A Slice of Fried Gold

#8 - Blankets by Craig Thompson

Sunday, April 13, 2008

#8 - Blankets by Craig Thompson (writing and art)

Typically I start my reviews of books I read with a quote from the actual piece. One problem with the current review is I no longer have my copy of it (one of the many things that I'm sure was lost in the transition from place to place at school and from moving back to Alaska), so without the ability to look at it and without the foresight to actually write something down while reading I have no quote to provide. Not that it will actually really change things, but I hate breaking tradition.

Second note: this is actually the second time I've read this book, but the first time since 2004 so I feel as if the refresher definitely counts (this was another thing my Mom found before me - and pretty much everyone else).

Blankets is an award winning autobiographical (probably? he calls it a novel, but it feels very memoir-ish like Maus or Fun Home) story by Portland, Oregon graphic novelist Craig Thompson that follows his upbringing in Wisconsin as a member of a strict Christian family, and is one of those dreaded coming-of-age tales that so many people talk about. You could walk into a movie or book store and toss a dart and there is a good chance it would hit a coming-of-age story (well, in this day and age, you're probably more likely to hit a remake or self help book respectively, but that is neither here nor there). So what exactly sets Blankets apart?


It isn't your run of the mill coming-of-age story. More than anything I've ever really read, Blankets captures both the time of your childhood and the relationships with those most important to you then (family - in particular his brother) and specifically, highlights the high school time period (and the awkwardness that comes with it) and first love in an emotionally honest way. The whole story resonates with emotion, as every word, phrase, and page of art within the book crackles with love, hope, and sadness.

Another running thread throughout the story is his Thompson's transition from a youth on the fast track to being in the ministry to someone who gives up on his religion. He handles this with care and sensitivity, and the religious themes throughout the story really tie everything else together. If he hadn't handled that aspect so well, the whole story would have crumbled.

Even with Art Spiegelman's Maus winning the Pulitzer Prize, the graphic novel medium still had not picked up a whole lot of respect with the literati. Of course, with the perception being that graphic novels are all tights and utility belts you can easily see why. However, Blankets goes a long way to earn the medium quite a bit of respect. The weight of the subject matter (and the book itself - the damn thing must weigh five pounds and it is nearly 600 pages long) is handled deftly by Thompson, as he is an extremely talented writer who doesn't pull punches and crafts the story in such a manner that it stays with you well past the initial reading.

Yet to be mentioned are Thompson's skills as an artist. Given that I've only spoken about his writing, you may think that his art may be unmentionably bad - but no, that is untrue. The story wouldn't work well without the art to tie everything together, and Thompson's black and white art is beautiful and imaginative, rendering the hopes and dreams of his childhood and high school self in all their full glory.

As a bit of a freak about the sequential art (fancy phrase for comics, as named by Scott McCloud) medium, one thing that really gets me going in art are layouts. Thompson's layouts are spectacular, and the way he melds the text of his story into the imagery is nothing short of genius. Every choice he makes in that department is flawless, and if the rest of the package was simply average I'd have to say he'd still deserve the Eisner's and Harvey's he won if only for that. I don't know if you noticed, but I really like his layouts.

Truth be told, I think this should be required reading for high schoolers. It captures the thrills of youth and all the aspects that dominate that time period (faith, love, family, loneliness, etc.), but from the perspective of someone who went through them already and fully recognizes the allure and harsh reality within it. When you're young, everything feels like the end of the world, but Craig Thompson is here to show you that it really isn't. This is a wonderful work, and I'd fully recommend it to anyone from teens on up. I personally cannot wait for more from the talented Mr. Thompson, and I'm horribly envious of his enormous amounts of skill as a writer and artist.

Also, If you'd like a second opinion, there is another very good review on a fellow bloggers site here.


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