car·net (kär-n) n.
1. An official pass or permit, especially one for crossing national boundaries.
2. A book of postage stamps.
Craig Thompson begins this book with a disclaimer, saying that this is not the “Next Book” but rather a self-indulgent side-project, a simple travel diary, or a little snack—a la airline pretzels—before the “Next Book”. However, this is by no means an egotistical gesture on Thompson’s part, but perhaps can be viewed as a mockery of this media-driven day and age where people are constantly wanting more and willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. This book, however, lacks neither.
Carnet De Voyage is a travel log about Thompson’s trip through Europe and Morocco in the spring of 2004. Like all of Thompson’s work (Goodbye Chunky Rice, Blankets) this “little snack” is also a gem to look at, equally probing and at times embarrassingly honest. Carnet De Voyage does not follow the conventional format of the sequential narrative (panel-to-panel, page-to-page) but is rather a sketchbook of people, places and thoughts. It is difficult to call it a “comic book” per se, but since it contains text and image and authored by a comic book artist, it seems fitting to call it such. Among my favorites drawings are the explanatory diagrams that permeate the book, ranging from how to snowboard, the anatomy of camels and Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitational Constant!
Carnet De Voyage is special in that it gives you a glimpse into the mind of the young, wandering artist, always with a sketchbook and pencil, filling page after page with drawings of the world around him, not wanting to miss a single thing. In Blankets Thompson expressed his thoughts and feelings about growing up, first love, and faith, sharing with the readers his most intimate, personal moments in undeniably brutal honesty. In Carnet De Voyage he goes further than that to show you his unadulterated emotions, unedited, raw and straightforward. We see Thompson suffering from homesickness, rheumatoid arthritis, cultural shock, and the uncertainty of life. And he is not afraid to show us all of it. In fact, a small cynical monster (the alter-ego, or voice of reason) appears in his bleakest moments to shake him back into reality, which adds a therapeutic aspect to the complexity of this artist and what he holds within himself.
Those familiar with Thompson’s artwork will be enthralled with this book. Carnet De Voyage is a rare treat in that you get to see “unfinished” work by your favorite artist. Of note are the words of an acquaintance to Thompson, on the difference between pictures and photographs, “...photographs can be insincere/intrusive—they steal an image, while a drawing is an active interaction and interpretation.” Thompson fills Carnet De Voyage with luscious drawings of places not seen in postcards or travel books, intimate down to earth locales where people go about their everyday lives. From carpenters, fishermen, and shop owners, to friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers from all corners of the earth Thompson draws a beautiful collage of people in their natural environment, comfortable and (somewhat) content, something that not even the most talented of photographers could capture on film.
Not only a travel diary, Carnet De Voyage is also a celebration of life (as corny as that may sound); rich with dialogue, personality, and that precise moment in time captured on paper, forever cherished and remembered. The short commentary that Thompson adds to each portrait in his sketchbook almost makes you feel that you’re next to these people in that intimate moment of artist and model. Although, we do not know Thompson personally, we feel as if he is a close friend, willing to open up to us and share his thoughts and feelings with us. And as all good friends do, we willingly oblige, listen and share his thoughts.