Blankets Review – by Kaitlyn McCafferty
For the first time in two years, it’s snowed in my hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon. The pillow-y silence of the hills reminds me all too much of Blankets, a quiet, intimate coming-of-age romance written and illustrated by Craig Thompson. The comic is autobiographical, mainly following the story of Craig’s first love, a girl named Raina, and their journey together through adolescence. Craig grapples with issues of family, religion, love, and sexuality throughout.
Thompson’s art is gentle, personal, and expressive. He uses flowing, brush-like strokes and sketchy line work to create very emotional, almost dreamlike images. The feeling behind his art drives much of the story forward. He combines these images with simple, poetic words, creating deeply intimate, almost dream-like pages. The recurrent imagery of patterns and snow bring an abstract element to the otherwise non-fiction story.
In one particular instance, Craig burns all of his past drawings, convinced that such escapism is distracting him from God and religious truths. As the drawings burn, Craig kneels to the ground as ghostly images of his artistry erupt from his mouth.
I thoroughly enjoyed Thompson’s ability to illustrate his emotions. Reading Blankets felt extremely intimate—at times, even intrusive. Thompson has a precious ability to relay emotions in a way that is both dramatic and muted, as though he’s whispered them onto a page and left them there to settle. As an expressive and self-exploratory work, I very much enjoyed Blankets.
Thompson tells his story in a very intimate, romantic way, switching from childhood memories to the relationship between him and Raina according primarily to emotional relevance. I really enjoy this structuring of the plot, as it feels very thoughtful and organic, but I was dissatisfied with how Craig’s relationship with Raina was narrated. With Raina, there were several instances where I felt the romanticizing was too much. It was, at times, carried out with a kind of self-centered blindness that I felt was the weakest point of the story.
In terms of the romance, Thompson rarely acknowledges that he’s made any mistakes through Craig. He illustrates his own personal struggles with religious fidelity and his love for Raina, but even this struggle originates from an external force. A lot of the scenes seem set up to exalt Craig as a misunderstood, brooding, emotionally righteous hero. I would’ve been more accommodating of this if the story wasn’t autobiographical. Many of the other characters are illustrated as caricatures in a sense, personifying only the emotions Craig feels toward them. The bullies are only bullies; the religious are only religious. Even Raina doesn’t seem to exist very much outside of Craig’s love for her. This aspect often took me out of the story—dehumanizing a lot of the characters and experiences.
I especially disliked the dialogue between Raina and Craig; it felt too scripted and perfect to be realistic. The feelings of passion, love, anxiety, and care were all present, but the overall story felt glossed over. I was always acutely aware that I was looking at it through the lens of Craig.
Craig’s relationship with his brother, on the other hand, felt very real. Craig expressed his regrets about not being supportive of his brother at times when they needed each other most, exploring their respective lives and eventual reconnection. I think Thompson’s decision to illustrate both the faults and beauty of the relationship made it feel a lot more real.
From a topical standpoint, I was sometimes disinterested in Blankets. I didn’t find Craig’s struggle with religion and sexuality particularly new or refreshing. He would often compare Raina to angelic figures as he came to terms with his own desire for sex. This to me was both ironic and irritating. I feel that women in our society are often shamed for sexual behaviors and feelings, both in and out of religious contexts; it’s been normalized. This made the fact that Thompson felt this was an experience worth illustrating so deeply—in a manner suggesting lonesome struggle—a bit tedious.
I feel the only aspects I disliked about Blankets originate from very personal tastes. The comic is beautifully, passionately made. Overall, it’s a very emotional work that I would recommend to anyone looking for a visceral, yet thoughtful, slice-of-life.