At the end it turned out to be a period of deep therapy. I had to deal with untrustworthy memory and the residue of guilt about the fairness and accuracy of the portrayal of loved ones.
Will Eisner, discussing his autobiographical book, “To the Heart of the Storm” (www.willeisner.com)
I met Craig Thompson this past summer at the Wizard World convention in Chicago. I caught him at the Top Shelf booth toward the end of the day, after heading there specifically to pick up his new graphic novel, Blankets. Craig was sweet, self-effacing, and happy to personalize the book for me with a stamp and a flourish from his brush-pen. And I know it was a brush-pen because he took more than a polite amount of time to talk shop with my artist friend.
It was no surprise, then, to find Blankets so warm, inviting and riveting. Thompson’s highly personal story lays his young life naked, cutting a path through familial, romantic and spiritual turmoil. What makes it so lovely is that it’s not nearly as heavy-handed as all that sounds. On the contrary, Thompson’s story-telling technique is reminiscent of a long night spent with a new, dear friend who doesn’t fear laying out the truths that have formed them late into the night. It’s intense, but it’s worth it.
The autobiographical story tells of Thompson’s young life in Central Wisconsin, where he was raised in a home built on scripture. Such is the level of righteousness in the Thompson household, Craig and his younger brother are sent each summer to Church Camp. Both artistic, neither are encouraged for fear “doodling” may interfere with loftier pursuits. Craig, however, finds his loftiest pursuit in high school in a girl named Raina, who lives hours away. They form a supernovaic relationship, fading even as it burns brightest, and it’s this romance that informs much of Thompson’s resultant, shinier outlook on life.
It takes a lot to earn comparisons to Will Eisner, but Blankets reads a lot like Eisner’s “To the Heart of the Storm.” Both are unflinching in their portrayal of good parents as flawed characters. The parents are flawed not because of anything as insidious as abuse, but because of the blinders parents put on in their undying love for their children. Likewise, the relationship between older and younger brother is told here in a way that’ll make siblings laugh as well as cringe. Thompson shares Eisner’s ability to plug sentimentality where it’s deserved, and drop it when it becomes too saccharine.
At times, Thompson encounters some stumbling blocks with dialogue. So much of the book is narrated, and the reflective tone works. However, that tone is kept for the dialogue, which makes people talk in metaphors a bit too often. Still, it’s a problem that has to be searched for in an otherwise flawless telling.
As for the art, the book is a masterpiece. Thompson’s work is fluid, with broad sweeping lines that capture the childhood and dreamlike elements of the book magnificently. He’s able to subtly alter styles for differing moods and circumstances, bringing the scenes to life with slight touches the way master cinematographers work in film.
When I bought the book at Wizard World, the guy in the Top Shelf both told me Diamond Comics Distributors had already sold out of its first print run in July and a new run was already in the works. It’s easy to understand why—Blankets has received about as much hype as a funnybook can expect nowadays. What a pleasure it was to pick it up and see the hype was deserved.