Sunday, 31 July 2011

"Blankets" - Craig Thompson

(Preview here on
I couldn't sleep the other night.
4am and tossing and turning and thoughts churning and crashing me wide awake.
Sitting up abruptly I reach to my bookshelf and grab the copy of Blankets that's been sitting there for months and months. Earlier that day I'd read Good-Bye Chunky Rice, by the same author, and loved it, really loved it, heartbreak loved it. 
6am and close the book and I'm wide awake, can't stop thinking about this superb novel. Having read it from cover to cover in one sitting in the middle of the night, what impresses me most of all, yet again, is Thompson's fluid and addictive storytelling ability. 

I've read a few graphic auto-biographies* now but this is the first that focused specifically on the pre-teen/ teenage coming-of-age story. 

It begins with Craig as a boy, sharing a bed with his young brother. Within the first 30 pages we encounter a cruel domineering father and evangelical Christian mother, brutal school bullies, a child-molesting teenage babysitter and the desperate need for escapism through art & drawing. His demons represented on the page are frightening and reminiscent of David B's own illustration of inner demons in Epileptic (preview here) - I'll get into that shortly. Skipping ahead to his mid-teens, it's about 80 pages in that we meet Raina and sink into the real heart of the story, the private beauty of falling in love for the first time.
Raina is his escape. She is intelligent, rebellious, pretty, everything a boy could ask for. 

At 580 pages the volume seems daunting but Thompson's control of pacing, his captivating characters, the interchange of stories from childhood and the main love story all contribute to a gripping read, one that you won't realise you're about to finish until it's too late.

I feel that Thompson does more with the form in Goodbye Chunky Rice (see earlier Blog entry), as he can afford the time to spend on the complex visual style. That's not to say that Blankets is any less accomplished, his images and sequences are inviting and warm, his  drawing style is clear, the moments he captures from frame to frame are never incongruous, he plays with the gutters and borders very naturally and yet to great effect. One thing that carries over from Goodbye Chunky Rice is Thompson's obvious affection for a good font. His hand-written script is expressive and consistent, you read the tonality from its visual representation. 
I don't mean to get too technical either, there are scenes that are truly breathtaking. As Raina and Craig develop their relationship the pages fall away under exquisite dream sequences and adventures, it's a consistent privilege and pleasure reading this book. 

Epileptic by David B.
Scene from Blankets
The abstract visual style of Thompson's inner demons were at times quite similar to David B's own inner demons in his book Epileptic. The author's brother suffers from epilepsy and his illness is represented by a snaking dragon-like reptile, there are also characters that haunt the panels throughout the book. The text is direct and functional while the imagery goes nuts. Epileptic may have been a direct inspiration for Thompson's more abstract imagery and he's better for it. It's exhilarating and exciting when an author embraces the medium and unleashes his creativity in what could have stayed successfully in a very straight-up, realistic style.

If you happen to find this tome on a shelf in a bookshop, pick it up, leaf through the pages, read a sample and see for yourself how contentedly beautiful it is.

*check out: Will Eisner Life, In Pictures; Yoshihiro Tatsumi A Drifting Life; Alison Bechdel Fun Home; David B. Epileptic; Justin Green Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary (This is actually the first auto-bio that focused on preteen/teen 'issues', and it's hilariously fucked up); Harvey Pekar American Splendor; Art Spiegelman Maus (part auto-bio and biography of his father's life and experiences during WW2); Marjane Satrapi Persepolis; Robert Crumb and acolytes Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Seth; Jeffrey Brown and more...

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