Blankets is a Bildungsroman set in rural Wisconsin that examines concepts like family, spirituality, and romance. The 582-page black-and-write graphic novel is a mature, epic autobiographical tale filled with honesty and sadness.
I hate aging. And in less than six months, I will turn 30. I am terrified. I have warned my friends and relatives that June 2019 will be a month of tears, nervous laughter, and nonsensical Amazon Prime purchases fueled by deep existential turmoil. These next few months are the calm before the storm, and I have been gathering supplies to help me weather June’s inevitable emotional typhoon.
Luckily, I have found Craig Thompson’s Blankets.
What makes Blankets rise above the hoard of artistically rendered tales of growth is the level of vulnerability displayed in the story. In an interview with Vermont PBS that was posted on YouTube, author Craig Thompson admits that, as he wrote the novel, he “didn’t think anybody would see it,” a fact that allowed him to feel comfortable placing more of himself in the novel. And it shows.
Larger-than-life panels house thick silhouettes of sympathetic characters that seem to flow from moment to moment like spirits, often propelled by wisps of ink and shadow. And threaded throughout that visual fabric is earnest feeling. Some graphic novels use plot as a driver of emotion, but Blankets allows feeling to drive the story. At times, the story moves slowly, but it is never dull because it is never emotionless. Thompson allows particularly profound moments to linger for several pages, like pressing pause on a memory, and this technique works because it reflects how we experience life. Our memories don’t play in our minds like movies; rather, they exist in our brains as slow-moving tableaux, a series of clips that offer more feeling than detail. The pacing and artwork of Blankets acknowledge this, and that nuance strengthens the intimate connection between reader and story.
Though notably personal, the narrative is not small. Like Persepolis, Blankets contains supernatural sequences and visual caricatures of relatable archetypes, both of which make otherwise banal moments seem Brobdingnagian. And like Maus, Blankets attaches meaning to every panel, transitioning from panel to panel like songs on a Radiohead album—smoothly and with close attention to thematic coherence. Unlike Maus or Persepolis, however, Blankets lacks an instantly poignant narrative backdrop. Even with the challenges of strict Evangelical Christianity, a story about growing up in rural Wisconsin does not have the immediate weight of a story about surviving the Holocaust or enduring the Islamic Revolution. Comparing the impacts of different traumas is misguided, of course, but Wisconsin is not a war zone.
So, it’s a good thing that Blankets includes one hell of a romance.
Some have said that Blankets is, ultimately, a romance story. And though this label oversimplifies the multifaceted nature of the novel, it is accurate. Intimate romantic dialogue and tender sexuality permeate the story.
In the late 1700s, William Blake, a literary champion of Romanticism, wrote Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, two collections of poetry that were meant to be read together as a celebration of childlike wonder (innocence) and an indictment of steel-hearted jadedness (experience). Blankets has a foot in both worlds, one foot rooted in a garden of unfiltered imagination and the other firmly planted in a bed of loss and cynicism. Blake’s writings are divisive, but Blankets refuses to draw a thick line. Intimate moments are intimate not because they are distinctly uplifting or melancholy. They are intimate because they are real. And Blankets is a real story in every aspect.
Blankets may be a long read, but it is well worth your time.
Blankets: The Value of Vulnerability
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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