Tagged: Non-Fiction

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams by Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred

“Rayguns?” That’s important enough to make the title? Stardust, sure, though more in the Ziggy sense than the “we are all” sense. And Moonage Daydreams, why of course. But why rayguns?

If I had been the editor of this book, I would have asked, “Why not “Starmen?” Or maybe “Pretty Things.” Even “Space Oddities,” though that would be a bit on-the-nose.

(Note: I am pretty sure my willingness to ask dumb questions was not instrumental in being cast out of the world of Sfnal Editorial work. Pretty sure. Yeah.)

But that’s the title we have, even though (he said, hitting the tedious point for the last time, he promises) there are no rayguns in this book. Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams . A biographical graphic novel about the chap born David Jones, but better known under his stage name. Primarily focused on the creation of and tour following the The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars record from 1972.

(And, frankly, I’m pretty sure someone, at some time during the creation of this book, lamented that the perfect title had already been taken, by that album. And maybe someone toyed with the idea of re-using the title.)

It’s drawn by Michael Allred and colored by Laura Allred. The script seems to be, from M. Allred’s afterword, mostly by Steve Horton

, working from an Allred outline and list of important story beats, and then extensively worked over by both of them. (Horton did a lot of work, definitely, even if the art is all Allred and the words are at least somewhat Allred.)

It opens on the last night of the Ziggy tour, in 1973, in London. That’s our frame: it leaps back to show Bowie’s early career up to that point, in at least sketchy form. Unlike a lot of biographical stories, it doesn’t get into childhood at all: there’s a montage of David Jones At Various Youthful Ages on the first page, but that’s literally it. Instead, it’s all career: what he recorded when, who he worked with, who he knew and bounced off in London in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Horton and Allred get a bit name-dropp-y with that, frankly, as they try to show that Bowie was the center of everything and influential on everyone and the best musician of any kind ever. I mean, I get that they love Bowie and especially this period: you don’t spend months or years on a project like this without that level of love. But a bit of context goes a long way, and a bit of idol-worship is more than enough.

It’s also all more than a little compressed: Horton and Allred are huge fans, so they’re trying to get every last moment and idea in that they can, and the book comes across a bit staccato because of that. If you are a huge Bowie fan, that will be great: you don’t need context, and it gives you more recognizable moments and ideas. For those of us who are more vaguely Bowie-positive, it’s a flood of panels, many of which seems to be heading off in different directions to tell us something else.

Allred also drops into phantasmagoria a few times, in what may be meant to be chapter breaks and an extended visual overview of Bowie’s later career at the end. These are wordless pages, crammed with images, most but not quite all of them images of Bowie in various guises and stages of his career. They are gorgeous and impressive and stunning, but not really comics, since they deliberately don’t tell any story.

All in all, this is a book that is better the more of a Bowie fan you are. Not a fan at all: you will be bored and confused. Enjoy his music: it will be pleasant and enjoyable, though maybe a little much. Huge Ziggy-era stan: you will love it, though probably also find things to nitpick, because stans must always stan.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation by Natalie Nourigat

The ecosystem of graphic novels is still proliferating – it might not have quite as many niches as pure-prose books do, but it’s getting there. We may see a day where any kind of book that exists in prose also exists in graphic form.

I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation  is a great example: I don’t think a book like this would have existed twenty years ago, and definitely not thirty. The title explains it perfectly: Natalie Nourigat [1] was a freelance artist and cartoonist in Portland (Oregon), and wanted a more stable career that used her art skills. So she researched the animation world, set her sights on a story artist job, eventually got one in LA, and created this book a few years later to describe the whole deal – job, move, career, LA, industry.

Books like that have been around in prose for a hundred years or more – some are personal, like Nourigat’s, and some are more general (How You Can Get a Job in Insurance in Hartford!). Nourigat is writing about an art career and speaking to other artists, though, so the graphic form works very well: she can convey not just the facts

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, but how she feels about LA and the animation industry through the body language and expressions of her avatar in the book, and her audience can see her examples of what storyboards look like and how they differ from comics.

This is a fairly dense book: it’s just under a hundred pages, but Nourigat uses a heavily captioned style to get in a lot of details and explanations. She has an upbeat, positive tone throughout, though she does also talk honestly about the downsides of LA life (heat, car culture, expense, a spread-out landscape that makes it more difficult to connect with people). The book mixes her personal story with more general information, though it’s almost all based in her personal experience – she did interview a group of other artists, though, and includes their thoughts, each as a separate three-page section, at the end.

