Friday, July 28, 2006

Blankets, or How I learned to stop worrying and start living

What can I say about Craig Thompson’s Blankets that hasn’t already been said? I’ve seen a lot of people using words like “charming” or “heart warming” as well as it appearing on a lot of lists of comics to give to girlfriends. I’m sure all those work for other people but I don’t really care whether or not someone I love reads comics, I love her for who she is and this hobby of mine isn’t about winning converts.

But what I didn’t know was just how much Jesus Christ, and Christianity features in this book. I glanced at the back of the book before cracking the spine and the reviews from The New York Times Book Review and Publisher’s Weekly both mention how this book contains an examination of the protagonist’s relationship with God. And boy is it there. I was on the verge of stopping this story - it was just so bloody depressing to witness how parents can totally mess up an already awkward time of someone’s life by adhering to a fundamentalist religion. Jeez Louise, if anything, this story has reinforced my strict adherence to no organized religion and that I won’t raise my kids with any religion. I’ll let them choose their path when they can vote unless they want to join a religion on their own earlier. I certainly won't stop them but I definitely won't encourage it.

Reading this comic novel I felt like I was being let into the private thoughts of the author and the events that lead up to his enlightenment. The way this book is presented you feel like it is real life, the fact that the protagonist shares his name with the author also reinforces this connection with it being a “true story” no matter how much of it is recreated from edited memory and creatively presented. We’re given quite moments and experiences that most people can relate to. Being the outsider, falling in love, first time being naked in bed with someone you love, and the little delights of growing up.

I felt that at the end of this book I knew Craig Thompson, but honestly, I don’t know whether or not this story has any truth to it whatsoever – and it doesn’t need any. It feels real and in that I believe it accomplishes the goals it sets out for itself. Craig re-examines the moments that lead up to his own personal outlook on life. It is the events in this book that show him reflecting on his life, how it was structured and how he questioned things but had his natural curiosity shut down and his outlook predetermined for him. This reflection along with his relationship with Raina and coming to terms with his own life that allows him to break from structure and the rigidity of the Christianity he was forced into. Essentially the growth is to a point of realizing that the life set out for him by others is as jarring as Plato’s cave or the teachings of Christ filtered through the version of Christianity in which he participates. By allowing himself to make his own relationships and following his sense of right and wrong Craig grows to be a well rounded person instead of allowing himself to become rigidly defined by outside sources.

How do I know he became this? Simple. This text is recorded in a manner that reflects what Craig became. The art isn’t photo realistic, it isn’t limited to being a shadow cast on a wall. Craig lights his own fire and creates his own shadow puppets instead of using those provided to him that are limited and expressionless. The art is simplified which allows it to be even more expressive, even more whimsical, than a straight retelling of his story could be. It’s how I love my comic books – expressive, and following the rules of expression and acting more than rigid photocopying of the human form.

There is a lot of sadness in this book. It’s a sadness of lost innocence but it’s not overly depressing in the end. In the end we see that this journey has actually led somewhere. Not just to the creation of this text, but that even the things rejected did help establish the person capable of creating this text. The sadness is mixed with a fondness - it's sad because it was a beautiful time that has long since passed but there's a fondness in that it can be remembered.

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