The loss of everything and the start to recovery captured in a comic.
"On Monday, my house disappeared," Brian Fies begins. In an 18-page web comic called A Fire Story, he chronicles, in heart-wrenching detail, the catastrophe of the NorCal fires and his personal experience with his wife in watching their existence reduced to a pile of ash. He notes all the treasures they've lost: a grandfather's WWII cap, family photos, child-made ornaments. And then: "Everything I ever drew or painted.
Fies is an award-winning comic who has been has been professionally drawing since the early 2000s. To lose his life's work in a matter of minutes is unfathomable. But what does he do? He picks up his pen and pushes on. Just a few short weeks after the fires, he created the series of panels documenting his story in two parts. It was his way of processing his emotions and, perhaps even more importantly, helping San Franciscans relate to their neighbor's trauma. Even when disasters are just a few towns away, we can have a hard time comprehending the extent of the devastation or the impact it has on the community, workers, families, an individual.
He exhibits moments of candor with thought processes that could float through any one of our minds. For instance, there is the scene of him seeing his home for the first time in shambles; and then walking past a pristine Starbucks just a few hundred feet away.
'A Fire Story'Brian Fies
'A Fire Story'Brian Fies
In these panels in particular, Fies expresses not just the fear or the drama we hear from the local news, but the dread and, "Why me?" perspective present in survivors of the tragic events. These emotions are difficult to capture, but through the lens of artistic expressionism, Fies is able show us his experience. Beyond the ameliorative effect the drawing have on him, the series has drawn attention on the wider community as well, being shared extensively online and eliciting responses on his blog like...
"Brian, thank you for sharing this. It's beautifully raw. Having been through this myself in Southern CA a number of years ago, I can very honestly say - it gets better."
"You used your craft to put on paper what we are all feeling and sharing as a community. Thank you! pictures are worth 1,000 words. Your words added feelings."
Perhaps most poignantly, Fies ends his panels with the reminder: "Thousands of homes have been destroyed. Ours was one." He challenges his audience to remember that, in the midst of large scale destruction, individuals still exist. He brings emotion and intimacy to statistics. The ink on the page carries even more weight when you consider that all of his art supplies were lost.
"I did this over parts of four days using a bad brush pen and art supplies from Target—Sharpie pens, highlighters and crummy paper—because Target was the only open store I could find within 20 miles. It's a first-person report from the front line. They're not always pretty."