Blankets by Craig Thompson
2003. 582 pages.
I flew through Blankets last night. I’d finish one chapter and a thought would flit through my head that this may be a good stopping point, but then somehow the page would turn and I’d be moving on.
Blankets is not the very first graphic novel that I’ve read. A few years ago, I was at my sister’s and her husband had some graphic novels checked out of the library. I read one of them – don’t remember what it was called – and it was about spies, I think? but though it wasn’t terrible, the reading experience didn’t make me want to continue reading graphic novels.
Then an online friend of mine from the rottentomatoes forum recommended Blankets and I was intrigued by a graphic novel that was about regular people. I figured this would be a better entry point to the graphic novel genre. And it was.
I like the memoir genre and even took a class on reading and writing memoirs in college. Blankets is essentially a graphic novel memoir, focusing on his struggles with the Christian church and belief, his relationship with his younger brother, and most heavily, on his first love, Raina. The central event of the book is when the teenage Craig goes from Wisconsin to Upper Peninsula Michigan to stay two weeks with Raina and her family.
My experience of growing up in conservative Christianity was more positive than Craig Thompson’s, but I could still identify with some of his experiences, including his dislike of church snow camp. I never had a teenage love like Craig did with Raina. But whether my experience was similar or not, the novel made me feel the emotions of it all: loneliness, shame, exhilaration, contentment. The drawings and dialogue capture the exquisite pain and joy of the human experience. If that sounds grandiose to say, so be it.
I don’t think Blankets is perfect. There is no real unity to the novel. All the different parts don’t gel together into one piece. Also, some of the philosophizing was uninteresting, like this one part where the shadows in the cave analogy is interspersed with Craig’s adjustment to being back from his trip to Raina’s. It didn’t quite work.
It’s possible that the piecework nature of the novel could be defended by saying it’s similar to the handmade quilt that is a focal point in the story. It’s a patchwork affair, squares of life stitched together. And because that’s such a pretty metaphor for the book’s structure, I can forgive the seeming lack of structural unity.
My friend from rottentomatoes had recommended more graphic novels to me after I told him I’d be reading Blankets. The recommendations include the well-known Maus and others called Too Cool to Be Forgotten and Shortcomings. I welcome other graphic novel suggestions.