Moved to LA is broken up into many shorter chapters on different aspects of her story and life in LA: perks, the moving itself, the job hunt, pros and cons of LA life, tips on getting a job, general questions – and she has running titles on her pages (I don’t think I’ve ever seen in this in a graphic novel before) to show which section you’re in, so it’s useful to leaf through and find specific advice.

I, personally, can’t draw. I’m also one of the Olds, deeply into a second non-art career, and firmly stuck on the other side of the country. So I can take no advice from this book myself – but I did enjoy Nourigat’s look at what her journey was like, and what it could be like for others who want to do something similar. It’s exciting to see that kind of energy and enthusiasm, especially when it’s aimed at making good stories and art.

So I recommend this primarily to people who might want to work in animation and/or move to LA. And maybe secondarily to people in other art-related fields, as a reality check about how their industries and locations work and compare.

[1] She does not present any credentials for her expertise other than the obvious “I got a job doing this, and I have kept that job and love it” one. She does talk about the differences between movie and TV animation (and that she’s on the movie side), but never says what studios she does or has worked for. But I see from her website that she’s not just an individual-contributor storyboard artist, but currently Head of Story on an upcoming movie and her whole career to date has been at Walt Disney Features Animation – which is kind of a big deal, and a major “take this person seriously” credential.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Save It For Later by Nate Powell

The personal is political. It always was, and always will be. When someone’s identity is a reason to suppress or attack them, from “will not replace us” to bathroom bills, it’s never just personal. 

There’s a meme I’ve seen a number of times, about what is political – that arguments about taxes and land development and budgets are, but arguments about whether someone should be allowed to live are not. I want to agree with that, but, in the real world, arguments about people’s lives and existence are aligned with partisan politics. The people trying to de-humanize huge swaths of humanity know what they’re doing, and aren’t going to stop because the other side makes clever memes.

Nate Powell understands all of that. (Better than I do, I expect.) His 2021 book Save It For Later  is explicitly about confronting the rising tide of fascism, authoritarianism, leader-principle, and white nationalism in the USA, placing those concerns in a parenting context: how do you talk to your children about fascists? How do you think about fascists to focus on what you can do, especially as one family in a deep-red state? And how do you survive when you’re surrounded by horrible, mean, vindictive people? (Who may not actually be fascists themselves, but are perfectly happy in their smug self-satisfaction to sign up for every last fascist ideal.)

My children were much older at the 2016 election: eighteen and fifteen. I was lucky: I didn’t need to explain that this was bad, that, as Powell put it, “the bad guy won.” Powell seems to have two kids like I do, but they were much younger – I think the older one was five on that horrible night. So the parenting piece was much larger for him.

He’d also just come off a big non-fiction graphic novel series with Congressman John Lewis, explicitly about protest and fighting against white supremacy. It’s called March: you may have heard of it. So this was important to Powell, and central to how he saw his life and work, in a way that it isn’t for most Americans.

Save It For Later collects seven essays in comics form, all on that same cluster of topics, created during 2019 and 2020. I’ve seen at least one of them before – I think on The Nib – so it’s possible they all appeared elsewhere first. But they clearly were designed to work together; they circle the same concerns and thoughts in a consistent way.

I’ve always loved Powell’s work, since I first saw his magisterial fiction graphic novel Swallow Me Whole. He particularly has a knack for black-background pages, with hand-lettered white type and splashes of light color for vignettes of activity. His comics pages often seem to be on the verge of apocalypse, personal or societal – that darkness sweeping in and inundating the pages, his energetic lettering, especially on sound effects, the tone of concern and fear and distress.

This is a book for an immediate moment. I hope it will seem strident or ridiculous in five years. (I bet Powell would, too.) It probably won’t, though: fascism doesn’t go away that quickly or that easily, and the “will not replace us” crowd is loud and central and has captured most of one of America’s major parties. What any one person can do during that moment is small and feels inadequate: vote, speak up, model good behavior, deflect as much anger from more vulnerable people as you can. And, most of all, think about those vulnerable people first: who are the fascists trying to hurt? How can you help to foil or counter or even just slow down those efforts?

