Cover art for Blankets
Cover art for Blankets

Blankets
Craig Thompson
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Paperback, 592 pages

I’ve never heard of Craig Thompson or any of his work before. When a copy of the very thick and very heavy “Blankets” landed on my desk by way of two friends, I thought it was a trade paperback of some obscure novel… until I cracked it open.

“Blankets” is Thompson’s second graphic novel – an ambitious venture, judging by the length of the tome. It is also the winner of three 2004 Harvey Awards for Best Artist, Best Graphic Album of Original Work and Best Cartoonist; and winner of two 2004 Eisner Awards for Best Graphic Album and Best Writer/Artist.

The graphic novel follows the life of Craig, starting from key moments in his young life into his teens and later, his early adulthood. His early years are shared with his younger brother Phil, as two young boys who had creative ways of irritating and playing with each other while surviving school, parents and life in  Wisconsin.

As a child, Craig has always been alienated by his peers.

“Something about being rejected at church camp feels so much more awful than being rejected at school.” he mused in a scene where he gets carted off to what he called a week of pretense of sharing “Christ-centered” recreational activities with other Christian youths.

Craig meets Raina at one of these church camps after he’s hit the teens and his relationship with Phil takes a complete backseat in the narrative. The attraction is immediate and mutual, growing deeper after they return to their respective homes. Letters are followed by packages containing “sweet high school nothings”.

He decides to go and spend two weeks at with Raina and her family in Michigan, without mentioning to his own fundamentalist mother that Raina’s good Christian parents are getting a divorce. His timing is a little awkward for her parents but was a balm for Raina, who has to struggle to care for her adopted siblings and unwanted niece.

Raina gives Craig a hand-made quilt, patched together from patterns that reminded her of him. This blanket became an underlaying theme, fusing together patterns that appeared through out the book.

The third and most consistant of Craig’s relationship is the one with God. One of the things that drew him and Raina together is that they shared the same delimma with this whole God thing – they’ve been raised Christians but found causes to doubt. This also made a few funny pages featuring Craig when Raina said to him, “Come to bed with me.”

“Blankets” is semi-autobiographical tale where nothing terribly dramatic or superhero-like happens, but it doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still a very interesting read. It’s almost like watching a movie.

The beauty of the comic medium is that things that will require a few paragraphs of description can be relayed in two panels. Thompson puts this to full use. A picture paints a thousand words.

Where words are required, he doesn’t fall short. There are lines that are so beautiful and so true that it’ll bring tears to your eyes. As both the writer and the artist of “Blankets”, Thompson had the advantage of writing or drawing exactly what he wants.

If you enjoyed the movie “Saved!”, you might want to keep an eye out for this book. While “Blankets” has a more subtle approach and is less satirical than that movie, it tells the same story about people who only want to be human.

Note: This graphic novel is for mature readers. Small children and big babies need not apply.

– Originally published in PostMag, The Borneo Post

Blankets - Panel

I was reminded of this graphic novel during our visit to MV Doulos by Joyce, who remarked, “I bet you won’t find Blankets here.”

It’s both understandable and a shame. I can related to the protagonist of the book and the story of how he fell out of Christianity. If I recall correctly, Thompson said somewhere that this graphic novel was an attempt to explain to his parents why he chose to get off the church bandwagon. It had nothing to do with not believing in God or Jesus, but in how humans tend to fuck things up in between getting the message from God and delivering it to the unwashed masses.

“It denies the beauty of being human, and it ignores all these gaps that need to be filled in by the individual.” said Craig the character on the subject of Christianity.

Blankets - Authority

It’s hard to fill in the gaps when you’re afraid that every move you make is gonna be an “OMG SIN!”

Some people have managed to grow up and live entirely within their own safe community of Christians without ever experiencing what it’s like out there in the “real world”. Yet within the Christian community exists a set of politics and internal backbiting that is made worse when you are taught to believe that these are supposed to be the good guys.

Blankets is possibly the most eloquent and profound description I’ve found of how and why some young people lose faith. And yet, it’s not the downfall of humanity. I see it as a process of growing up and getting a well-rounded education of the world and society we live in, and coming to our on conclusions. I can’t think of anything worse than letting other people tell us what we should do or believe in our entire lives.

You can read a few pages of Blankets here.

collab_thompson_blankets570

This gorgeous image is page 570 in the book and originally in B&W.
This one was coloured by DMV Comics and reposted here with
his kind permission.

6 comments

  1. I read mostly non-fiction stuff.

    But I think “Blankets” is going to change my reading habits!
    Where do you think in Kuching can I get hold of a copy (besides the one in your hands now!)? Thks.

  2. It really relates to many people nowadays. I don’t like those “politics” that’s why I never join them for years already and keep a very very low profile when I go to church on Sunday. I just don’t feel comfortable, fell kinda pressure when join those activities or mix around with them such as the youth society things and other church related activities *LOL* Besides, who are them to judge a person whether he/she is a good Christian, everyone got their own way in believing in God or otherwise.

    If people see my comment, I’m sure they will be scolding me ;p

  3. I really love this book. Its so honest and speaks straight to the heart. I have no expectation when I first bought this book about 4 yrs ago in Kinokuniya KL. I got his 2 other books after that but still think this is his masterpiece.

  4. Irene: It’s pretty much how I feel about things. You’re not alone.

    Gabby: I liked his other two books too, although I don’t have them at the moment. I gave my copy of Chunky Rice to a friend because I felt that the theme of the book related to us. I’ve yet to replace the copy. I love Chunky Rice! But Blankets sits very close to my heart.

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