Blankets by Craig Thompson, Top Shelf Comix, 592 pages.
I've long been a proponent of the graphic novel as literature (see here, here and here). Too often, graphic novels are cast off as nothing more than kid stuff, pronounced so be people who say the word comics with a sneer.
The reviews for Thompson's Blankets were nothing short of superlative. Perhaps this book, combined with the success of Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, will finally give graphic novels their due.
What sets Corrigan and Blankets apart from other GN's like Sandman, is these stories were not serialized before being set into graphic novel form. They are books, in the truest sense of the world.
Blankets, for a 500+ page book, is quick reading. That's not because the pages are mostly art and word bubbles, which get you through a book faster than a word-only tome. No, it's because once you start on Thompson's journey through his childhood and adolescence, you are transfixed by the beauty and wonder of both the words and pictures. You don't want to put it down and, like any good book should make you feel, you don't want it to end.
Thompson's documentation of his younger years is at once suffocating as it is gorgeous. The images of constant, heavy snow and the presence of constant, heavy-handed religion give the story a weighty, ominous tone, made even more pronounced by the theme of dependence that runs through the book.
Thompson is able to take the darker themes and intertwine them with the wistful, bittersweet yearnings of first love. He captures the very essence of this rite of passage, from the first unsure glances to the breathlessness of being consumed by the fire in your heart.
The drawings are simple and delicate; Thompson is able to convey emotions so well that one panel can introduce a thousand words in your mind, almost making text unecessary. But the text that accompanies the art never comes off as redundant or obvious; Thompson creates art within art, using his words to enhance, rather than accompany, the drawings. Or is is the other way around? Perhaps the drawings are there to enhance the words.
Either way, it all makes for a beautiful, poignant story. Thompson pours his guts skillfully, spilling his fears, doubts and hopes about love, family, religion and himself on every page.
It's certainly literature and it's certainly art. The two should be free to flow together not just for children, but for adults who know the value of putting words and pictures together.
Craig Thompson is also the author of Goodbye, Chunky Rice.