During my senior year of college at NYU, I took a creative writing class. I had developed an interest in writing fiction at some point during undergrad, and I thought that a class would be a good way to put myself on a writing regimen. My output increased considerably because I had to write something for each class, and I also learned a lot of new things about writing fiction. I also had to write a lot of poetry.
Each student had to turn in two short stories over the semester. We had to bring in a copy for every student to read, and then the entire group would critique the story next class. This was nerve-racking if you were the one presenting a story, but it wasn’t too pleasant for those who had to read it, either. Over time I started to notice something about a lot of the stories submitted. Now, the class was a pretty diverse cross-section of young adults from across the United States; kids from California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Georgia, Texas. And yet, despite these far-flung origins, a good number of the stories seemed to be set in the East Village. Young people living in the East Village. It’s as if these students had decided that nothing worth writing about had happened to them until they came to New York for college.
This is the same general impression I get from a lot of indie, small press, and self-published biographical comics. Too many I look at seem to be slice-of-life stories about young people living in the big city; be that city New York, Chicago, Portland, or wherever. Nothing against people from those cities (who might not have other things to draw on), but a story should only be told if there is a story to tell. A good autobiography should be about telling the world interesting or great things, or at least offering a unique perspective on common experiences. To be worthy of an audience, a work must offer something that other works do not.
And that is precisely what Blankets by Craig Thompson has done for me. It’s the ostensibly the story of Thompson’s first love, but it’s so much more than that—it’s about religion, it’s about childhood, it’s about abuse, it’s about being an outcast, it’s about growing up and deciding what you want to be now that you have the power to decide. And it works, not just because of its immense length—the entire softcover volume clocks in at 592 pages—but because Thompson shies away from nothing in his troubled past. He takes all these experiences from childhood and weaves them into a cohesive narrative that not only leads into his romance with Raina, but that also provides context for everything he does. He feels shame about his feelings for Raina. He feels shame about his drawings. He feels shame about his relationship with his brother. Unlike other works which are too happy to pretend that there was nothing before adulthood, or works which treat childhood as a series of perfect moments, Thompson is honest and brutal, and in doing so he shows us how he became the person he is now.
I read the entire work in a day, which might seem impressive because of its length, but Thompson’s art is smooth and flowing and reads quickly. It also helps that many pages have little dialog, and some pieces of art take up full pages. Blankets rolls around in the luxury of page count it has been given. The book is such a quick read, that the end comes way too soon—and it’s such a sudden, disappointing end. The story just stops. We might get these little glimpses into adult life, but that’s not an ending, it’s an epilogue, and after such an emotional ride, it’s greatly unsatisfying.
by Craig Thompson
published by Top Shelf Productions (Marietta, 2003)