by Craig Thompson
I can't really explain why it's taken me this long to read Blankets, especially since I read Thompson's incredible Habibi as soon as it came out, but I read a lot of comics, and there are a lot more that I've never read, so it happens when it happens.
Blankets is a beautiful, beautiful book. It's a very honest look at Thompson's early days, living in a remote farmhouse in Wisconsin as a child, and it follows him through his first love in his final year of high school. More significantly, it looks at his evolving ideas about religion, and how he eventually walks away from the harsh, unforgiving Christianity of his parents.
As a kid, Craig is an true outsider. He's artistic and sensitive, uninterested in sports, drinking, or drugs. He does not easily fit into large groups, but also at home, is not all that interested in spending time with or getting to know his younger brother. Craig is not mean or snobbish, he's just pretty self-sufficient.
In high school, as he's forced to attend yet another Christian camp during his winter break, he meets Raina, a girl from Michigan who is just about a perfect match for him. They have a lovely (chaste) time together at camp, and then begin a relationship held through the mail. Eventually, Craig is invited to stay at her house for two weeks (it says a lot about how trusting both kids' parents are that they never even assume there could be problems with this), and we get to see their relationship grow.
I'm not sure to what degree Thompson chose to fictionalize some of these events, but what we get to see is one of the more touching coming of age stories I've ever read. Craig is the type of kid who feels sad sitting next to the girl he's in love with because he knows that soon he won't be. Raina, on the other hand, is dealing with a lot at home - her parents are divorcing, her sister keeps using her to babysit her baby, and her other two (adopted) siblings have intellectual disabilities of differing severity. She's looking for someone to make her feel less alone and overwhelmed, but is not exactly after the level of commitment that Craig is.
Woven through all of this is the austere Christianity that Craig's been raised in. He's been taught forever about the rewards of heaven (which, to be honest, sounds pretty terrible, even if you like to sing), and has been singled out as a good candidate for seminary school from an early age. He reads the Bible nightly, but, as we see, begins to question a lot more than word choice in the various translations.
This is a very good read. Thompson's art is lovely, and he plays with layout and design in interesting ways. He is able to convey a great deal of emotion in pretty simple facial drawings, and makes great use of white space (the snow that blankets Craig's life so often) to help focus the narrative. I can easily understand why this is such an acclaimed graphic novel.