Artist and filmmaker Matt Battaglia has written his debut graphic novel, House on Fire, and it's a must-read work of fiction that feels more like clarion call for everyone who emerged from the Covid pandemic with a foreboding sense of dread that America was no longer the land of the free and home of the brave.
A quote from Ephesians 6:12 serves as the gateway to the world Battaglia created, one where the common man's struggle "is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world." The reader sees the world through the protagonist's eyes as he wakes up next to a suffering wife and is sent on a quest to get her life-saving medication.
She's afflicted with an unnamed respiratory illness, is forced to use a respirator to breathe, and needs the hard-to-find medicine to survive. The pain shared between this couple is palpable.
The book is pared down, minimalistic, and the reader becomes immersed in this strange, yet familiar dystopia right away.
Her husband must leave his rural home and retrieve the meds she needs from the city and, at first, the world feels contemporary and even ordinary, until the wife warns her husband, "People are desperate, we're desperate."
As he drives, the audience sees that utilities work and highways are operational, if mostly occupied by smart cars delivering Amazon-style goods from town to town. On the radio, there is mention of some ongoing, vague war in Europe.
Then the protagonist hits the city, quarantined and monitored by armed guards. "Passport, med-card, work ID," must all be presented to simply travel in this post-free America. The protagonist must bribe his way in, and the officer explains the cash "[p]aid my energy bill for the week."
"Be careful, it's not the same place anymore," the protagonist's wife warned, but the city is eerily familiar. Everyone is kept indoors and graffiti such as 'ACAB' litters dead streets.
The city is a hauntingly familiar site for many, even if through a post-Covid mirror darkly.
Everything from the city onward is a masterclass in stakes and what love can drive a man to do in a nihilistic world.
House on Fire is available for purchase and will be released on March 28. Its story is punched-up by riveting, two-color brushwork that accentuates the action and makes a 100-page graphic novel an easy one-sitting read.
Battaglia works as the executive producer at Free the People, a production company aimed at bringing the "the next generation to the values of personal liberty and peaceful cooperation by making core principles and big ideas entertaining, accessible, and human."
One of their flagship video projects, directed by Battaglia, is the documentary Off the Grid with Thomas Massie, which features the congressman's life on his eastern Kentucky farm and outlines his quest for building a self-sustainable life in 21st century America.