As I was pulling out boxes of holiday decorations from our storage space, I uncovered this gem of a graphic novel along with a few others. Having never read this one before, or anything from Craig Thompson for that matter, I decided to give it a try. What a hauntingly beautiful story this turned out to be! I was very pleased by this illustrated tale that blends the text and illustrations together superbly. In fact, it’s difficult to think of Blankets as a graphic novel because of its complexity. It’s definitely more of an autobiography, as the protagonist is named Craig and looks exactly like the author. This book touched me in a way many don’t due to bringing back memories of some of my own battles growing up. Coming from a Christian background where I was taught that the only truth is God’s word created conflict in my life as I struggled to come to terms with who I was.
The story centers around Craig who lives in a small Wisconsin town with his parents and younger brother. Craig is teased and bullied on a regular basis, and his only means of escape are drawing and church. Craig’s parents are devout Christians, and so Craig wraps himself up in his religion in order to protect himself from the ugliness of the world. As he gets older, he begins to experience doubts in the Christian way of life. Certain teachings don’t make sense to him, and those that call themselves Christians act in a way that is the opposite. He is made to feel like his love of drawing is wrong, and so he burns all of his work.
During a week at church camp, he meets Raina, a free-spirit who causes him to fall head over heels in love. However, Raina’s family lives in Michigan. After spending time through phone calls and letters, Craig convinces his parents to let him stay with Raina’s family for two weeks. Craig discovers that the members of Raina’s family have struggles of their own, and the experiences there change Craig’s life forever.
The title Blankets serves as both title and theme of the story. There are several blankets that appear in the story, and each serves a certain purpose. We tend to think of a blanket as something of comfort, but it actually has other uses as well. A blanket can shield us from the harsh realities we don’t want to face. They can keep us warm and safe. They can also serve as a way to hide.
I grew up in a Christian home. However, that was only one aspect of who I was. I was also into reading and writing. My tastes, however, were not exactly church-approved reading material. I often had to sneak my books into my house and read them at night. I still remember once being caught reading King only to be lectured about how his writing is “evil.” My favorite scene from the book is when adult Craig steps into his first real library to discover he can read anything he wants. Like Craig, I was also a victim of bullying. I was always made to feel like I was an outcast, and fortunately found refuge with other fellow outcasts. I also took solace in reading. Books were able to take me away from the bad things around me. Now I see the beauty underneath it all, and books just help me recognize it all.
I thought the black and white artwork was stunning. What’s great about graphic novels is that the pictures tell just as much a story as the words. This really stands out in the scenes with Raina’s family. I loved how Thompson drew the adult figures to be so much more imposing over the smaller Craig. I think black and white artwork was smart as it made this an even more beautiful work that really stand out.
Whether you are a fan of graphic novels or not, please read this work. If you have doubts, it will definitely change your mind.