'Carnet de Voyage' Is a Perfect Bridge Between Craig Thompson's  'Blankets' and 'Habibi'

Travel is inherently marked by moments of beauty, mundanity, exhaustion, and connection; comics artist Craig Thompson shows it all.

Carnet de Voyage
Craig Thompson

Drawn & Quarterly

April 2018

"Why bother traveling? To connect with the world? To lose oneself? A desperate flight from the realities of home? Or a desperate hunt to find a home? The illusion of movement. The shift in scenery jars us enough to remind us to be present. Our lives are not books. They're not deliberate and well-crafted. They're sketches. Spontaneous... delicate... not fully realized." -- Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage, a travel diary of his time spent in Europe and Morocco in 2004, is filled with sketches of the people and places he encountered along the way. Traveling on a book tour for Blankets (Drawn and Quarterly, 2015), he'd been tasked with a great deal of promotional appearances, and as the reader learns at the end of the travelogue, this diary was to be published soon after his return from his tour. In addition to the original published version, this new hardcover expanded edition includes a 32-page Afterword/Epilogue from 12 years later, documenting the process of creating a book while traveling.

Thompson makes it clear that this diary is composed of quick snapshots and sketches, without the use of photographs, and the looseness of the drawings comes through beautifully. Thompson is a gifted cartoonist, with an ability to tell long, complex stories while never sacrificing intricate details or the fluidity of his drawings. Here, his sketches still manage to convey those same skills, while retaining an on-the-fly quality that works especially well for the genre.

As should've been obvious to fans of his autobiographical masterpiece, Blankets (though there is a funny moment in Carnet de Voyage in which he finds a copy of Comics Journal at the apartment of Laureano, a representative of his Spanish publisher, that gives Blankets an honorable mention, causing Thompson to immediately declare: "Comics Journal hates me."), there is little that's off-limits. The naked honesty that marked Blankets as so affecting, remains a part of this diary, and allows the reader a true glimpse into Thompson's emotional life.

Thompson's travels begin in France and the time is filled with friends, new and old, many promotional appearances and signings, and the pain of a torn ligament in his foot. Then embarking on the Moroccan portion of his trip, Thompson is hampered by the pain of his injury and quickly assaulted by the differences between the two countries he's visited so far. He repeatedly laments the separation of sexes, as Thompson's penchant for drawing women is nearly impossible in Morocco, struggles with digestive issues and tendinitis, and wallows in loneliness at his inability to communicate. Still, he does make some connections with local people that make an impression and, as he prepares to leave Essaouria for Fez he finds himself sad to do so. ("So easy to love a place on the day you're leaving.") It's Thompson's candor in conveying what he feels in the moment, while still acknowledging his sometimes ill-tempered interactions and prejudices, that make Carnet de Voyage so engaging.

Following Morocco, Thompson's travels take him to the Alps and a reunion with his French friends Laëtitia and Frédéric. Immediately more comfortable among Europeans, and reveling in the natural beauty around him (Thompson is a self-confessed "nature boy"), the contrast to his time in Morocco, mainly in crowded cities, is apparent. Similarly, he is able to engage with fellow cartoonists, such as favorites of his, Blutch and Lewis Trondheim, though he still struggles with health issues and sickness no matter where he is. There are moments that stand out in their seeming out-of-placeness, such as an outing for laser tag and an acupuncture session, but their addition gives the diary more authenticity than if it were merely a cliché-riddled account of the glories of traveling abroad. Travel is inherently marked by moments of beauty, mundanity, exhaustion, and connection; Thompson shows it all.

Drawings of Antoni Gaudi's otherworldly structures and a brief romance with a Swedish woman, Hillevi, living in Barcelona dominate his time in Spain. Hanging over the entire diary though, is his ex-girlfriend Melissa. The occasional emails between the two and his repeated thoughts of their relationship, make her sporadic appearance just as memorable as his travel.

The final and additional pages to this expanded edition include a return to some of the same people and places from the original diary, as well as candid observations on the difficulties of creating a publishable travelogue while on the road. Thompson explains how he was challenged and encouraged to draw every day, especially knowing it would be sent off for publication while still traveling. The decisions made, from non-native-speaking early proofreaders to leaving out the final days of the trip due to them solely being promotional events, are explained. Thompson's critical eye turned to his initial impressions are also valuable and speak to the immediacy of the diary, particularly when he characterizes his time in Morocco as an initial research trip for Habibi (Pantheon, 2011). Carnet de Voyage captures many of the highs and lows that accompany traveling for an extended period, and Thompson's willingness to be present and honest make it a perfect bridge between his two larger narrative accomplishments, Blankets and Habibi.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.