In 2017, cartoonist Brian Fies lost his northern California home in the Calistoga wildfires; in the days after, working with the cheap art supplies he was able to get from a surviving big box store, he drew A Fire Story, a strip about how he and his wife barely managed to escape their home ahead of the blaze, and about life after everything you own (and everything your neighbors own) is reduced to ash and slag. The strip went viral, and in the months after, Fies adapted it into a deeply moving, beautiful book.
The book-length version of "A Fire Story" takes those raw, initial comics and carries them on, through the many traumas and small (but precious) triumphs of life in the aftermath of a catastrophic wildfire, exploring the class-based divisions, the social awkwardness, the love and the sorrow that follows from a great collective disaster.
Fies devotes several pages to prose transcripts of his neighbors' fire stories, and carries on from the fire into the rebuilding project that followed it.
"A Fire Story" has the feel of a touchstone book, something that will only (sadly) gain relevance as more and more of us are displaced by severe weather incidents that take our loved ones and our possessions, wiping away whole neighborhoods. It's exquisitely and subtly told.
I knew Fies's work from his brilliant 2012 graphic memoir, "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, about the futuristic optimism he'd felt when attending the 1964 World's Fair and the much more ambivalent future that actually arrived. As with Whatever Happened?, After the Fire mixes photos and prose with comics, to excellent effect.
After the Fire [Brian Fies/Abrams]
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