Books·How I Wrote It

Why Jen Storm wrote a graphic novel about reconciliation

In her first graphic novel, Fire Starters, Jen Storm shows how reconciliation can work at a local level.
Jen Storm wrote her first novel, Deadly Loyalties, when she was 14 years old. (Portage & Main Press)

Jen Storm isn't afraid of taking on big projects. She wrote her first novel, Deadly Loyalties, when she was just 14 years old. So when she decided to write her first-ever graphic novel, she decided to attack a big question: what would reconciliation look like at a local level? The end result is Fire Starters, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson. Fire Starters tells the story of two Indigenous brothers who are accused by the local sheriff's son of burning down the local gas bar. As the truth of what really happened slowly emerges, so do the underlying tensions and prejudices and of the community.

In her own words, Storm explains how she she wrote Fire Starters.

Reconciliation at a local level

"I wanted a lot of the imagery in Fire Starters to be based on Couchiching, my First Nations community in Ontario. And because it was going to be in Couchiching, I wanted the story to be about what reconciliation could look like in a community like that, within the setting of a small traditionally non-Indigenous town with reserves very close, sharing amenities and schools. I wanted to show how segregated it can be, but also show what reconciliation can look like in that sphere. I wanted to explore how all the people in a town — the bully, the bystander, the underdog, law enforcement — would react and what their role can be in reconciliation because I think a lot of people hear that word and think really big grand picture and don't see how they can fit into it."

Script, sketch, action!

"When I first started, I was intimidated by how graphic novels work compared to literature. A lot of the writing portion is like a script. I kept in mind that I didn't have to do as much literary work. So my descriptions of characters and events were very straight forward. Once my deadline was met, I took on more of a director role. Scott B. Henderson would draw rough drafts with pencil. My job from that point on was to approve or to suggest changes. I felt like I was writing a script and directing a movie. The way I pictured Fire Starters when I was writing was completely different from the way Scott drew it and how he pictured it. Seeing the story that you've visualized interpreted by other people was so interesting."

It feels good to write bad

"My favourite character to create was Michael, the bully, because he was the hardest character to defend. My editor at first was like, 'Why is he such a jerk? How are we supposed to empathize with this guy?' But there are people like this in the world and there is a whole background to those people that I was trying to show. In a way, even though he is the bad guy, he was the most fun to flesh out. I wanted to use him as an example of what we strive for in this new world of reconciliation."

Jen Storm's comments have been edited and condensed