Early morning on Monday, October 9, 2017, wildfires burned through Northern California, resulting in 44 fatalities. Author Brian Fies’s firsthand account of this tragic event is an 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.
Shares lesser-broadcast hardships as well as how quickly wildfire victims are expected to process a frenzied cycle of emotions ... But a vulnerable Fies doesn’t grieve alone — the careful accounting here culminates in what’s better described as a work of comics journalism than it is autobiography ... Aesthetically reminiscent of Sarah Glidden’s nonfiction works or Josh Neufeld’s reporting on Hurricane Katrina, A Fire Story utilizes the techniques typically practiced by those working in the comics medium — sequential art, word balloons — to present a rich newsworthy story. Fies’ sparsely embellished but expressive figures don monochrome apparel and populate uncomplicated building interiors. He produces explanatory diagrams about fire science and dissects a county’s flawed emergency response program. An integration of digital photos and satellite imagery of Northern California — while discordant at first, clashing with the otherwise clean lines and minimal illustrative style — beckon us in as observers and news consumers.
... masterly ... Fies uses vivid language and dramatic art to put us inside his shoes ... This is beautiful writing, visceral and deep. The deceptively simple drawings make the horror accessible and clear. The way the story unrolls, from fleeing danger to recognizing the depth of the loss, is dramatic and natural at the same time ... Just the story of the fire and its aftermath would make for a stunning book, but Fies adds layers of depth to the memoir by including other people's stories.
... a perfect storm of a book, an individual graphic memoir that tells the larger story of a community, a comic that is the result of both long years of work and a viral internet sensation ... The urgency in that first iteration of the comic are still there, refined and reshaped for the early parts of the book. The book is cleaner and more polished than those first rushed pages...But thanks to the fact that it is largely grayscale with bright swaths of color, it retains much of the tone that the first version had ... Like a lot of graphic memoirs, Fies keeps his art relatively simple, focusing on shapes and the impressions of things rather than packing in detail that might distract readers from the story he’s telling ... The people he draws are real people, and this is where A Fire Story shines ... There are moments of genuine humor tucked between stories of loss and frustration, in addition to some reporting from Fies that gives a full context of the fires and how they spread (though it feels like it’s missing some background about the root cause of the blaze). It’s a heartfelt, emotional read that has just as much historical and social worth as it does personal value, and a reminder of the best and worst parts of what people can be.