Because the fascists are always out there. And they’re always focused on hurting people.

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Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Invisible Differences by Mademoiselle Caroline and Julie Dachez

I tagged this as “non-fiction” and “memoir,” but it’s isn’t, exactly. This is the story of Marguerite, a twenty-seven-year-old French woman who gets diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s written by Julie Dachez, who is now thirty-six and who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2012.

So the reader’s assumption is that Marguerite has been constructed to be somewhat different from the real Dachez. Some details are not what actually happened to Dachez, for whatever reason, and those changes were large enough that she changed the name of the central character, while still presenting it all as “my story” (though “my” here tends to attach to Marguerite).

That’s Invisible Differences , a graphic novel published in 2016 in France and translated by Edward Gauvin for a 2020 English-language publication. Well, actually, I’m still simplifying. I originally thought Mademoiselle Caroline was purely the artist, but the book itself makes it clear that she also adapted Dachez’s script – maybe it wasn’t quite in comics-panel form to begin with, maybe it was but Caroline made changes for better panel flow and readability, maybe some other complicated working relationship to end up with these finished pages.

So it was written by Dachez and Caroline, to some degree. It’s the story of Dachez, to some degree. It’s accurate and realistic, but maybe not “true” in the purest sense of that word.

I know that people on the autism spectrum are often concerned with little details like that, which is one reason I go into such detail here. (The other is that I am concerned with those details, and fascinated by them, even though I’m not on that spectrum.)

Since I’m American, I’m used to seeing the competing “America is better than anyone in the world at X!” and “America is totally horrible at Y, unlike these other countries!” arguments. Invisible Differences is partially the same sort of thing applied to France. As Dachez and Caroline present it, Freudian psychotherapy still rules mental health in France, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is underdiagnosed and undertreated, particularly in women. There’s an extensive section of notes at the end about what Autism is and how it’s treated in France, which could be helpful to people newly diagnosed and their families and friends. 

I’m happy to note that my own son (diagnosed as various things on the spectrum in his first decade-and-a-half before the ASM-5 consolidated it all into ASD in 2013) had good support and care; it’s rare to see some health-care thing that the USA actually does better than an EU country. This is more a book for people getting this diagnosis in adulthood, or maybe adolescence, than the typical US timing of early childhood.

There isn’t a whole lot of “story” here; it’s about who Marguerite is, how she learns there’s a label and an explanation for some parts of her life that have caused her friction and anxiety, and how she transforms her life to align with what she learns and what she decides she wants to do with her new knowledge. It’s a profound journey for her: she was unhappy in really central ways that she doesn’t seem to have even thought were able to be changed until her diagnosis.

I’m going to see if my on-the-spectrum son is interested in this book; if he does read it and tells me anything, I may add notes here or later. But, for now, and speaking purely as someone who knows a person on the spectrum, this is a thoughtful, honest book that I think will be great for ASD-diagnosed people, particularly those coming to the diagnosis later in life.

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Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

No one’s story is as smooth and clear as it looks from outside. It might seem like someone has had only success after success, rising quickly, winning awards and conquering worlds at a young age. But you’d have to ask that person what it was really like.

The Fire Never Goes Ou t is a “what it was really like” book, covering roughly the past decade in Noelle Stevenson’s life. That was a decade where she went through art school in Baltimore, was discovered by an Internet audience, got a literary agent and a book deal, published a graphic novel that was a bestseller and an Eisner winner and a finalist for real-world literary awards too, graduated and got jobs writing and producing in Hollywood, was showrunner for an acclaimed popular TV show, fell in love and got married.

The comics collected here are about what that all felt like to Stevenson, how she was driven and tormented and felt like she was both on fire and had a hole straight through her body. (Comics are an ideal medium for this kind of personal reflection: Stevenson can just draw herself the way she feels

, burning or covered with spikes or with a gaping hole in her chest, talking with her younger self or changing looks and style from drawing to drawing. And she does: she makes great use of the freedom comics gives her.) From the outside, it looks great: that rising arc of a career and life that we all think our twenties will be or should have been. From the inside…my guess is that Stevenson was both driven by her passions and demons to achieve what she did, and that those passions and demons made it all much harder and the crashes worse than it would otherwise have been.

