Blankets: A Review and Realization

So every year when I go to comic convention I usually buy a graphic novel blindly. If it looks kind of interesting and is a decent price…I buy it. I read it. Widen my knowledge.

Last year the book I blind bought was a 600 page graphic novel called “Blankets” by Craig Thompson.

The back of the book describes itself saying:

Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. Blankets is a tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith.

Blankets recieved three Harvey Awards for Best Artist, Best Graphic Album of Original Work, and Best Cartoonist; and two Eisner Awards for Best Graphic Album and Best Writer/Artist.

It also has 4 1/2 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

Here’s a brief review from Publisher’s Weekly:

This sensitive memoir recreates the confusion, emotional pain and isolation of the author’s rigidly fundamentalist Christian upbringing, along with the trepidation of growing into maturity. Skinny, naive and spiritually vulnerable, Thompson and his younger brother manage to survive their parents’ overbearing discipline through flights of childhood fancy and a mutual love of drawing. By high school, Thompson’s a lost, socially battered and confused soul-until he meets Raina and her clique of amiable misfits at a religious camp. The two eventually fall in love and the experience ushers Thompson into the beginnings of an adult, independent life. Thompson manages to explore adolescent social yearnings, the power of young love and the complexities of sexual attraction with a rare combination of sincerity, pictorial lyricism and taste. His exceptional b&w drawings balance representational precision with a bold and wonderfully expressive line for pages of ingenious, inventively composed and poignant imagery.

Yes. Quite.

And here’s a brief review from CMP:

It was okay.

Ok, that was cute and all. And I’m all for independent writers and artists telling their story, but I think that they should only be able to tell their story if it’s an interesting one to tell.

I’m sure Craig Thompson is a cool guy and all, but he grew up in the countryside of Wisconsin and now lives in Oregon.

Oregon? More like BOREGON!

Heh.

To be serious here, it’s hard to not judge a book so harshly when it has so many awards and accolades in its favor. So I really couldn’t help myself. Thompson’s story is incredibly standard.

And I know this is considered “ficition” but Thompson himself has said that Blankets is about 90 percent autobiographical. So in that case it just seems like whining.

Yeah, man, it’s tough growing up. Everyone has a tough childhood.

Oh, what’s that? Your parents were hard on you? So were a lot of kids’ parents.

Oh, in high school you were an artistic outsider and got poked at here and there?

Cool. So was I. And I don’t cry about it.

Even his “love” element was cliched. He meets a girl at bible camp. Falls in love with her. Turns out she lives far away. He spends one weekend with her. And they slowly drift apart.

Wow. Astounding. Totally worth 3 Harvey awards and 2 Eisners.

You: But-but she made a blanket for him!

CMP: So?

You: And it takes place in winter! Lots of snow!

CMP: And?

You: Blankets of snow! Blanket she made him! Michael Jackson’s son Blanket! Blankets Blankets Blankets!

Your reaction.

Yea-NO.

I’m not saying this is a poorly written book. The artwork is good. Just good. Fits the story. Nothing mindblowing, but pretty when it needs to be. It doesn’t distract from the story. And Thompson’s story itself is okay. It’s a bit cliched and nothing really exciting happens. To me it a typical story of growing up in a boring part of America.

Except for the weird parts. And this book has them.

Thompson drills into your head that his parents are hardcore Christian and therefore raise their children that way.

I have nothing against what religion anyone is (except Scientology because come on) but it seems that parents who hammer religion into their kids heads end up having the oddest kids.

You remember when you were kids and you’d play with your brother or sister and you guys would have to sometimes share a bed so late at night you would just start having pee fights?

Like, you would just start peeing on each other. For fun.

Yeah, Thompson would do this with his brother. They would have pee fights for fun in their room. Just peeing on everything. Piss getting everywhere.

MY GOD.

And he brings this up so nonchalantly. Like peeing on your brother is like playing Pokemon.

The other flat out strange part of the book is when he spends the weekend at his girlfriend’s house and meets her family. His girlfriend has a sister with down syndrome. He walks in on his girlfriend dressing her one morning. The sister is nude. And there’s seriously 2 full pages dedicated to how beautiful she is. He talks about her breasts, he body, etc. He’s basically falling in love with his girlfriend’s down syndrome sister.

