In this series of summer posts, MG staffer Kelly Nhan will be exploring books and music, festivals and goings-on, anything and everything Midwestern-related, and reporting her findings.
Blankets, by Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson’s acclaimed autobiographical graphic novel Blanket, is, at first glance, a doozy. At a whopping 582 pages (long even for a graphic novel) this one is tough to fit into your beach bag, but nevertheless has a place on our summer reading list. Published in 2003, Blankets deserves more than one read-over.
This bildungsroman is rendered in retrospect: narrated in the voice of the adult Craig, we see a childhood marked by the strictures of a fundamentalist Christian home, the bond between two brothers sharing the same bed in the attic of their Traverse City, Michigan home, schoolyard bullies who taunt our scrawny protagonist, and the wide-eyed belief of a young boy in Sunday School. A central tension throughout the work is that of religiosity, conformity, and the process of losing one’s faith. Indeed, Craig meets his first adolescent love, Raina, another long-haired, introspective misfit caught amongst the other fresh-faced young people, at Christian stay-away camp. Their young love is tender, never cloying, given how self-effacing the adult Craig is, even in the process of self-mythologizing.
Moreover, Blankets considers questions of memory and the progression of time/the self. How does the passage of time, and capturing the moments that have passed affect how we view them through photographs, drawings, the titular “blanket” lovingly weaved by a former love? Thompson often moves beyond the artistic conventions of the form: captions bleed into the gutter beyond the frame, and in one particularly poignant moment, we are inside of Craig’s head, gazing up at the dizzying patterns made by the quickly falling snowflakes. The retrospective glance into one’s past is informed by the place from which we view it, a point Thompson makes clear by drawing us to the conventions of the form he breaks; notice how his captions occasionally enter in on a tilt, cut in from the gutter into the frame as the narrator interjects on the scene unfolding, outside of the action but framing it nonetheless. And often silence is the vehicle through which Thompson draws his point: extended, caption-less scenes that remain dynamic enough to capture the reader’s attention. Though Blankets reads surprisingly quickly considering its heft, readers can mull over these bits and appreciate Thompson’s artistry.
The last few pages of the novel picture a young Craig jumping into the virgin snow, making new footprints: “How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement—no matter how temporary.” Surely, Blankets leaves its mark.
For fans of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
Kelly Nhan is a senior studying English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, and originally from Connecticut. She loves finding good coffee places, exploring cities, reading good poetry, and chatting about feminism. She is interested in going into book publishing, or eventually going to grad school to study post-colonial literature and feminist theory.