Crude Ink 02.08.08 | Blankets

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Gift-shopping for her comics-loving boyfriend brings our comics newbie to take a chance on Craig Thompson’s phonebook-sized autobiographical romance. But before the book gets wrapped, there’s no harm in reading it for herself, right?

 

There is nothing more frustrating than gift shopping for a new boyfriend. A gift card seems pretty impersonal for someone who buys the drinks every Friday night, and office gadgets are useless and boring. On the other hand, something too personal or too expensive makes you look obsessive. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend like Boy Wonder, since he has a couple of serious passions—music and comics. That makes him easy to shop for, right? Well, it would if he didn’t already own more books and CDs than your average Barnes & Noble. Despite that, I decided I was going to win points by finding Boy the coolest comic he’d ever seen. Clearly, I was in way over my head.

The cover to Blankets by Craig Thompson. Click for a larger image.

On a rare night off, I made my way to the book store, and headed straight for the comics section. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in to the comics section. There were a couple of guys browsing in that aisle, and I felt like a total phony going in there and looking at books I knew nothing about. I suppose I could have asked one of them for help, but I’m not that outgoing, so I decided to spend a few minutes lurking around the next aisle… which turned out to be romance novels. Now, there was no way I was going to be caught dead in the Shirtless Fabio Section, so I considered my mission a failure and walked off towards the café for some coffee. By some miracle of luck, there was a display table on the way that was stacked with graphic novels—success! From there it was a pretty easy decision—I grabbed the biggest, most impressive looking book on the table and didn’t look back.

The book I had grabbed was Blankets, a six hundred page monster written and illustrated by Craig Thompson. I looked it over when I got home—Time Magazine promised "a first love story so well remembered and honest that it reminds you what falling in love feels like." A first love story? I figured it was the perfect gift, if you can forgive the schmaltz. I opened the book to a random page in the middle, just to see what it was about. Twenty pages later, I figured I might as well read it from the beginning—if I was careful, Boy Wonder would never know I read his present before I wrapped it!

Blankets is an autobiographical look at Thompson’s first love, with glimpses into his childhood in rural Wisconsin, his fundamentalist Christian parents, and all the usual experiences that make growing up so rough. An outcast in school, and even in church, Craig seeks out the other outsiders during his yearly obligatory trip to church camp, and meets a free spirit named Raina, and finds a fast friend. Though the two live hundreds of miles apart, they convince their parents to let them meet over winter break. From there, the love story progresses like you might expect from two teenagers. Craig and Raina aren’t Romeo and Juliet, but their relationship has that same intensity that comes with innocence and naiveté.

An interior page from Blankets by Craig Thompson. Click for a larger image.Thompson’s illustrations are the perfect complement to the story—detailed and realistic enough to be a photo album, but occasionally becoming fluid and dreamy when his memories are more emotional. The whole book is done in black and white sketches, but it doesn’t detract from the story at all. In fact, it would seem wrong to distract from the story by coloring in the pictures. There is a bit of nudity (I knew it—cartoon boobs!) but it’s more arty than gratuitous. The best pictures, though, are the childhood drawings of Thompson and his brother, which I can only hope were copied straight from real life.

Altogether, this book is pretty charming. Speaking as someone who was never into comics, Blankets is the book that made me want to read more. In fact, I couldn’t keep it to myself, and told Boy Wonder all about it. I was worried about ruining the surprise—it was supposed to be a gift for him, after all—but as it turned out, he already had the book! (If you’re wondering, I didn’t repeat the embarrassing trip to the bookstore. He got a DVD.) He hadn’t read it yet though, so I did recommend he get on it right away. He liked it just as much as I did. Whether you’re in to graphic novels, like Boy, or just like a good story, like me, you can’t do any better than this book. I’ll be loaning my copy to everyone I know. | Terri Gudowicz

 

In this edition:

Blankets (Top Shelf, 2003)

592 pgs. B&W; $29.95

(W / A: Craig Thompson)

Click here for a 7-page preview, courtesy of Top Shelf!

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