USEREVIEW 123 (Capsule): Fire Monster
Anita Lahey (writer) & Pauline Conley (illustrator)
Fire Monster (Palimpsest Press, 2023)
ISBN 978-1-99029-337-5 | 220 pp | $29.95 CAD | BUY Here
Fire Monster is an incredible blend of art forms — in this graphic novel, writer Anita Lahey and illustrator Pauline Conley collaborate to blend poetry with illustration and sometimes music to create a fictional retelling of the 1976 Main-a-Dieu, Nova Scotia wildfires. It details the generational effect the natural disaster had on the town’s community. In Lahey and Conley’s version of the story, the town believes that the fire was started by a young boy and his friend. Years later, when the boys have grown up, the tragedy still looms over their community.
The fire not only lingers in the residents’ minds but also creeps around the community, having taken the form of a devil-like creature in Conley’s illustrations. This supports the characters’ perspectives of the fire being a malicious entity rather than an impartial force. It draws on the human need for a cause or reason for things — when the town can’t blame the fire monster, they blame the boy. If neither can be blamed, where can they store their hurt? In the end, the community deals with their collective trauma by coming together: through the reunion of families, forgiveness of the boys blamed for the fire and addressing their grief.
Fire Monster represents Lahey’s and Conley’s debut as a collaborative team. Their work in combining poetry and illustration excellently highlights both art forms, bringing them together in a way that allows both to shine.
‘Chapter Five: Bird’s Eye View’ exemplifies some of the interesting techniques used in this graphic novel. In this chapter, the reader is brought back in time before the main timeline of the story, to the Sunday mass before the wildfires struck. It begins with an insert of newspaper clippings from the Main-a-Dieu Foghorn that discusses the effects of the disaster on the local birds and the citizens’ perceptions of them via reported bird sightings. This is a really interesting way to convey so many different perspectives in a story at once without interrupting the flow of the work. I love how it also maintains the tone a real newspaper might have. Then there is the last mass held in the community’s old church before it caught fire and burned down. The fire monster is pictured lurking — the book’s main motif making an appearance. There is also the involvement of the surrounding ecosystem and the perspective of actual animals in the area which speaks to the book’s involvement not only in examining the town’s community but also the environment around the town.