Story and Art by Craig Thompson
Published by Top Shelf Productions: July 23, 2003
Blankets follows Craig through his most impressionable stages. We explore sibling rivalry in rural Wisconsin, the importance of faith, its destructive capabilities and the budding romance of adolescent love. Our protagonist must come to terms with his life, and the decisions he must make, even if he must persists alone.
Blankets was a classic case of “how come I didn’t read this sooner?” It sat idly on my bookshelf for a whole month before I picked it up, which now leads to feeling of intense frustration and self loathing. It is without a doubt the best graphic novel I’ve read.
What I found most fascinating about this piece was its depiction of inner conflict between religion and reality. Following a religion devoutly requires a lot of commitment, but the real challenge comes from integrating with others who do not share the same beliefs. Throughout the piece, Craig finds himself caught between a life his religion and family want for him and the life his peers seem to be living. He has to constantly question his beliefs when exposed to conflicting behaviours, and must decide whether his religious beliefs are justified or would only result in missed opportunities. This causes intense panic attacks, depression and self loathing. While my experience being caught between cultures is limited, I completely empathise with Craig. While some may find these scenes unnecessarily frustrating, it’s important to understand that rejecting beliefs that are so heavily grounded in your life is an incredibly daunting task. If you begin to question small aspects of your belief system, slowly the foundations of your reality begin to crumble and you find yourself in an existential void. Thompson depicted this process perfectly in Blankets. It’s also important to remember that this is a piece about young-adulthood. To ignore the angst that is produced in this stage would lead to an overlooked aspect of an incredibly important life stage. While angst is a common concept in all mediums, the addition of religious overtones created a fresh perspective on the area, and truly emphasised how harmful objective beliefs can be in a subjective world.
Another outstanding aspect of this piece was its depiction of teen relationships, and the intense passion that emanates from the romance. After meeting at bible camp, and falling in love, we find our characters in the “honeymoon stage”. Their relationship is completely removed from the external world, and nothing can somber their connection. Thomson emphasises this stage by contrasting it with the difficulties other characters are experiencing congruently. Raina’s parents are undergoing a divorce, her sister needs full time care due to a disability and her sister seems too immature to provide her child with the attention it needs. Craig’s parents seem just as damaged, and use guilt as a method to control him. These facts don’t impede on the relationship at all. In fact, Raina jokingly asks Craig to drop out of school and move in with her so they can take care of her sister and niece. However, as reality begins to seep into their relationship, they are forced to maintain it in the real world, and issues in their naive plans begin to show. The development of their relationship, and the compromise between intense passion and reality lead to fleeting moments of beauty within these incredibly self-involved and highly obsessive relationships. It also provides a relationship that is inherently difficult, emphasising that love is not always synonymous with simplicity. Compromise is necessary. This is not a story, however, that only focuses on romantic relationships. It also explores the connection between siblings, friends, and god.
The art of Blankets is just breathtaking. It somehow stays incredibly simple while being rich in detail. The complex depictions of love, torment and dreaming were a pleasure to experience, and it would take hours to extract all the symbols. As a primary reader of manga, one thing that disinterested me about western comics was the art style. After reading this piece, I had to reconstruct my beliefs on art in general, providing me with a whole new genre to explore.
The pacing of Blankets was so perfect that I found myself completely immersed in the story. I felt like an omnipresent figure within this universe, observing the beautifully complex relationships between all of the inhabitants. While there was one overarching story, Thompson breaks up the plot by switching between his childhood and young adulthood. This not only adds greater depth to the characters, but allows the reader to understand the origin of his beliefs, and how they ultimately affected the decisions he made during the later acts. I would have liked more of an explanation about Craig’s beliefs in the last chapter of the piece, but I suppose they can be inferred from the various conflict throughout the piece. It made the piece an utterly addicting experience, and while I wasn’t reading Blankets all the time, from the moment I picked it up, it was all I thought about. And here I am, a week later, and a day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t thought about it.
Blankets is not just a phenomenal graphic novel. It’s a phenomenal creation that explores a variety of themes which most people have experienced in some sense. Whether it’s questioning beliefs, developing passionate relationships or wading through life with utter uncertainty, this piece uses a beautiful art style and unique perspectives to depict life in a startlingly human way. Everything it set out to do it achieved. Ultimately, it was not created to tell a story of intense nobility or to challenge the boundaries of the medium. It was created to depict an important aspect of life, at an important stage in time. And it’s done perfectly. Everyone should have the pleasure of reading this piece. Everyone.
Story – 9.5
Overall – 9.8/10