Presented in English for the first time, Summer Fires is the full-length graphic novel debut by Barcelona-based Italian cartoonist Giulia Sagramola. The book is set in a small, unnamed Italian town. Even so, with the exception of a few minor visual details, it could easily take place in Anytown, USA. Especially with the ubiquity of t-shirts for bands like Rancid, NOFX, and Bikini Kill.
The story centers on two teenage sisters, Sabrina and Rachel, and their respective friend groups. Like many siblings, there are stark differences between the two, as well as many similarities. They also attend the same school, which creates its own kind of tension as the sisters navigate their separate, but intersecting social circles.
The book is by no means complex, but it is wonderfully rich, multilayered, relatable, and engaging. Recently, Sagramola herself offered an apt summary via her Instagram feed: “Expect lots of suburban angst, punk-rock music, feelings, girlhood, sisterhood, and pre-social media boredom!” This debut effort also features lots attention to detail, authenticity, and powerfully understated dialogue.
Staring at the wildfire on a distant hillside, Rachel’s low-key boyfriend asks, “Who do you think did it?” Rachel responds, “Started the fire?” He’s talking about something else. Rachel is transfixed by the fire. For the moment, at least, she is less concerned about gossip and rumors than she is mesmerized by the eerie glow of distant smoke and flames. “But… The fire… Who did that?” she wonders, with a look of admiration.
Like a great indie film, the plot unfolds organically, gliding seamlessly from one well-constructed small moment to the next. Sagramola doesn’t rely on big reveals, dramatic cliffhangers, or major plot points. Instead, she opts to explore the book’s characters and their relationships—to each other, and the world. In and around these elements, she weaves a handful of subtle plotlines and overarching themes that will resonate with anyone who survived their teen years—not to mention those currently embroiled in the struggle.
Structurally, each summer month is contained within its own chapter, readily identified by its distinct duotone color. June is an earthy pink that seems to carry a certain weightiness. July is a more intense, yet similarly earthy orange, suggesting hotter temperatures and more intense wildfires. August is heavily saturated with washes yellow-orange, raising the stakes and creating a pervasive sense of urgency. September is a light, desaturated peach that signals the end of summer, quietly bringing things to a close. Shadows are black, highlights are white, and Sagramola has no problem occasionally washing her subjects in solid color if it enhances page layout.
Sagramola’s inks are equally assertive and highly accessible. Character expressions are clean and crisp. The level of scenic detail feels right. And though much of the framing is tight, it nonetheless remains unobtrusive—not voyeuristic—enhancing the slice-of-life vibe. Both sisters have dark hair, albeit styled differently, which can sometimes cause confusion. It doesn’t feel accidental. Perhaps Sagramola is using these moments to subtly comment on the sisters’ similarities, despite the obvious difference in how they show up in the world.
The final chapter is a quiet crescendo. From the jump, there’s a palpable sense the world has changed in significant ways. Sagramola interweaves a series of compact, poignant scenes that reveal the extent of this tectonic shift. In retrospect, it seems some of those small moments weren’t quite so innocuous.
Summer Fires is a beautifully made, highly relatable exploration of teen angst and pathos that remains wholly devoid of extraneous melodrama. This gorgeous Dark House edition deserves a spot on your shelf alongside other coming-of-age classics.
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