But she did get through it: this is the story of getting through it. Assembled from the comics she made at the time, starting in 2011 in that first year of art school and running through her marriage in 2019. Much of the book is made up of long year-end posts she did – I’m not sure what social platform, or if they’re still available there, but they were stories made to be told in public and shared with her regular audience immediately – on her New Year’s Eve birthday every year from ’11 through ’18.

This book is triumphant, through adversity. It is true. It is aimed at the generation coming up after Stevenson, living their own complicated lives and feeling their own fires and holes in their chests, and I think it will help a lot of them, either directly or by telling them it’s OK to ask for help.

She has the fire. I believe her when she says it will not go out.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation by Wilson, Ottaviani, and Butler

When you’re talking about people who have an inordinate fondness for insects, you probably mean either God or E.O. Wilson. And only one of them is a person you can actually have a conversation with. (Well, Wilson is 91, and probably still busy enough that it would be tough to get some of his time — but you know what I mean.)

Actually, you can differentiate them a bit more than that — God is said to like beetles better, and Wilson was always an ant guy. Just in case the distinction becomes important in your life.

Edward O. Wilson is the towering biologist of the 20th century, which is particularly impressive since that was such a physics-heavy century. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for books he wrote, is responsible for hundreds of scientific papers and possibly the foundational biological theory of the era, and is one of the pillars of the conservation movement. Naturalist  was his memoir — the story of how he grew up, got interested in ants, got into science, and navigated most of his career. That book came out in 1994, when Wilson was 65, and just a couple of years before he retired from active teaching at Harvard — but, as I said above, he’s still going strong now at 91, and has published as many books since Naturalist as he did before it. So the idea probably was that Naturalist was going to be basically the story of his life, but he may need to add a second volume at this rate.

Naturalist has had a strong life, and has been particularly influential on young readers interested in science — obviously those kids who like bugs, but also the ones who end up going into chemistry or physics or possibly even (gasp!) engineering. [1] So clearly someone — maybe even Wilson himself, since he’s obviously a smart guy with a lot of ideas — thought it would be good to do one of those new-fangled “graphic novel” versions of Naturalist, since all of the kids love them these days.

(I may be deliberately making this sound silly for comic effect. But it was a good idea.)

However it happened, Island Press — the nonprofit that publishes the prose edition of Naturalist — found Jim Ottaviani, the premier and almost only writer of science in comics form, to adapt Wilson’s book into comics and cartoonist, illustrator, and cartoonist C.M. Butzer to draw it. Colors are by Hilary Sycamore, but the pre-publication proof I read only features color for the first seventeen story pages, so I can’t really speak to her work here as a whole. The graphic adaptation came out last November, and is widely available now — so now there are two versions of Naturalist available to be handed to a budding scientist, one of which features lots of pictures of ants to go with Wilson’s words.

As usual with Ottaviani’s work, there are lots of caption boxes and dialogue — he likes to get in as many of the real words of the books and scientists he’s adapting as possible. So this will be a denser graphic novel than many readers are used to: I’d say that’s no bad thing, since science is demanding and full of details that require close attention. Anyone looking for something quick and surface-y is not cut out for a life in science to begin with.

And, of course, this is the story of a life, and one intertwined with field exploration, collaboration with other scientists, and writing — some of it is about external action, but most of what was important in Wilson’s life happened in his thoughts, as he examined ants around the world, thought about them back in Massachusetts, scribbled ideas on a board with colleagues, and bounced their theories off the real world to make sure they actually worked.

I wish there were more graphic novels like this, and fewer about punching people, but that’s the world we live in. Intellectual activity is always less popular than punching. But this one is out there, and it’s really good at what it does. If you know someone who could be a scientist eventually, this would be a good book to give her.

[1] Note: your present writer’s son is a budding engineer, in the second year of a five-year undergraduate ChemE program, and so he kids because he loves.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 2: My Return Home by "Tardi"

This is, obviously, a sequel. The first volume of Rene Tardi’s WWII war memoirs, as interpreted, reimagined, and made into a graphic novel by his son Jacques, was published in French in 2012 and English in 2018. That one covered the bulk of the war: how Rene got into it, his capture and transfer far to the east to Stalag IIB, and the life of the camp through the end of 1944. (See my post on that book for more.)

