In the summer of 2003—relative unknown to the comics scene—Craig Thompson treated us with one of the most honest and heartrending graphic novels to ever be released: BLANKETS. This beautiful tale of first loves, first heartbreak, questioning your faith, and finding your place in a harsh world took the industry by storm; winning two Eisner awards and three Harvey awards for its touching account of cartoonist Craig Thompson’s upbringing in the Midwest. Let’s examine what makes BLANKETS special, and how it’s one of the few books to reach the full potential of what comics can be...
BLANKETS follows the early life of Craig Thompson; a lost young boy growing up in a hyper-religious working middle class household and the effects it’s had on him. Thompson lays bare how lost and helpless he felt as a child; whether it be from the harshness of his parents, or the almost tragic way religion was forced on him, pushing him away from his true passion of becoming an artist. All in all, Craig was looking for any escape possible, one that would eventually push him towards working as hard as he could to enter heaven—a place where he would no longer be hurting.
BLANKETS follows a dual narrative. On one hand, we get a deep dive into Craig’s upbringing as a young boy, and the constant guilt he feels when thinking about how he’s treated his brother and how god will view him. But on the other hand, we see Craig as a teenager where he goes away to church camp and meets the girl he will later fall in love with, Raina. Thompson shows the contrast of staying true to your religion and following your heart; he analyzes how the two don’t always coincide and the struggle one must go through to come to terms on how they’d like to live their life. I’m not going to spoil the rest of the story, as I feel BLANKETS is a must read for any fan of literature, but I will say that one of the giant themes of this book is how you’d like to leave your mark in this world, and the importance of following your heart.
At first glance, the art-style comes off as very simple, but you’ll quickly realize the layers and religious undertones shown in each scene. Everything on the panel is deliberate. There’s a dreamlike charm to Thompson’s art. Thompson uses symbolism a lot in this book contrasting bible verses to the struggles he’s going with in the different stages of his life; some may be how he makes his father look demon-like when getting scolded as a boy, or the way he views Raina as muse sent from the Heavens above. This shows how deeply rooted religion is in Thompson’s mind, in many scenes it’s as if he’s exorcising demons off the page. The beauty of BLANKETS art is in the quiet moments; the visual expressions, the symbolism, and the joy and despair Thompson evokes through this quiet, well thought out book.
Thompson has a way of making you feel as if you are him through the relatability of all his experiences; particularly with his relationship with Raina. Even if you haven’t had the same experiences as Craig, every piece of dialogue and ever panel is deliberately chosen to make you understand his happiness, despair, joy, and helplessness. BLANKETS is a meditation on the path one takes in life, on how the experiences you’ve lived informs the person you will come to be, and how you must hold onto those memories no matter how temporary. BLANKETS utilizes every aspect of the comic book medium in its roughly six-hundred pages and shows how powerful a comic can be if you treat it with a nuance that you don’t see very often. This isn’t just a book you should check out if you’re into ‘this” kind of comic; this is necessary reading for anyone who enjoys story. Do yourself a favor and check out BLANKETS by Craig Thompson. I promise you won’t regret it.