Created by: Craig Thompson
Published by: Top Shelf
ISBN: 1891830430 (Amazon)
Craig Thompson, for all the lack of works in his bibliography, is one of the best creators working in comics today. Apart from Blankets, he has only released one other major work of fiction. (His third, Habibi, will be released this Fall.) There are any number of reasons that Thompson’s work should be lauded. His art is gorgeous and his brushline expressive. He treats personal topics with a sense of both whimsy and honesty. He writes true experiences, even when they’re fictional. And as great as all those things are, there is one idea that stands out in his work that I’ve yet to see another creator tackle (let alone master) as Thompson has done.
The cutest of meet-cutes.
His sense of the sacred and his ability to convey it in ink is breathtaking. He offers his readers these holy moments, these frozen, fluid, organic treasures. These sacramentals. Whether he intends to lead the reader into a religious experience or not, his work really is very spiritual. As spiritual as an atheistic holy experience can actually be at any rate. There may be moments in Miyazaki that approach the wonder of the sanctuaries that Thompson builds in Blankets. It’s for this reason (among others) that Thompson’s second book remains one of my favourites, even years after having first encountered it.
The sweetly disturbing sentimental journey that was seeded years earlier in Thompson’s Goodbye Chunky Rice finds pregnant fruit in his nearly-600-page opus, Blankets. Semi-autobiographically chronicling (via chrono-thematic structuring) his early life—from his establishment in faith and his discovery of love to his abandonment of that love and his subsequent abandonment of faith—Thompson plays honestly at all times with his story elements, thereby lending his tale an uncanny credibility. And while flashbacks and tangents proliferate, the overarching chiastic structure verifies the reader’s intuition that Thompson knows well where he is headed and is going to take you there whether you like it or not.
Kinda want to punch this lady right in the breadbox.
Thompson’s illustrated avatar acts, at all times, with striking realism and the chaos of his thoughts is entirely believable—if not exactly illustrative of the average meditative development. The Thompson that frets and plays in Blankets—we’ll call him Craig— is highly introspective and acts often in the heat of his youthful emotional turmoil, rather than from a simple, sensible motivation. And though one may often wish to chastise him for such sillinesses, his youthful passion and pendular over-reactions will more than likely endear Craig to readers as they recognize more than a little of themselves in him.
This book is a masterpiece of form, symbol, and structure. Tokens bend and writhe and carry narrative significance throughout. Thompson’s art here is fluid and is of that less-polished variety found also in Goodbye Chunky Rice and serves well to establish the variety of moods described in his several vignettes.
From the perspective of one who grew up both in a faith-community that was friendlier to the arts and in a home whose high standards weren’t as strictly enforced, I found his story particularly compelling and tragic. Surrounded by hypocrisy and a weak-kneed, moralistic fundamentalism, the source of his disillusionment is not difficult to see. Perhaps Blankets' greatest quality is the empathy it exerts from the reader. I pitied and cared for Craig. I felt the same for his brother, his parents. I mourned for Raina, Craig’s love interest in the book. I grew despondent for her family. More than anything, I wanted to hug each of these characters and make it all right and sensible again.
Man, how brutal to be Thompson’s parents, years later to read this panel
and think: “Oh crap. I did that to a child? I wanted to surprise him and
all he could think about was whether he had sinned? And not even whether
he was in trouble but whether he had sinned?”
And the whole while, my anger kindled toward an institutionalization of faith whose expression was not compassion, not mercy, not love. That Craig lived in a locale whose cutural acumen was bent toward a fear and persecution of that which skewed from the status quo is a horror that can be understood (while still remaining a horror). That his subculture should behave identically, built on a foundation of fear when it ought to be built on joy, peace, and love is terrifying. Thompson’s work engaged in me a fury for a people and place with which I have no experience. They may not even exist as he portrayed them, but at the least, it is a challenge for me to not hate these characters who actively tear down Craig’s life even from a young age. And as someone who actively tries not to hate anyone, consider this a testament to the veracity with which Thompson draws out Craig’s life and circumstance.
Blankets is an evocative work that should not be missed by any who would appreciate a serious, heartfelt, and magical telling of the tragedy and wonder of what it means to come of age.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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