Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Thompson, Craig. Blankets. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2007 (2003).

(This is the first book I read for the Graphic Novels Challenge.)

One of the things I'm going to have to realize as I explore the graphic novel genre is that these books are...ummm...well...graphic. I mean, it's one thing to read about a teenaged boy "pleasuring himself" (or "'guilting' himself" as the case may be in this book). It's another thing to get a few illustrated panels devoted to it (no matter how discreet they are). The verdict's out on how I feel about that (well, except that I feel like a minister's wife or something, drawing attention to it). I imagine it could be very distracting, but in the case of this book, although it was a bit disconcerting, it really wasn't. And the flip side of seeing things I may not want to see is being shown things without the author having to explain them (gee, a picture really is worth a thousand words), something Thompson does superbly.

Oh, and yes, I literally stayed up all night reading this one -- yet another "accidental read" (I used to think I was the only one in the world who ever reads books accidentally until Ms. Book World mentioned it a few times in posts, which assured me I'm not). This one arrived in a package from Amazon filled mostly with books for Bob. I was in the midst of being swallowed up by My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel (a heart-wrenching, poignant, and beautifully-written memoir of a young woman with dyscalulia), barely able to put that one down to attend to such basic needs as water and toilet. Then, I made the mistake of "seeing what this Blankets is going to be like when I get around to reading it," and opened it up just to read the first few pages. 250 pages later, I really did have to put it down to eat dinner (it was nearly 10:00 p.m., after all, and I don't live in Greece or Italy, where dining at such hours is customary).

I can definitely see why this one has garnered so much high praise. Thompson drags the reader right in with his descriptions of night-time struggles between two brothers sharing a bed. And, later in the book, he so well captures the often-ambivalent emotions of children when a new bed is bought, and the boys no longer have to sleep together. He then pulls you along with very familiar feelings: an older sibling's guilt over not protecting a younger sibling, an adolescent who doesn't fit in no matter where he is, hypocritical adults, as well as adults who turn a blind eye to obvious problems and wrongs, and, of course, the main story: a first love.

Thompson so well captures the ups and downs of a first love, one that we, of course, know can't last (it's a first love, not a last love) set against the backdrop of Christian fundamentalism. I love some of the questions Craig asks as well as many of the conclusions he draws. For instance, he says, in considering the Bible, "It suddenly struck me as absurd that something as divine as God's speech could be pinned down in physical (mass-produced) form." (p. 549) So, we see, it's really more than a typical love story. It's a coming-of-age story in which a boy comes from an innocent acceptance of all he's been taught in Sunday School to a just-as-innocent rejection of it, but not without feeling guilty. Along the way, he meets a girl who helps him get from one age to the next.

Her name is Raina. When Thompson portrays Craig and Raina spending the day in her room with Craig painting and Raina writing, I defy the reader not to be taken back to that first realization, whenever it was, of how intimate such a day, a day of few words and little physical touch, can be. Didn't you, like Craig, think you'd discovered something no one else had ever known?

As far as the drawings go, I didn't think Raina was as well-drawn as Craig. He was much cuter and more appealing than she was (wonder what that might have to say about subconscious narcissism on the artist's part. Maybe nothing at all, but I would have expected it to be the other way around -- for this great love to whom he was so attracted to be more appealing. Then again, maybe she is to straight male readers or lesbian female readers). He drew the little boys extremely well, their wide-eyed expressions dead-on depictions of the way children I know view this world. I didn't like his religious representations. I'm sure he meant for them to look like illustrated Bibles sold on the street or religious tracts, but I found them too jarring (I know that was the point, but it was overkill).

All-in-all, this was a great first choice for the genre, and I'm looking forward to reading more. (Oh, yeah, and one other thing: I've never read a 582-paged book so quickly!)


litlove said...

I have never read a graphic novel through as a novel. My students gave me Proust's Swann's Way in graphic novel form years ago and I have flicked through that, but it's not exactly reading. I don't know. Part of me is intrigued but most of me still hangs back. But this is a wonderful review, Emily, and has got me as close as I've ever been to changing my mind.

ZoesMom said...

Interesting. I always think of graphic novels as being extended Batman or Superman comic books. I never thought of a story like this in graphic novel form. Makes me want to give it a try!

Anonymous said...

I've been saying I'm going to get into graphic novels for years now, but somehow haven't gotten around to doing it yet. Reading this excellent review of BLANKETS made me realize that I need to make it one of my 2008 reading resolutions.

IM said...

This sounds like a far cry from Asterix. I like the genre and it looks like it's becoming more sophisticated, exploring themes other than modern myths and superheroes. I read a series called "Flight" which are a little like graphic short-stories although some of them could be considered just straight comics. Still, it contains some of the most compelling graphic art I've ever seen.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, I know, I know. I was the same way about "hanging back," and still know there's a part of me that read this with the idea that, "Well, it's okay that that grammatical error is there, because this isn't really a book," whereas, when I find those grammatical errors in "real books," I cringe. But, somehow, over the years, I've become very much sold on the notion of this as an art form and a genre, and now I'm eager to read more. (Oh, and thanks for the praise for my humble little review.)

Zoesmom, along the same lines as what I said to Litlove, I've often thought of them as extended comics, too, but I think I'm beginning to change my mind.

JSP, do! I think you might like them.

IM, a far cry from Asterix, yes (but then, Asterix is one of the BEST, no?). It's the art that I think is grabbing me -- so interesting to have that other piece to a story. We'll see as I read more.