I think I picked this book up at Canty’s bookshop a while ago. They’ve been getting some really great graphic novels in recently, and I was really in the mood for an excellent one. I remember selecting this one in particular because it’s so highly acclaimed and I’d heard of it before.
“Blankets” by Craig Thompson is a mostly-autobiographical graphic novel about Thompson’s experiences growing up as an Evangelical Christian in Wisconsin. Although Craig’s parents are very strict, he has a close relationship with his brother and they share vivid imaginary adventures together. However, as Craig grows older, they grow apart and a teenaged Craig begins to feel increasingly isolated, bullied and harassed in his small town. Then, one winter at Bible camp, Craig meets a young woman called Raina – finally, someone he connects with.
This is a stunning graphic novel, no question. Even though all the illustrations are black and white, Thompson’s illustrations are incredibly rich and expressive. The winters feel cold and Craig’s loneliness is palpable. The relationship between Craig and his brother Phil is one of the highlights of the book. The way Thompson maps their closeness when they share a bed, their increasing distance as teens and then their refound closeness was beautifully done. The imagery of blankets was done brilliantly as was Thomspon’s blend of reality and fantasy. Thompson’s exploration of religious themes and identity were also incredibly insightful and I think would resonate strongly with people who have grown up in a conservative Christian household. There is a lot packed in, and it’s quite long for a graphic novel, with all the themes very carefully constructed.
However, perhaps because the focus of the story is mostly on Craig’s faith, or perhaps because it’s a semi-autobiography, I felt like the story arch itself was overall a bit fuzzy and kind of trailed out towards the end. This book is definitely more journey than destination, but I did feel like there wasn’t much resolution at the end. I think the reason for this really goes to the heart of the story which was Craig’s friendship (and later relationship) with Raina.
Raina was really the classic manic pixie dream girl archetype who seemed to exist solely to be Craig’s “muse”. Although he was young, I really felt like Raina got the rough end of the stick. Juggling a lot of primary care for two disabled siblings, trying to graduate high school and balancing a long-distance relationship, I felt like Craig’s ultimate betrayal of Raina and the personal boundaries she asked for was never properly addressed. Instead of being a real person with real feelings, Raina ends up being treated as an “experience” for Craig. A person about whom he is angry and then later nostalgic, but not quite enough of a real person to justify an apology. Thompson has explained that the character of Raina is actually an amalgamation of a high school love and his current partner. I think that Craig’s inability to appreciate that Raina has a life and priorities outside of him is visible as the reader, but I’m not sure it’s visible to Craig the character. In the end I felt like he was still thinking of what Raina could do for him, and not what he could have done for her.
Regardless, this is an excellent graphic novel and one that I think might resonate with a lot of people. If you haven’t read many graphic novels, I think this would be a great place to start.