Now I’m not saying that anything is wrong with that, but what I am saying is that there’s clearly something wrong with that.

You seen one person with down syndrome you seen them all. (http://instantrimshot.com/classic/?sound=rimshot)

And it’s just weird that someone would be so turned on by that. And, again, Thompson brings it up like it’s no big deal.

And don’t get me started on the super descriptive “1st time masturbating” chapter. Good lord man. Sometimes you got to leave some things to your imagination. But I guess that’s what masturbating is for (http://instantrimshot.com/classic/?sound=rimshot)

I’m on a roll today!

But, anyway, after reading this I came to 3 conclusions:

1. Craig Thompson had a mundane and uneventful life. I mean, this isn’t completely autobiographical. That means he had to make things more interesting. So if this is a somewhat “padded” comic of your life and it’s still boring, my god I feel bad for you. It’s fiction! You could’ve said you had a encounter with Bigfoot or something. Instead you just stand around in the snow and feel sorry for yourself. And I KNOW the piss fights and down syndrome attraction are not falsified. You could tell by the way they were written. It’s honest emotion.

2. Strict Christian upbringing=Strange kids. Thompson’s grimly pious parents and religious community dismiss his talent for drawing; they view his creative efforts as sinful and relentlessly hector the boys about scripture. And in turn in made him and his brother 2 introverted socially awkward loners who spent their times peeing on each other and jerking off to old memories and then crying about it because it “made Jesus cry”. Gah. What a terrible way to raise a kid. Religion in a child’s life growing up is not a bad thing, but making it the be all end all cornerstone of their life will make them crazy.

And the most important realization…

3. Writing a graphic novel not about superheroes will make everyone think they have to like it. I kept thinking of this book if it was a regular novel. I guarantee if it was it wouldn’t get the praise it has already gotten. To be honest, if this was written in novel form I don’t even know if anyone would be able to finish it. It’s an uneventful story with standard dialogue all within a drab setting.

When people think comics they think superheroes. They think fantasy. That’s why it’s always interesting when a “normal” story is presented in this medium. I’ve read Ghost World, Far Arden, The Alcoholic, Jimmy Corrigan, Too Cool To Be Forgotten, and now Blankets. All these stories neglect tights, capes, superpowers, and other fantasy elements and try to present thoughtful coming of age stories. Stories about love, about growth, about realization. But here’s the thing I’ve realized: Superheroes do it better.

I don’t know if it the authors of these books or the medium itself, but I’ve never been impressed by what they have to offer. Daredevil: Born Again better illustrates the theme of self realization and lost love much better than Too Cool To Be Forgotten or The Alcoholic.

Yet those books are showered with awards and praise. But why? I think it’s the hipster in all of us. Because stories like that aren’t normally done in a comic medium. Because there are far less graphic novels that are considered romance and/or drama stories. So when one comes along everyone jumps on it. I feel that nobody is really looking at the story. I think most readers are more impressed with the idea rather then the execution.

I mean, okay, look at Blankets here. It weighs 4 pounds. It’s 600 pages. It claims to be about lost love and finding oneself in growing. It must really have something impactful to say, right?

Not really.

Nothing really happens. It’s a bit self indulgent. All around it’s nothing really remarkable.

But it’s different in that it looks like a lot of work went into it. And it involves nobody flying or stopping an evil plot against mankind.

Comics have come a long way, but books like this imply that comics about fantasy are still for kids. If your comic doesn’t involve grounded human characters in a non-fantastical setting then you simply cannot get your point across.

That’s what I feel many reviewers mean when they praise Blankets and many of the other titles I mentioned earlier. Which is complete bullshit.

Just because this book has a panel of a teenager self depreciating himself in the snowy woods doesn’t make it any deeper or better than a panel of Superman tossing a nuclear weapon into the sun.

It’s about how you use the characters. It’s about what you’re trying to present and say through them. It’s about…story. Something entertainment has truly lost sight of in recent years.

Story.

It’s still the most important thing.

Regards,

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