In the twilight hours one typical morning in October 2017, cartoonist Brian Fies and his wife awoke to the smell of smoke, quickly scrambling to evacuate their family home with anything they could fit into their car. Not long after they learned their Northern Californian house had disappeared, destroyed in the terrifying wildfires that consumed theirs and 6,200 others houses and the loss of 44 lives.
Feeling helpless, Brian headed to the nearest Target superstore and pieced together a set of cheap art supplies, determined to do what any cartoonist in his situation would: he drew. The comics that would emerge from this effort quickly became a viral sensation on the web, eventually expanding into A Fire Story, a graphic novel using honesty and humor to document not just his family’s ordeal but also his neighbors and even complete strangers.
On this episode of the Popzara Podcast our own Nathan Evans talks with Brian about the fire that would change his family’s lives forever. The two discuss the lingering effects of survivor’s guilt and helplessness, which came flooding back watching the recent inferno that devastated Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral. Already an Eisner award-winner for his heartfelt 2009 memoir Mom’s Cancer, Brian is no stranger in using the power of comics to help make sense of a senseless tragedy.
Also on tap are the importance of backing up your digital treasures (i.e. don’t fear the cloud), the ever-lasting appeal of the legendary Will Eisner, the surprising (and sometimes tragic) similarities between himself and fellow fire-affected cartoonist Stephan Pastis, and how the world of comics has never been more accepting of those with enough ambition to help change the game – even late-blooming cartoonists.