Craig Thompson: Blankets

Craig Thompson: Blankets

It's been four years since Top Shelf first published Craig Thompson's Good-bye, Chunky Rice, a strange, sad debut graphic novel about connections, attachments, and loss. Looking at Thompson's follow-up, the massive, staggeringly ambitious graphic novel Blankets, it's easy to see where all the intervening time went. Over the course of nearly 600 pages, Thompson chronicles and conflates a decade's worth of childhood and adolescent events, wrapping the dim past and the nearer past into marbled swirls of thematic congruity. He begins with images of himself as a scrawny, bullied boy who turned to Christianity because the afterlife seemed like a better option than daily life. As children, he and his younger brother Phil shared a bed in an alternately freezing and suffocating farmhouse. They fought–over the bed, among other things–but they also took refuge in fantasy games and simple companionship. In an adolescent parallel, Craig finds comfort in a chaste romance with a sweet, needy girl from a family that isn't quite broken, but is certainly in the process of coming apart. The childhood alchemy whereby a bed becomes a sinking ship and pillows become shark-menaced life rafts is traded in for what Craig perceives as soul-threatening flirtations with lust, but the theme remains the same. In a vast sea of isolation (evoked both by the bitter, snowy Wisconsin winters and by the distancing crowds of crude childhood bullies and cruder teenage outcasts), two people tailor their own private world and find some peace there. Blankets lacks Good-bye, Chunky Rice's surrealistic whimsy, and it's duly missed. But it's replaced by a more mature outlook, deeper and more elaborate storytelling, and more sophisticated artwork. Thompson's black-and-white line art can be deceptively simple: He renders his characters in heavy strokes, often giving them crude, almost caricaturistic features reminiscent of Will Eisner's sloppily evocative portraits. But Thompson packs a wealth of fine detail into his panels, particularly when his alter ego's imagination takes over, and his world sprouts into phantasmagorical beauty. Like Chunky Rice, Blankets presents a sober, profound meditation on the protective space two individuals can create by moving close together. Unlike Chunky Rice, Thompson's sophomore release reads as critical history rather than a charming fable. But together, the books offer an impressively concrete portrait of emotional ephemera, captured with talent, disarming humor, and a gentle sincerity that glows through on every remarkable page.

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