Blankets by Craig Thompson: A Graphic Novel Review
-Guest review by Amritorupa Kanjilal of 'Rivers I Have Known'
"Sometimes, upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing that reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — Not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream."
Blankets is one of the most expensive non-collection single volume books in my collection. With 600 pages, it is also the longest graphic novel I’ve read yet. However, all the three times I’ve read it, it never took me more than three hours.
It’s very difficult for me to explain why I love Blankets so much, because when I describe it to somebody, it sounds exactly like the sort of book that would totally turn me off. Adolescence love, some emo kid taking his life way too seriously, and dollops of rancid religion. Except it doesn’t read that way. Craig Thompson’s story of his own growing up and coming of age in rural Wisconsin is so genuine, so unaffected, and told with so much tenderness, that even the most hard-boiled cynic would want to hug the huge tome of a book and say ‘there, there’ to it.
Craig Thompson grew up in a poor family, with fundamentalist Christian parents who I’m sure meant well, but were often cruel to him and his younger brother with their religious prejudice and fanaticism. Craig was bullied at school for being skinny and having poor parents, and also for being a misfit. His Church School tried to feed him rigid and horrific images of hell and heaven every Sunday, ideas that his young mind was neither able to accept nor reject. Every winter, he would be sent to Christian camp where he would be sidelined again by the popular kids, treated like a freak because he couldn’t join in the mass display of religious fervour. His church tried to alienate him from what he did best , drawing, explaining why it was evil and unnecessary (why draw when God has already drawn everything for us) .
It is at a Christian camp that Craig meets Raina, another misfit. For the first time in his life, Craig finds solace and understanding, and somebody to keep him company in his passive resistance against mainstream madness. Craig and Raina, who live far apart, keep writing to each other after camp, and Craig is able to draw again for her. Craig manages to get permission from his parents to spend two weeks at Raina’s house, and the rest of the book focuses on the blossoming of their relationship in these two weeks.
Sometimes, it feels uncomfortable the way Craig deifies Raina, her physical beauty and her purity, but we need to remember that is how we all pretty much were at that age. I remember keeping a pen that my crush in school had once used in a glass case and vowing to keep the sacred relic forever (forever being till the start of the next school year. Go ahead, laugh at me). Raina is the one good thing that has happened to Craig in his young life. She helps him accept himself and reconnect with all that is good and beautiful in him. With her, he comes to term with his sexuality, which he has been taught to deem as a sin. The tender details in which he describes his two weeks with, are easy to relate to.
Raina’s relationship with Craig does not survive beyond those two weeks. Burdened already with the ongoing divorce of her parents, the baby of her irresponsible older sister, an autistic brother and a mentally stunted sister, Raina is reluctant to start a long distance relationship with someone as emotionally needy as Craig. Craig is crushed by the break up, but it gives him the strength to realize himself and move away from the doctrines of his previous life and towards what he actually believes. It also helps him accept his loss of faith in religion, and though he can never confess to his parents that he is no longer a Christian, he does not hide from it himself.
Some of the loveliest parts of Blankets are the bits where Craig reminisces about his childhood with his brother Phil, the adventures they had together, the petty fights and the dependence on each other for support and company. Another thing I loved about the book is the depiction of winter. I have never seen a snowy winter, and the drawings of fields and mountains covered with virgin snow, just waiting to be explored, are irresistible.
Blankets probably wouldn’t have been remotely attractive as a textual book or even as a movie, but as a graphic novel, Craig Thompson’s depiction of guilt, shame, love, fear, and redemption, turns a very ordinary story into a magical masterpiece.
I tried to get my husband to read Blankets, but he still refers to graphic novels as comics, and he laughed outright as I tried to describe the story to him. Then he flipped open the book, as luck would have it, on one of the very few panels where Craig and Raina are sleeping together, barely clothed. “Whoa! You’re reading comic porn!” he cackled, and tossed it back to me. I couldn’t convince him, but if you get your hands upon Blankets, dear reader, I do hope you give it a try.
Read it if:
NOTE: This review first appeared on Amritorupa's site and can be viewed here as well.
Amritorupa Kanjilal was a corporate shark before she decided she would be much happier being a goldfish, blowing bubbles in her little bowl. She lives in Kolkata, India, and reads too much for her own good. When she isn't reviewing the hell out of books, she works on ideas for her novel, and makes tiny sculptures from construction putty.
You can visit her website, Rivers I Have Known, for more reviews and character doodles.