I know losing creative things can be like losing a part of your soul.
I liked that it wasn’t just his story, either; he also let some of his neighbors tell theirs. The stories especially had me tearing up at how much was lost and how difficult it made all of their lives. Fire will always be a scary thing for me and reading this made it even more so. I have begun to prepare for it a little more than I used to thanks to reading this, like having sentimental items ready to grab in case there was warning.
These fires are definitely an American tragedy that aren’t talked about nor explored as much as they probably should be. This wasn’t an enjoyable read but an important one—I’m glad I read it. The idea of using a graphic novel to show the aspects of this also worked really well. I especially liked seeing the photos of what was left behind.
The ambiance for reading this book today was eerie. Over the past few days, the AQI for my current city has been well over "healthy" levels, as we all breathe in the lingering smoke of another lost community (Greenville, CA). Northern California's most tragic tradition is its yearly catastrophic wildfires—only a year past this novel's events, the Camp Fire will demolish another community and take 85 people's lives with it.
In Fies' stunning graphic novel, he explores what it means to loose an entire community as its events unfold.
This novel felt too personal and a little too close to home for me; however, it's well worth the read. And maybe a reread.
Loved the art and the storytelling. The graphic novel style captured the distress and the rebuilding well. This fire happened in my parents-in-law neighborhood (before I knew them) so it’s given me a greater perspective on their experience.
A Fire Story by creator Brian Fies is an autobiographical look into trauma caused by natural disaster, a personal torment caused by the wildfires that struck California in 2017. Through a simple cartooning style with bold inks and marker colors and pictures and full pages of descriptive text, Fies weaves the tale of his nuclear family and neighbors into a tragedy with an ultimately hopeful outlook as people take on the frustrating challenge of building a life after it was all burned down.
This is an unflinching and painful meditation on the human spirit, showing all the emotional nuance of any classic story. Fies takes the reader into his life and his thoughts step by step, beginning in the middle of the night and continuing into the escape and the days and weeks that followed, showing a microscopic look that expands to encompass a much wider picture, providing not just the details of his own life but also presenting research on the greater destruction and showcasing the stories of individual neighbors also affected by the series of blazes.
The graphic novel is superbly organized, and the individual panels of each page convey enormous amounts of detail without feeling cluttered. The pacing is excellent, and never does a scene or plot point linger longer than necessary.
The art depicts the characters and settings without excessive detail, making them seem like universal symbols that can carry the combined weight of everyone who has been in similar situations and felt such an extreme state of loss. Looking at these pages, there are little elements to distract away from being put into their shoes.
This is not an easy read. It demands full attention and makes the torment and spots of strange humor felt, and the humanity of this saga is palpable and right in front, unavoidable.
“Monday night, a blaze that began near Calistoga caught 60 mph easterlies. A flaming front swept down the creek and broke over the hills like a napalm tsunami, devouring a football field of land every three seconds.”
This is some nice, clean art work, with some really clever touches tucked in here and there. The colouring is fresh, immediate and lively, reminding me of the flavours you would find in a packet of Starburst. The text is sharp, powerful and is laden with some lovely description.
“Enormous masses of hot air moving at hurricane speed raised a hoarse, whispered roar, punctuated by the muffled cracks and thumps of distant explosions.”
The scenes where he first returns to his destroyed street are hauntingly beautiful in the way he juxtaposes the horror he encounters with such lovely description. The addition of real photographs and real-life personal accounts, brings another layer of horror and impact. Fies is a name I have never come across before, but I look forward to reading more of his work in the near future.
“All in all, the fire-storms claimed about 350 square miles (910 square kilometres). It’s a big number that by itself means nothing. It’s about fifteen Manhattans. Seven and a half San Franciscos. One and a half Chicagos. One third of Rhode Island.”