My Return Home  picks up the story from there: the first page has the POWs on the march, having already been herded out of the stalag by their posten (guards). It’s late January in Northern Poland — well, what is now Northern Poland; it was conquered Nazi territory then, part of the crumbling dreams of the greater Reich. Jacques begins deeply in medias res, giving no explanations for potential new readers. We don’t even get a date for nearly a dozen pages, and if we’ve forgotten that Jacques is drawing his younger self (circa 1958 or so; he was born in 1946 and seems to be a tween here) as an interlocutor and interpreter for Rene’s sketchy notebook account, there will be no relief to our confusion. (That’s the two of them on the cover: Rene from 1945 and Jacques from about 1958. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, frankly, but it works as a framing device.)

So: this is the story of a long forced march, of hundreds of French POWs (and some others, I think — Jacques and/or Rene are not particularly clear on the makeup of the POW group), through Poland and northern Germany, for reasons that were not clear to Rene on the ground in 1945 and are no clearer to us now. The posten apparently thought they would be killed by the advancing Russian armies — which is probably entirely true — and perhaps were still dutiful or suspicious enough not to leave hundreds of former combatants, even ones broken down by four years of camp life, in their rear as they fled West. (It probably made sense to them at the time. Some of them likely even made it out to safety and survived the end of the war.)

Rene kept a skeletal diary of the march — names of towns and kilometers on the road for each day, and a few other notes on river crossings and armies seen in the distance and similar events. That diary survived for Jacques to turn it into this book, but the reader has to be amazed at how much work it took for Jacques to go from those quick notes, which we can see on the endpapers, to three wide panels per page, full of landscape and men trudging through that landscape, with events and dialogue and endless marching.

In the end, though, My Return Home is more than a bit of a slog itself. We know Rene made it home, and the march is neither particularly interesting (another night in a random field! backtracking yet again to cross the same river!) nor horrifying (there are some moments, but it looks like nearly all of the POWs survived and only a few of them got up to anything that could be called seriour war crimes [1]). It’s another war story, and war is hell: we know that already. My Return Home is about a hundred and fifty pages of men marching through dull terrain under duress: that’s it.

Jacques’ writing, or perhaps the translation by Jenna Allen, is a bit stilted in spots. Since Jacques’s afterword is stilted, and fond of random exclamation points in the middle of the sentence the same ways, I’m inclined to pin it on him. His art is strong as usual, and his slogging POWs remind me of Mauldin’s soldiers — maybe just due to the era and my American biases.

There is a third volume, which was just published in the US, covering (I think) Rene’s return to Germany as a civilian, years later. But, frankly, it’s looking like there only needed to be one I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, and that’s the one when he actually was a prisoner of war in Stalag IIB.

[1] Rene did, as part of revenge against the remaining posten near the end of the march. It’s mildly shocking in the story, but not surprising.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Nobody’s Fool by Bill Griffith

It is an odd and interesting thing: the biography of someone whose life is badly-recorded and full of gaps. It’s even more quirky when that person didn’t really do anything in his life, and even the records of where that person was are messy and often missing.

But Bill Griffith, cartooning king of all things pinhead-related, wanted to tell the story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, the second-most famous real-world pinhead [1], even though Schlitzie’s origins are disputed and his life basically consisted of being dragged around the US so people could gawk at him for fifty-plus years.

The result is Nobody’s Fool , a graphic novel about a person who may have been born Simon Metz around 1901 in the Bronx, and definitely was buried as Schlitzie Surtees in 1971 in California. Schlitzie was male, but the characters he “played” on stage were more often than not female — because that made the fake “savage” stories more shocking, because he was less than five feet tall, because it was a random carny idea that stuck, or for some other random reason, we don’t know.

The list of things we don’t know about Schlitize, though, are long. Well, “we” don’t know much about any random person born in 1901 and dead since 1971 — if that person did public things, they’d be recorded, but most of us live our lives in private, and those lives all die as the people we knew die. The people Schlitze knew are from a world that’s been gone for over sixty years, and they were marginal people to begin with — many of them with physical deformities or other health issues that shortened their lives, all of them living on the fringes of society, traveling from town to town to be exhibited as “freaks.”.

And Schlitzie, who I have to guess had some kind of development disorder — Griffith doesn’t speculate, or provide an armchair diagnosis — didn’t leave any kind of records himself, and didn’t live the kind of normal life (marriages, children, buying real estate, making business deals, joining clubs, working for companies) that generated the usual records. So we have third-hand stories and speculation and some informed guesses, random datapoints and decades-later interviews with people who knew Schlitzie.

