A Fire Story by Brian Fies

How do you cope with trauma? How are you dealing with the news? I tend to search out books as a way to help cope. Since August 2020, the news has been broadcasting stories about fires all over the West Coast: California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, among others. It’s hard for me to grasp the severity of a situation over the news, so I always seek out other sources of knowledge: informational studies, interviews, books, magazine articles, etc. In an effort to learn more, I went searching in the library for information about California wildfires.

Wanting to read a firsthand account, I found A Fire Story by Brian Fies, an author and illustrator whose home was destroyed by a wildfire in 2017.

This graphic novel began as a webcomic right after Brian, his wife, and their two pets evacuated their California home in the early morning on October 9, 2017 due to a massive wildfire. These wildfires burned through Northern California, eventually resulting in 44 fatalities and the complete destruction of 8,900 structures, including 6,200 homes. When Brian and his family evacuated, they didn’t think they would be gone for long, so they only grabbed a few items. In the days that followed their evacuation, Brian bought what art supplies he could find and started to draw an online comic that would become viral and turn into the full-length graphic novel, A Fire Story

In addition to focusing on what happened to Brian and his family, this graphic novel also talks about environmental factors that played into the fire, as well as helping readers gain a better understanding of how this disaster occurred. Brian also portrays the stories of others that were affected by this disaster.

While this story by no means gave me a full and complete understanding of wildfires, it helped me discover terminology and location information that has helped me learn more about the current wildfires happening on the West Coast. This graphic novel has provided me with a starting point to learn more, as well as a look at a firsthand account of the devastation these fires had on residents.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows Vol. 1 by Gerry Conway

Spider-Man has gone through a lot of changes during his over-50 year run. Peter Parker has graduated high school, college, gotten married, lost his powers, got them back again, then lost them again. There was even a time where we thought he would have a child. But then it was decided that an adult family-man Spider-Man went against what Spider-Man was all about so they reverted Peter Parker back to being a 20-something and got rid of the character of Mary Jane Watson all together. This story The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is a big What If story about what would have happened if Peter wasn’t reverted back to being a 20-something, was still married to Mary Jane and they had a child together.

This run of comics highlights everything that makes Spider-Man such an endearing and long-lasting character. Peter Parker isn’t just a guy that has an insane sense of responsibility that dresses up as a spider and beats up bag guys, he is also a person with real-life issues. Renew Your Vows is also about living life as a lower middle class family in a big city. While half of the book involves the spider family beating up bad guys, the other half focuses on them dealing with real life struggles such as Mary Jane’s small business and Peter trying to make ends meet with his photography job all while they are both trying to raise their daughter Annie (who also happens to have super powers).

Using tech scavenged from when Peter fought a previous big bad guy, he was able to make a suit that shares his super powers with Mary Jane so that she can help crime fight with her husband and daughter, it has a very Incredibles-esque dynamic of a family fighting bad guys together. There are some very interesting conflicts that Peter has to wrestle with that most parents will also find themselves reflecting on. It is ok to let your children fail and get hurt because it is how they learn. This message is one that Peter has an extra hard time with because he wants to protect his family but he also has to let them fend for themselves and be independent. The conflicts and themes are effectively woven between the bad guy fight scenes and the scenes when the characters aren’t wearing their super suits.

I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows to anyone that has wished for a married Peter Parker to return to comics, or anyone that thinks the idea of The Incredibles-meets-Spider-Man sounds like a really fun read. It is well-written and a lot of fun for comic book readers of all ages.

 

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis

The final season of Jessica Jones is about to be released on Netflix on June 14th. If you have an interest in reading the graphic novels that inspired the show, Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Alias is a great place to start. You will be able to check out the full run of Bendis’ take on Jessica Jones at the Davenport Public Library.

Alias follows Jessica Jones, an ex-superhero as she works as a private investigator in New York city. When she is given a suspicious case from a shady client, she falls down a rabbit-hole of controversy and intrigue that implicates some of the biggest heroes in the Marvel universe.

Brian Michael Bendis does a phenomenal job of making the dialogue feel real and giving each of the characters a distinct voice and personality. Bendis has been known for writing a wide range of characters, from Moon Knight and Miles Morales to Superman, he is one of the leading writers of super hero comic books from the past decade.

Alias is a great book to get started if you are unfamiliar with the Marvel universe too, it doesn’t require any background reading and the reader can just jump in and enjoy Jessica and her many adventures as a PI with super powers. If you are also interested in catching up on the Jessica Jones TV show that was based on this graphic novel, the Davenport Public Library is also a place where you can check out the show as well.

 

The Best We Could Do: an Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

“The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui is a poignant, heart-rendering graphic novel about a Vietnamese family’s history and struggle emigrating from Vietnam to the United States during the Vietnam War. The story is set in current times with reflections and flashbacks referencing the author and her parents’ journey of war and struggle in leaving their home-country of Vietnam. The book references the wars and trials of the Vietnamese people before and during the Vietnam War but brings a specifically personal account of Thi Bui and her families journey, highlighting her family’s success and trials of making it out alive with their children only to then come to a new country to find new struggles as refugees or émigrés (which is an emigrant, but more fully defined as “a person who emigrates for political reasons”) learning a new language, culture, political system, and a whole new way of life in the United States.

“The Best We Could Do” is a graphic memoir, well written and painstakingly descriptive that will leave the reader haunted by the beautiful drawings and horrible atrocities of war. As it is a comic book, it is a super quick read that will leave the reader with a greater understanding of life and struggles of refugees and survivors of war as well as their immigrant struggles in living in a new country having survived. The memoir comes full circle by beginning and ending with life… “The struggle to bring life into this world is rewarded by [the cry of a baby]. It is a single minded effort uncluttered and clear in it’s objective. What follows afterward- that is, the rest of the child’s life – is another story.” And thus ends with the author having hope for her newly born child and the life they will live.

March Book One by Congressman John Lewis

march book 1In 1958, the pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation released a comic book to help promote the bus boycott and recruit new activists called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The comic book introduced potential protesters to the Montgomery Method, a method of resistance that was adapted from the peaceful protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi and focused on taking the moral and spiritual high ground in every encounter.

With this important comic book as inspiration, U.S. Congressman John Lewis, along with congressional aide Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell (The Silence of Our Friends), has produced a stunning and important introduction to the civil rights movement and the Montgomery method. March Book One is the first book in a three part series that highlights the remarkable life of a man that was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.

Powell’s black and white pen illustrations are fluid, easy to follow, and highlight the importance in the text.  Powell has a real talent in using light and shadow to convey mood, and his style feels modern while still hinting at the classic comic book style in  Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. The comic book format lends itself to Lewis’ talent for oral storytelling, and would make a great introduction to a civil rights movement icon for young people and adults.