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.
... elegant ... Breakout stories spotlighting some of [Fies'] neighbors deepen the book’s emotional tug ... Fies weighs just what 'home' and 'tradition' really mean when your life has been leveled; piecing together his story reflects the act of reconstructing his existence ... the veteran cartoonist again displays a gift for pacing. Subtly and gradually, Fire Story lures the reader into his trauma, till one feels as keenly vulnerable as its victims.
... full of raw immediacy ... deft cartooning and vulnerable storytelling ... I found the contrast between the grays and the loud, striped accent colors to be distracting and somewhat ineffective. However, Fies’ experience as an artist is evident in the top-notch compositions and facial expressions throughout ... The book’s chronology bounces around a little, but its scenes, where continuous action tells the story, are its best moments. The sequence where Fies first returns to his burned-down neighborhood, feels as powerful as it does in the original webcomic. Similarly, the scene where his family, clad in protective gear, sifts through the charred remains of the house is emotionally potent and well-told. There are several parts that moved me to tears, as you might expect from a narrative about a family in extremis ... while the book is quite a document of Fies’ experience and a good read in the process, I wonder if it accomplishes its own goals ... The book is about 90% personal narrative with little outside context. Fies’ most straightforward effort to bring in outside perspectives is through the inclusion of five 'fire stories' throughout: first-person prose accounts of other fire victims. These sections serve as chapter breaks and read like oral histories. Unfortunately, this is a half measure at best. The stories, without context, become simply anecdotal. The reader has no way to appreciate how relevant these stories are to the larger disaster ... It is also clear that Fies, quite understandably, was still processing his own trauma while writing the book...I wonder if the book may have benefited from another few months of contemplation. At several points, Fies hints at large, systemic problems, including with the insurance industry, climate change and the emergency alert systems. But the book is not equipped to investigate these issues with any depth, as it is primarily focused on the specifics of Fies’ experience ... good memoir and inadequate journalism.
Quietly devastating ... [a] measured, well-researched account. Despite the pain he and his wife endure sifting through the ashes, Fies goes light on sentimentality, instead focusing on the realities of surviving the crisis and rebuilding literally from the ground up. Moving beyond his own experience, Fies shares the 'fire stories' of other Sonomans, illustrating 'the comfort and horror of realizing you’re not alone.' It’s the small details that give the telling weight: the black puddles of liquefied trash cans; the remains of Christmas decorations; how Fies has to tell his car insurer that he no longer has a license plate because the car melted; the search and rescue teams checking bedsprings for human bones. The clean, simple art, tinted in bright spot colors, gives the material breathing room and makes the characters relatable. Without pleading or preaching, this affecting record guides readers through the experience of enormous loss, then out through the other side.
A vividly journalistic graphic narrative of resilience in the face of tragedy, an account of recent history that seems timely as ever ... The matter-of-fact tone of the reportage makes some of the flights of creative imagination seem more extraordinary ... Yet the stories that dominate the narrative are those of the survivors, who were part of the community and would be part of whatever community would be built to take its place across the charred landscape ... Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.