Friday, March 30, 2012

Blankets, by Craig Thompson: Book 12 of 52

After I finished Craig Thompson's Habibi at the end of February, I was left really wanting to re-read his memoir/ "illustrated novel" Blankets. This took a little doing, because I love Blankets. I have bought the book multiple times, and multiple times I have given my copy away to friends, imploring them to fall in love with it, too.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud argues that ones of the choices the artists must make is his level of photo-realism. Most artists could, if they chose, fill their novels with precisely unique faces and bodies, making each page a photograph. But the human mind sees faces everywhere (that is why our emoticons work :-p ).

In Blankets, Thompson chooses to skirt a fine line, drawing his characters a little on the ambiguous side; they are clearly human, but who are they precisely? His character, thin-limbed, long faced and large nosed, could be him, judging by his photo on the back cover. But it could be a drawing of me, too. And that's where the magic begins.

From here
After Craig (the character, to distinguish from Thompson the author) and his girlfriend Raina spend a virginal if sexually-charged night together, Craig utters a small prayer, accompanied by the sleep tossed images of a beautiful girl who we know is Raina, but could very well be any girl; in the simple black and white illustrations I defy anyone to conclusively name her hair color:
Pressed against her
I can hear ETERNITY--
hollow, lonely spaces and
creents that churn
And the fallen snow
welcomes the falling
snow with a
whispered "HUSH."
What I love about Blankets is how unassuming it is. There are lessons here: hard, painful, familiar lessons about growing up, about faith and parents, about the limits of authority and the limits of our ability to change the world- while Craig is endlessly unresolved about where his life should lead, Raina has already taken on the challenges of motherhood, stepping in with her sister's baby while the sister and husband indulge their materialistic side (they are, in fact, trying to distract themselves from the fact that their marriage will soon fall apart if they don't address their problems head on). But Thompson doesn't beat us over the head with any of those lessons.

Instead, he unfolds this love story, and in unfolding it he gives us glimpses into the traumas that have happened and are continuing to happen to both Craig and Raina. They are doomed but don't know it, and when the inevitable comes, it comes with an honest softness the opposite of the dramatic climax we expect from literature.

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