Can a graphic novel be called a classic? A coming-of-age epic? A bildungsroman? Because I would fight you to the death to prove that Craig Thompson’s Blankets is all of the above.
I had never reach much in the way of comic books. My brother was more into superheroes than I was, though I would buy the G.I. Joe comics when 7-11 used to stock them every now and again, I was never an avid reader.
I was flipping through an anthology for a class in Advanced Prose (a technical term for non-fiction writing) back in 2012, and I found an excerpt of Blankets. I ordered it shortly after. It’s a graphic novel that has stayed with me over the last few years, and I can’t help but pull it out and page through it, as much for its art as for its story.
Having never been too familiar with graphic novels before, I often dismissed them as simplistic or just relatively uninteresting. I know, I know…I was wrong and ignorant. Graphic novels are very much works of literature.
Blankets is the story of author Craig Thompson’s formative years, including his wrestling with religion, sexuality, the question of what to do with his life, and relationships (familial and otherwise). Much of the novel is centered on Craig’s first love, Raina. Thompson’s art style is terrific–a mix of caricature and realistic art, if such a thing makes sense.
Thompson’s panels keep you as hooked as a good novel, full of teenage wisdom, questions, and poetics without ever feeling derived, silly, or forced. Quickly, you come to feel like you know Craig personally, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who can identify with his experiences. The themes are universal. If you’ve been a teenager, you’ll understand.
Looking at certain panels out of context, the writing may seem silly, yet this is where I find the ultimate difference between poorly-written teenagers and well-written ones. Thompson writes,
“Maybe I’m sad about wanting you. I’m not too comfortable with wanting someone.”
I’m sure we can all recall saying something of the sort about a first love. Thompson is able to vocalize (well, write and draw) how we all felt about our first romances, the first person we felt strongly for and the ensuing turmoil in approaching such feelings.
Blankets absolutely exudes realism without ever crossing into parody, and I think Thompson’s authenticity is a large part of what makes Blankets such a compelling and endearing read.
I fully believe Blankets is the kind of work that’s a game-changer for a genre, the type of work that influences a new crop of writers and artists to reach new heights. It’s a graphic novel that adheres to the fibers in your muscles and doesn’t let go.
How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement…
In the case of Blankets, the mark is anything but temporary.