Sunday, August 06, 2017

Blankets (2003)

Craig Thompson's graphic novel was highly regarded on its release—Time magazine named it the best of its kind that year—and it holds up pretty well. Set in Wisconsin and Michigan, it's a coming-of-age memoir of a poignant high school period, remembered almost 10 years later. Graphic novels often seem to lend themselves well to memoir, partly perhaps because drawing styles are inevitably personal, like autographs. (This still doesn't explain Harvey Pekar, who wrote the scripts for his comic book memoirs and then dragooned other artists into illustrating them.) Blankets has some interesting and unexpected features. Both Thompson and Raina, the girl he briefly falls for, come from conservative Christian milieus. Thompson appears to have left it behind since. But he remembers when things like Bible verses mattered as much as anything else in life, if not more. At the same time, Bible verses were competing for his attention with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Bjork. He always wanted to draw, and the art here is always good, often inspired. The title plays on blankets of snow, a blanket that Raina makes for him, and the blankets he shared with his younger brother Phil, with whom he slept for years growing up. In many ways, the story is as much about Phil as Raina. Thompson's love affair is one of those strange high school things. They meet in a church camp. They live in separate states. They exchange letters. Infatuation grows. She invites him to visit for two weeks and tender young teen love follows. They're both Christians, both underage, both under the watchful eye of all available adults. It's never a story of sexual awakening because it couldn't be. As it happens, Raina's parents are divorcing. Her father has recently moved to his own apartment. This is a terrible calamity for the Christian family, and that's what Raina is reaching out of. So, unsurprisingly, the love affair is doomed. But getting there is a nice story—too candid in some places, too precious in others, but mostly a swift and compelling tale of recognizable people with recognizable problems, making their way by their best lights. Graphic novels like this make me think I really need to look at more of them.

In case it's not at the library.

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