It all gives Griffith a series of scenes, mostly of Schlitzie on stage or doing performance-adjacent tasks, since that’s the parts of his life than anyone knows anything about, fifty years after he died. But what did he feel? What did he think? We don’t know, and we’ll never know. Griffith doesn’t even try to define what Schlitzie could and couldn’t do — we know he liked to wash dishes, and that he had a larger vocabulary than other “pinheads” on the same circuit at the same time. But that’s about it.

So what Griffith has here is a sequence of pictures, a sequence of events that probably happened, more-or-less. We get to look at Schlitzie, the freak, acting weird, performing in sideshows and in the 1932 movie Freaks. We’re told stories about his origins that are probably more true than those told at the time — last of the Aztecs! half-monkey, half-human!, the missing link! — but aren’t really “true.”

This is still a sideshow. Schlitzie is still being paraded in front of a crowd to show off how weird and inexplicable he is. What he was like as a human being is still tertiary at best. Griffith cares about Schlitzie and his life, but he just doesn’t have the materials to tell this as a story. It’s just disconnected moments featuring someone with no agency and little understanding of anything that happened to him.

So this is a deeply sad book, even if it’s about a person who seems to have been relatively happy, as humans go. In a hundred years, this may be all anyone ever knows about Schlitzie Surtees. And we’ll still know nothing about Simon Metz.

[1] After Zip-the-What-Is-It, who seems by all accounts to have been a perfectly mentally “normal” African-American man who figured out a weird career for himself and ran it for all it was worth to the end of his life. That is probably a more interesting and meaningful story, but it’s not a pinhead story.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

A Fire Story by Brian Fies

Nobody would want Brian Fies’s career, not matter how many books he sells and how many awards he wins. Two of his three major books to date have been pure “making lemonade” activities: he went through things no one wants to and came out the other side to write about them.

First was Mom’s Cancer, which was about exactly what you’re thinking it was. In between was the fictional Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?  And his new book for 2019 was A Fire Story , because his house burned down in the October 2017 series of wildfires in Northern California.

So if I say that I hope Fies’s career takes a different tack in the coming years, that’s what I mean: I hope he doesn’t have any more tragedies that launch books. He’s due for a happy book, or three, or five.

A Fire Story started out of immediacy: Fies wrote and drew a twenty-page version of this story a few days after the fire, when the pain was raw and he and his family had just realized what “we’ve lost everything” means. He posted it online, and it was seen around the world — hundreds of thousands read Fies’s comic, and a few million saw an animated version made by the San Francisco PBS station (which also won a local Emmy).

The book version of A Fire Story came about a year later, which means it’s still pretty raw and immediate — I have to imagine Fies writing and drawing this in temporary housing or rented houses, waiting and hoping to get back to the normal life that burned up.

The story here starts from those initial pages — redrawn, cleaned up, expanded, but those first panels are all here in new forms. This is how Fies and his wife woke up in the middle of a Monday night, grabbed a few things, and fled a house that then burned down before the night was over. Fies expands that story in multiple ways — he brings in more of his family, including the grown twin daughters who take in Fies and his wife after the fire; he adds the narrative of several other people whose houses were burned down, so this is no longer just his story; and he continues though the beginning of rebuilding, showing scenes of sifting the ashes [1] and dealing with the insurance adjuster.

A Fire Story is powerful, direct, and personal: Fies went through something horrible and had the skills to present its horrors clearly and precisely to the world. It’s a book to be deeply ambivalent about: do we wish it never existed, because Fies’s house was instead saved? Do we rationalize that there are always houses that burn down, somewhere, and at least this giant wildfire resulted in some great art?

I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m glad Fies was about to squeeze this lemonade and still wish he hadn’t had to. Maybe, at best, it can help those of us who have not lost everything understand it a bit better: I’ve been known to whine about my 2011 flood, which destroyed an entire basement but left the rest of the house intact; and that’s minor compared to what Fies suffered.

But  A Fire Story is a major graphic novel, no matter what else. And Fies shows that he has not just the artistic chops, but the resilience and clear vision to do it. I just hope that his next project requires the chops and maybe the vision, but not the resilience.

[1] This is not a metaphor. One of his daughters is an archeologist, and uses a rocking screen on the site of their burned house.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.