A Fire Story
This is my favorite kind of graphic novel. It gives the reader an empathetic understanding of an experience that they hopefully will never have to live through themselves, and it does a terrific job conveying the feelings and choices that go along with it. The book shares, directly and immediately, what this felt like. It’s someone else’s thoughts and memories on paper.
Fies and his wife evacuated, not realizing that they would lose everything they left behind. As a collector, the page of “Things I Will Never See Again”, many of sentimental importance, felt like a stab. The whole book is a great antidote for feeling sorry for yourself, as most readers at least have a home.
Fries’ cartoony figures and simple, direct layouts make for a straightforward presentation, which allows the reader to concentrate on the events and the resulting emotions. He’s well suited to this kind of journalistic presentation, but his style is also welcoming to the reader who wants to understand the experience of the events, not be distracted by art for its own sake. The simple images of loss and destruction are affecting enough.
He shows us scenes of the frustration of bureaucracy and moments of surprise shock and emotion, including lessons he learned. He’s also included a few text pages about some neighbors, letting them tell their stories of how they noticed the fire, the choices they made, and what happened to them.
I read the hardcover edition, which came out in 2019. Out in April is the updated and expanded paperback, which adds 32 pages of additional story, “to include updates on the rebuilding, wrestling with insurance, wrangling with contractors, the management of sometimes volatile emotions, and the threats of yet another wildfire.” That paperback, cover price $18.99, can be ordered now from your local comic shop with Diamond code FEB21 0962. The hardcover, cover price $24.99, can also be ordered with code FEB21 0963.