Autobiographies, Graphic novels

Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson

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Good evening folks !

Tonight I’d like to tell you about a graphic novel which I read a few months ago and which really became a contemporary classic in the graphic novels’ world: Blankets by Craig Thompson.

This book was published in 2003 in the United States by the publishing house Top Shelf Productions. It is an autobiographical graphic novel (surprising, isn’t it?) in which Craig Thompson narrates his childhood with very conservative Christian parents and his first love story as a teenager. It won numerous awards, including three Harvey Awards (Best Artist, Best Graphic Album of Original Work and Best Cartoonist) and two Eisner Awards in 2004.

I had heard about this graphic novel thanks to a friend of mine, who had got it as a birthday present, and I remember finding its cover extremely beautiful and having been intrigued and seduced by its title. That’s how I came to buy this book some months ago, and I did not regret it.

I really love Craig Thompson’s drawing style: his realistic drawings are at the same time simple and elaborate (yes, I am aware there is a little paradox here!). His simple figures are quite geometrical but this simplicity is balanced by a lot of beautiful details (especially in the shades, which Thompson truly masters) that enrich each drawing. So I was drawn into Craig Thompson’s world from the start thanks to this beautiful artwork. I’ll put below a few boxes to give you an overview of the novel’s graphic style.

 

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And then there the story, of course. I was very moved by the passages in which Craig Thompson narrates his childhood: Phil, his little brother, and himself were raised by very strict Christian parents in extremely precarious living conditions. The family lived in an old farmhouse with a “heat circulation / ventilation problem”, meaning that the house was unbearably hot in summer and literally freezing in winter. Young Craig Thompson is his coursemates’ favourite bully at school, being obviously poor and also marginalized by the rigid Christian upbringing his parents give him (instead of going skiing, he is sent to a church camp every winter for vacation). Even in the church camp, he doesn’t manage to make friends. We get a glimpse of how a male baby-sitter abused him and his little brother when they were younger, but this is definitely not the most central element of the parts of the novel narrating their childhood.

In High School, Craig Thompson finally starts to enjoy his stays at the Church Camp. During some holiday there, he meets the beautiful Raina and they immediately fall in love. Most of the book is devoted to the narration of their long-distance relationship, which lasted for several months: meeting during holiday, writing frequently, calling each other as often as possible. This is their first love story and you can really feel how important it is for Craig Thompson. I liked how the love story was described but this is definitely not the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. What really struck and moved me was the passages showing how the Christian and conservative upbringing Thompson was given weighted on him and how we finally managed to get over it. He is ashamed and afraid of his body, and this really shows through the passages narrating his relationship with Raina. He is also strongly advised to go to a Christian college and has to stand up to go to the art school where he has been accepted. And, little by little, he grows away from the principles that he had been forced to accept since childhood and learns to be free, which doesn’t come without some feeling of guilt: “My faith came crumbling down so easily / I hid my Bible… / …and moved to the city. / On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free”.

I would recommend this graphic novel to anyone, not that much for the beautiful and accurate description of first love but mostly for the message of hope that it carries: no matter what you’ve gone through when you were younger or how you were raised, there is always a way out.

If you are reading a graphic novel at the moment, please let me know in the comments, I would love to get some recommendations!

Blankets by Craig Thompson. Published by Top Shelf Production, 2004

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